Pope shakes up Vatican by replacing conservative doctrinal chief

Newly elected Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller of Germany arrives during a consistory ceremony led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Feb. 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) In a major shake-up of the Vatican’s administration, Pope Francis replaced Catholicism’s top theologian, a conservative German cardinal who has been at odds with the pontiff’s vision of a more inclusive church.

A brief Vatican statement Saturday (July 1) said Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller’s five-year mandate as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a key department charged with defending Catholic doctrine, would not be renewed.

Mueller, 69, who was appointed by former Pope Benedict in 2012, will be succeeded by the department’s No. 2, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.

Ladaria, a 73-year-old Spaniard who, like the Argentine pope, is a member of the Jesuit order, is said by those who know him to be a soft-spoken person who shuns the limelight. Mueller, by contrast, often appears in the media.

“They speak the same language and Ladaria is someone who is meek. He does not agitate the pope and does not threaten him,” said a priest who works in the Vatican and knows both Mueller and Ladaria, asking not to be named.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has given hope to progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision for a more welcoming church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.

Mueller is one of several cardinals in the Vatican who have publicly sparred with the pope.

In 2015 he was among 13 cardinals who signed a secret letter to the pope complaining that a meeting of bishops discussing family issues was stacked in favor of liberals. The letter was leaked, embarrassing the signatories.

“Clearly, the pope and Cardinal Mueller have not been on the same page for five years,” the priest said.

Mueller has criticized parts of a 2016 papal treatise called “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), a cornerstone document of Francis‘ attempt to make the 1.2 billion-member church more inclusive and less condemning.

In it, Francis called for a church that is less strict and more compassionate toward any “imperfect” members, such as those who divorced and remarried, saying “no one can be condemned forever.”

Conservatives have concentrated their criticism on the document’s opening to Catholics who divorce and remarry in civil ceremonies, without getting church annulments.

Under church law they cannot receive Communion unless they abstain from sex with their new partner, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church and therefore they are seen to be living in an adulterous state of sin.

In the document the pope sided with progressives who had proposed an “internal forum” in which a priest or bishop decide jointly with the individual on a case-by-case basis if he or she can be fully reintegrated and receive Communion.

After the document was published Catholic bishops in some countries, including Germany, enacted guidelines on how priests could allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments.

But Mueller has said there should be no exceptions, making him a hero to conservatives who have made the issue a rallying point for their opposition to Francis.

About the author

Philip Pullella


Click here to post a comment

  • Francis called for a church that is less strict and more compassionate towards any “imperfect” members, such as those who divorced and remarried, saying “no one can be condemned forever.”

    He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    John 3:18

  • In all religions, the religious leaders would succumb to these kinds of temptation when they try to overcome their own flesh with their own righteousness. The only one success is Christ righteousness will succeed. That is why Jesus said seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… It is the same reason exactly why the drug addictions and porno are overcome by the thousands daily by foolishness of preaching on TV and Youtube of Christ crossing all borders and cultures for the common people but not so much for the high church and mainlines.

  • “concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.” It is merciful to follow God’s, unchangeable, word rather than letting people run nilly willy to their perdition.

  • The difficulty with that Jim is that God set the rules, and one of the rules that He set, is that He doesn’t change His mind.
    Numbers 23:19 – ESV God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

  • So it’s merciful to stone your cheeky son and beat your slaves provided they don’t die as a direct result?

  • I’m not Catholic, but it seems popular for progressives to portray themselves as bastions of infinite mercy while insisting that conservatives only care about rules. Rubbish.

  • That may be your idea, but Christ doesn’t teach that. Christians do no do such.
    How you feeling?

  • God’s unchangeable word? What about Usury? Slavery? limbo? Heaven as “up there”? not eating meat on Friday? Some of these are more important than others, but people saw them, at the time, as unchangeable.

    Jesus came not to destroy the law–but to fulfill it–to find what and why our personal and loving Father asked us to do (the Ten Commandments are–except for one of them–NOT commandments at all, but a loving father’s expectation….”You just won’t commit adultery, murder, steal, lie.”). Faith is a mustard seed–not a concrete wall–a relationship with our creator not a “rigid” set of rules. The Kingdom of heaven is a mystery not a problem. The faithful child of God is not a runner willy-nilly–but someone who knows the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath–someone wise with the wisdom of the spirit, not a mechanical robot. I am not exaggerating; I wish other did not.

  • Christ taught in 1 Corinthians to be a slave to no man.
    Interest…..I have no idea
    Luke 17:21 – Webster’s Bible Translation
    Neither will they say, Lo here! or lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

  • He repented, but He did not destroy man completely – He could have.
    I’d like to see the scripture you are referring to about winking. I don’t believe it exists.

  • thank you.
    As someone who loves the Scripture–all of it, despite its many flaws (e.g., Job 36 which is gibberish in Hebrew). I share the view of Jesus that the Kingdom of God is within–within this moment, within the heart, within the mutual loving in a mutually helpful community, within creation, etc. It is NOT up there. “Jesus raised His eyes to heaven” because that is the “realm” of constancy, the “footstool” in poetic language of God’s throne–but God does not have some gilded chair up there. The Kingdom of heaven is not in rules, nor obedience to rules–but in obedience to the Spirit–of love, understanding, wisdom, patience, forgiveness and, well, kindness…

  • “…progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision for a more welcoming church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.”

    Because we all know how merciful and easy going progressives are towards those who don’t follow their every whim to the letter.

  • “Mercy” isn’t just a progressive value. I am Catholic, and I am glad the current Pope is trying to return to more emphasis on biblical values and not just on the familiar way things have been done in the past.

  • Jeff, you seem to have something against progressives. Even though I am 75 I am still trying to learn. What are the bad things, in your opinion, that progressives espouse?

  • I’m talking about the leadership’s failure with child abuse. I don’t care about their doctrinal struggles.

  • Well BaalTyranny, you certainly can quote scripture well, but you have no idea what kind of legalistic framework you’re attempting to uphold here. Do you not believe that those “who are divorced and remarried” are covered by the Grace and pardon won for all by the death of Jesus Christ?

    I’m also betting that you know nothing about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Their roots go back several centuries to the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when Jews professing the Christian faith were killed because they weren’t “Christian enough!” That certainly wasn’t the prettiest time in the history of the Christian faith! The Roman church showed itself to be FAR more imperfect than today’s divorcing, remarrying Catholics!

    Wise up, or don’t bother us with any more of your scripture-quoting and legalistic drivel!

  • 10 commandments are not 10 suggestions or 10 expectations. They are commandments eg Thou shalt not…(a command)
    They are derived from God’s moral nature.

  • Within = among or in your midst. Hmmm…I wonder what or WHO He might have been speaking of?

  • In the original languages (Whether the written
    Greek of the text or the spoken Aramaic of Jesus), the ambiguity is the same–and that is good.

    You will/shall not do this = expectation. It is much clearer in the original languages (Hebrew and then Greek) where the form of the command is very simple and short, while the “imperfect” (they have no real “future” tense) is much longer and more complex. English unfortunately by adding words smudges the difference. Except for “HONOR” your parents, the “commandments” are not in a command form at all, and you cannot wish them to change form in the Word of God as we have it. “Thou/you” shalt no…t IS NOT A COMMAND and wishing they were is not going to change them.

  • You are incorrect in your premise. The Israelites broke His laws – not “did not meet His expectations”. You are putting a 20th/21st century spin on the text. You are wrong – the translators are correct.
    Addendum: Jesus said “A new expectation…” No. He said “A new commandment I give unto you…” John 13:34, 35. Read psalm 119. It gives a full range of what God’s word requires. “Expectation” isn’t one of them.

  • Where else do we find this same idea? Jesus said “For where 2 or 3 gather together in My name there am I in their midst.” Ideas have a way of cropping up in different places. Cross reference vague texts to get clarity.

  • The translation is accurate in the Ten Commandments. That is why it doesn’t read,: “Don’t commit murder”__,a command! As for the NT, many just follow KJV

  • Acts 5:29 – English Standard Version
    But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
    Homosexuality is a sin.

  • Words of the bible politcally screwed with – I got to call you on that one – how about some evidence

  • While I am not Roman Catholic, I am a Christian and an ordained minister. To me, the Bible was written with doctrines spelled out clearly by God, not to be changed by man at any time in any way. Yes, mercy is and has always been part of Christian teaching, but inclusion should not come to those who continue to practice unacceptable things. Read John 8, where Jesus stops the stoning of the woman caught in the act of adultery. While He grants her mercy by not allowing the people to stoner her, (Jewish law would have required it), He also instructed her to “go and sin no more”. In other words, do not continue in this sinful way.

  • Still no evidence for your assertion – just baseless accusations. Lol. Either provide evidence or just admit you don’t know.

  • You have yet to prove your assertion that the text was “politically screwed with…” All you are doing is flapping your gums. And you’re just smelling yourself.

  • my apologies…….I’m getting my articles confused. Actually, I don’t hate them; I hate what the world is doing to them.