Cardinal Müller seeks the middle ground between Viganò and the Vatican

Cardinal Gerhard Müller in 2014 (CNS)

Recent interviews suggest the Vatican's former doctrinal chief is seeking a kind of 'third way'

Cardinal Gerhard Müller may no longer be the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, but since being relieved of his position he has become, if anything, more outspoken. In recent days he has given two in-depth interviews, one to Life Site News and one to La Stampa. Those publications are generally seen as coming from opposite “sides” of the Church, and the content of the interviews suggests that Cardinal Müller may be trying to chart a third way through the troubled waters in which the Church finds herself at present.

On the one hand, the cardinal in effect criticized Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, whose spectacular J’Accuse in August called for the Pope’s resignation. “No one has the right to indict the Pope or ask him to resign,” Cardinal Müller told La Stampa, following and adopting the precise juridical language – stato di accusa – in which interviewer Andrea Tornielli’s initial question was couched. For Müller, the Viganò dossier overstepped the bounds of submission to the Pope.

On the other hand, the cardinal’s interview with Life Site News showed that Müller is ready to criticize the Pope over the McCarrick Affair, if only provisionally and indirectly. Müller said the Vatican under John Paul II should have investigated the rumours against McCarrick, and should not have made him a cardinal and Archbishop of Washington DC. But he also told Life Site that the “involved Church authorities” had questions to answer, if it is true that the Vatican knew of McCarrick’s misdeeds and that he nevertheless became a papal counselor:

[W]hen there even has already been paid some hush money – and with it, the admission of his sexual crimes with young men – then every reasonable person asks how such a person can be a counselor of the Pope with regard to episcopal appointments. I do not know whether this is true, but it would need to be clarified. The hireling helps in the search of good shepherds for God’s fold – nobody can understand this. In such a case, there should very clearly come out a public explanation about these events and the personal connections, as well as the question as to how much the involved Church authorities knew at each step; such an explanation could very well include an admission of a wrong assessment of persons and situations.

Taken together, the two interviews tend toward a position which argues that Viganò overreached, while acknowledging the substantial concerns to which the McCarrick Affair gives rise – even epitomises – and calls for a real inquiry into them and a public explanation.

Müller’s interventions attempt to chart a course that will be acceptable both to those scandalised by what they see as Viganò’s intemperance, and to the increasingly numerous ranks of faithful fed up with what they see as obfuscation from Church leadership.

Perhaps Cardinal Müller’s remarks intend his “third way” to take the wind out of the sails of the extreme wings of both camps, populated and controlled by Team Francis partisans and anti-Francis reactionaries respectively.

This was suggested by another comment he made to La Stampa. “We must all work together to overcome this crisis, which harms the credibility of the Church,” the cardinal said. “Unfortunately, we have these groups, these ‘parties’ — the so-called ‘progressives’ and ‘conservatives’. We are all united in the revealed faith, and not by the prejudices of political ideologies. We are not a political entity.”