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.