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Pope Francis may be about to dismiss Vatican’s doctrinal chief

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, then-bishop of the Regensburg, Germany, looks on during a religious conference at the Vatican on March 11, 2010. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Tony Gentile

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis may be about to dismiss his enforcer of orthodoxy, one of the most powerful cardinals at the Vatican, according to unconfirmed media reports.

The Italian Catholic website Corrispondenza Romana reported Friday (June 30) that Francis would not renew the term of Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, a conservative German cardinal who heads the powerful department responsible for church doctrine.

Mueller’s five-year term as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was due to expire on Sunday. He is 69, which is six years short of the normal retirement age of bishops. Under normal circumstances, his five-year contract would be renewed.

If the reports are correct, Mueller’s ouster would cap one of the most tumultuous weeks at the Vatican since the election of Pope Francis in 2013.

On Thursday, Cardinal George Pell announced he would take a leave of absence as Vatican finance chief to face charges he sexually abused boys while a young priest in Australia.

“I look forward to having my day in court,” he told the media as he announced he was standing aside. “I am innocent of these charges.”

The Vatican has not yet commented on the news about Mueller’s future, but the National Catholic Register said it had confirmed the Italian report Friday.

Mueller is one of several conservative cardinals who openly questioned the pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love).

In an interview in February, Mueller made it clear that he firmly opposed any softening by Francis of the church’s ban on divorced and civilly remarried Catholics taking Communion.

Mueller also supported the four cardinals — including American conservative Raymond Burke — who sought clarification of Francis’ position about Amoris Laetitia.

Burke was dismissed from a key Vatican position and later removed as chaplain of the chivalric order of the Knights of Malta after a leadership scandal in which the pope intervened.

Marie Collins, the Irish abuse survivor who resigned from the pope’s panel for protecting children from clerical sexual abuse, was particularly critical of Mueller. She cited “shameful” obstruction from his department when she quit in March.

Robert Mickens, who follows the Vatican for the French Catholic daily La Croix, said late Friday he would not be surprised if the pope acted to remove Mueller.

“The cardinal has been less than cooperative in advancing many of the pope’s policies,” he told RNS.

Mueller, who comes from Mainz, Germany, was appointed to his position by then-Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and named a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014. Mueller was responsible for a controversial investigation of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious in 2012, an inquiry that ended soon after Francis became pope.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

10 Comments

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  • 1) Like appointing Cardinal Pell, “Pope Francis made a grave error when he approved Müller, whose performance as bishop of Regensburg (2002-2012) disqualifies him from working on abuse cases, and certainly from heading the department with sole responsibility for those cases.” http://www.bishop-accountability.org/UN/CRC/2014_01_11_BA_Submission_to_Committee.htm#Holy%20See
    2) The pope continued the investigation against women religious.
    http://globalsistersreport.org/news/trends/loretto-sisters-summoned-rome-raising-questions-closure-apostolic-visitation-40306
    3) Pell and Mueller were two of 13 cardinals who signed a letter accusing the pope of rigging the second bishops’ synod in his own favor. Now he’s rid of both of them.
    http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1351154bdc4.html?eng=y

  • I endorse reporting pedophiles to the police. If the statute of limitations has run out on their crime, then they should be supervised.

  • But they rarely do so. Your next statement is incorrect.
    You’re callousness towards victims of rape, sodomy and other assaults says more about you than about me.

  • The USCCB 2016 Annual Report on clerical sex abuse in the U.S. for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined stated there were “new credible allegations” against 799 clerics. Name 5 who were supervised.
    “Due process” could be interpreted that, if beyond the statute of limitations and after conducting a hearing, a credibly accused cleric could be supervised by his bishop as a moral obligation to protect children.
    Final paragraph: Res ipsa loquitur

  • In all religions of world, sexual misconducts are reported now widely, many after long time of service. This is just like many heroes and idols in society. In truth, the prince of the world has dominion over every flesh. Roman 7 “in my flesh dwelleth no good thing”. No one can overcome the one of this world with self righteousness. If you are getting upset at this statement, you are self righteous.

    That is why Jesus said seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness… That is why at this end time many addictions and troubled souls among the common people are changed supernaturally with healing and blessing with simple message of Christ on TV and Youtube with “righteousness of God in Christ” while many church leaders still suffer.

    Like our LORD Jesus said, the first will be last, and the last will be first.

  • Let’s get the facts straight: Cardinal Muller was not “responsible” for the LCWR doctrinal assessment, as the article states. The assessment was begun in 2008 under then-prefect of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada. Four years later, after Cardinal Muller replaced Levada, who was retirement age, Muller consulted with Pope Francis about the LCWR doctrinal assessment and informed the LCWR on April 15, 2013, that Pope Francis had affirmed the findings of the assessment and the program of reform for the LCWR.

  • It may not be worth noting that sexual offenses are not unique to the Roman Catholic Church, and that many other sects, Christian and non-Christian, have ministers and members who prey upon the vulnerable, irrespective of age or gender. This is a stain upon every religious tradition of whatever category. As a Christian, it is most painful to me when it occurs within the body of the Church; which sub-division matters not to me. Anyone culpable of committing such acts, or endeavoring to hide them for fear or shame’s sake does a disservice to the Church and to God. God is not mocked. The perpetrators of such acts if undetected, undisciplined, and unrepentant in this life, will not escape in the life to come. This will not assuage the skeptic I know. For Him or her, the rational recourse is to trust in the efforts of the constituted authorities who have jurisdiction in these matters. I think we can trust the due diligence of the legal system, church bodies may have to be pressed and prodded in certain instances such as is the case with the Church of Rome. This is not a victory for Christ.

  • They are in every occupation that has contact with youth, religious and secular. The Catholic Church’s sin was the lengths they went to cover it up and not expel the culprits. They chose the organization over the children.

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