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To renew the Church we must be guided by her faith, morals – Cardinal Müller

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller (Getty)

The cardinal also criticised the Vatican abuse summit for failing to address the root causes

Countering critics of Benedict XVI’s recent essay on the scandal of sex abuse in the Church, Cardinal Gerhard Müller on Friday emphasized that Church renewal must be centered on Christ and his teaching.

“Rebuilding and renewing the whole Church can only succeed in Christ—if we get our bearings by the Church’s teaching on faith and morals,” the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in an essay published April 26 at First Things.

Benedict’s essay looked at the abuse crisis in the context of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the concurrent collapse in moral theology, and their effect on priestly life and formation. Some responded to his thoughts as though he were setting himself against Pope Francis.

Müller reflected that “Benedict was and is the most important figure in the Church’s fight against this crisis,” given his role in drafting the Church’s 2001 norms on the gravest of crimes: “He has the widest view of and deepest insight into this problem, its causes and history.”

Benedict, he said, “is in a better position than all the blind who want to lead other blind people,” and he added that critics of the emeritus pope “lack respect and are ideologically blinded.”

The Vatican summit on abuse of minors and the Church “should have signaled the beginning of getting to the roots of the evil of abuse,” which is necessary for the Church to be credible, he said. “Unfortunately, the practical conclusions drawn from this assembly have not yet been made public, so the U.S. Bishops’ Conference cannot yet put its suspended measures into practice.”

Müller called the “generalized and noncommittal analyses” of some speakers at the summit “distressing”, calling it “a consequence of the assembly not allowing some of the most competent cardinals to speak,” citing Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the CDF.

He said that seeing the problem as one of clericalism, or of celibacy, is a buzzword-infused ideology which undermines “zero tolerance as the only correct policy.”

“Sexual abuse of adolescents or even adult seminarians cannot be tolerated under any circumstances, even if the perpetrator wants to excuse himself by pointing to mutual consent between adults,” said Müller.

Yet some prominent bishops have insisted on distinguishing between the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct between adults, arguing that potentially consensual sexual misconduct by clerics should not be accorded the status of a major crime.

True clericalism, Müller recalled, characterizes the bishop who “demands that his clerics are to distribute Holy Communion to persons not in full communion with the faith of the Church, or to those who need to be absolved from grave sin through penance before they can approach communion … He abuses the authority conferred on him by Christ in order to force others to act against Christ’s commandments.”

In these cases obdience to God rather than men “applies also in the Church,” he stated.

Seeking in the clerical state the roots of the abuse of minors is vain, Müller said, for “crimes in no way originate in the Church’s sacramental structure, but contradict it.”

The negative reaction to Benedict’s essay, he said, is evidence of his “diagnosis that a type of moral theology, which for a long time has not been Catholic, has collapsed.”

Müller denounced those who, “on the backs of young victims of sexual crimes, [try] to substitute the Church’s moral teaching, grounded in natural law and divine revelation, with a self-made sexual morality according to the egotistical pleasure principle from the 1970s.”

Reflecting that many abusive priests “did not have a sense of guilt, and did not know or directly rejected the teaching according to which sexual acts with adolescents, or with adult persons outside marriage, are morally reprehensible,” he asked: “Who deformed their conscience to such a degree that they no longer knew what the serious sins are by which ‘neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals … will inherit the kingdom of God’?”

According to Müller the height of the scandal is “when the blame is not laid upon those breaking God’s commandments, but instead the commandments themselves are made responsible for their transgression: The cause of sin becomes God, who is allegedly overtaxing us.”

While it is not put like this directly, he said that “the Church is accused of interpreting God’s commandments in an outdated fashion. Therefore, it is said, we now need to invent (or, as the euphemistic language puts it, ‘develop further,’ meaning ‘falsify’) a new sexual morality that agrees with the findings of modern human sciences, which morality ‘philanthropically’ leaves untouched the factual reality of people’s lives.”

But these proposals forget that “empirical science without any presuppositions does not exist, and that the underlying anthropology always influences how research data are interpreted.”

“Morality is about distinguishing good and evil,” he stated. “Can adultery be good only because a de-Christianized society thinks about it differently than the Sixth Commandment puts it?”

St. Paul’s writings against sodomy must be taken at face value, Müller emphasized: “How do exegetes know that behind the obvious meaning of these words, something else, even the total opposite, is intended? In immoral acts, especially against matrimonial love and its fecundity, Paul detects a denial of God, because the will of the creator is not recognized as the measure of our doing good.”

The consequence for the Church’s life is that “we can only admit to ordination candidates who also possess the natural prerequisites, are intellectually and morally capable, and show the spiritual readiness to give themselves totally to the service of the Lord.”

“We can only turn away from false ways if we understand male and female sexuality as God’s gift, which does not serve narcissistic pleasure but has its true goal in the love between spouses and the responsibility for a family. Only in the wider context of Eros and Agape does sexuality have the power to build up the human person, the Church, and the state. Otherwise it brings about destruction.”

Seeing celibacy as the cause of sexual crimes against adolescents can only arise from a “materialist and atheistic point of view,” he said. “There is no proof for that; statistical data about sexual abuse say the opposite.”

Such an atheistic view is also found “in the arguments of those who blame abuse crimes on an invented ‘clericalism’ or on the sacramental structure of the Church.” He said that clerics are not mere “officials”, but are meant to minister to the people of God.

Seeing clerics as “power-fixated functionaries … is possible only in a secularized Church,” Müller concluded.

“Instead of surrounding ourselves with media consultants, and seeking help for the Church’s future from economic advisers, all of us … have to refocus on the origin and center of our faith: the triune God, the incarnation of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the closeness to God in the Holy Eucharist and in frequent Confession, daily prayer, and the readiness to be guided in our moral life by God’s grace. Nothing else provides the way out of the present crisis of faith and morals into a good future.”