Over the past year, the prospect that Pope Francis would take the Church on a trajectory radically different from that of his predecessors has been hailed by some as a new dawn, while others have either rejected it as an impossibility or decried it as a betrayal. Amoris Laetitia seemed to confirm a seismic shift, and denial has been replaced by stirrings of opposition. Polarisation in an already divided Church has even publicly affected the College of Cardinals.
In recent weeks, however, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has published a book which insists that there is no irreconcilable opposition between the present Pope and his predecessor. Benedict and Francis: Successors of Peter at the Service of the Church takes the form of four essays on internal issues and external challenges facing Catholicism today.
A distinguished theologian even before Pope Benedict chose him in 2012 to lead the former Holy Office, Müller is uniquely placed to appreciate what is at stake and influence the outcome. Before examining his convictions, it is worth looking briefly at the man and his career.
Müller, 69 as of December 31, was born into a working-class family in the suburbs of the Rhineland city of Mainz. Attending local schools and then university faculties in Munich and Freiburg as a seminarian, he gained his doctorate in 1977 under Karl Lehmann, who later became a cardinal and leader of the German Church. The following year Müller was ordained priest for his home diocese.
After working as curate in several parishes and teaching in schools, he qualified as a professor in 1985. The following year he took the chair of dogmatic theology in the Catholic Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Müller gravitated into Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s orbit by becoming a member of the International Theological Commission in 1998. The two became friends as well as colleagues.
Ratzinger was present when Müller was ordained Bishop of Regensburg in 2002, and it is perhaps significant that the new bishop took as his motto the words Dominus Jesus, the title of a landmark document issued by Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith two years previously. After he was elected Pope, Ratzinger chose Müller to oversee the publication of his collected works, and in 2008 the Pope Benedict XVI Institute was founded in Regensburg for that purpose.
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