Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Two High-Ranking Cardinals Depart the Vatican; Two Sets of Reasons

Is “Pope Francis” Fighting against Sex Abuse in “The Church”?

Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Cardinal George Pell
Both Cardinal Gerhard Müller (left) and Cardinal George Pell,
two of the most powerful prelates in the Roman Catholic
Church, are out. Both have miserable records in the
Roman Catholic sex abuse crisis.
Last week, two of the highest-ranking Cardinals departed the Vatican, and the conservative and liberal factions are giving (surprise, surprise) conflicting reasons for the changes.

Both Cardinal Gerhard Müller (Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], formerly the Holy Office, formerly the Inquisition), and Cardinal George Pell, who was Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy at the Vatican, and a member of Pope Francis’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers, selected to clean up the financial mess in the Vatican, were dismissed from their Vatican posts last week.

Ostensibly, Müller was dismissed simply because his five-year term had run out and was not renewed. But Müller had two strikes against him already: First, he opposed “Pope Francis” on the “interpretation” of Amoris Laetitia. Second, according to The Times of London, Muller “failed to deliver on a promise to deal with more than 2,000 outstanding cases of alleged abuse.” (It is the CDF’s role to prosecute sexual abuse cases).

The conservative LifeSite News writer John-Henry Westen gives several other reasons for the sacking of Müller:
Muller admitted that he had had to correct the Pope theologically. “Pope Francis is not a 'professional theologian', but has been largely formed by his experiences in the field of the pastoral care, which is very different here with us [in the West],” he said. He characterized Francis’ reaction to his corrections this way: “That is what he [Pope Francis] has said already three or four times himself, publicly (laughs); and then he gave me a hug so that – as he said – the gossip ceases with regard to this matter.”

Even after the publication of Amoris Laetitia, Cardinal Müller maintained that the Pope’s exhortation did not allow for Communion for Catholic remarried divorcees. He did so even in the face of the Pope’s signature on documents backing the opposite interpretation.

It was then, in late 2016, that pressure on Cardinal Muller from Pope Francis became more palpable. Pope Francis unceremoniously ordered Cardinal Muller to dismiss three priests from their posts inside the CDF. According to one of the most noted Vatican reporters, when Muller questioned the Pope about the dismissal, the pope replied: “I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions. I have decided that they have to leave and they have to leave.”

In Vatican circles, speculation began about Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn replacing Muller as head of the CDF. Sources close to the Cardinal suggest that Muller took such speculation seriously and sought to put a friendlier face on his relationship with Pope Francis.
But Schonborn did not become the new prefect. That role was given to Archbishop Luis Francisco Ledaria Ferrer, S.J. (a Jesuit), the #2 person in the CDF, who had also been appointed by Ratzinger.

Continuing with the LifeSite account:
Rather than advising reporters seeking an interpretation of Amoris Laetitia to go to the Vatican doctrine chief [Müller], the Pope referred them to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, whom he called a “great theologian who knows the doctrine of the Church.”

Schonborn’s interpretation contradicted that of Muller’s, allowing in certain cases for Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

Cardinal Muller stepped up his show of loyalty to the Pope with an overt challenge to the four dubia Cardinals – Raymond Burke, Joachim Meisner, Carlo Caffarra and Walter Brandmuller. Despite the fact that the dubia Cardinals were fighting for exactly the same interpretation of Amoris as Cardinal Muller was pushing, he publicly criticized them.

Cardinal Müller told an Italian TV-channel in January 2017 that there was no need for a “fraternal correction” of the pope since the pope has not put the faith and Catholic teaching in danger. “The Pope is basically forced to answer with ‘yes or no’. I don’t like that,” he said.

By May of this year, Müller had softened his stance against the dubia Cardinals, saying that they had asked "legitimate questions to the pope," but regretted that they were made public.

And even though the Pope made it more and more and more clear that his interpretation of Amoris Laetitia was opposed to that of Cardinal Muller’s, the Vatican doctrine chief continues till now saying otherwise.

In fact in yet another book released in February of this year Cardinal Muller suggests that not only must Amoris Laetitia be interpreted in light of the Church’s traditional teaching and discipline, he adds that the Pope has no authority to alter it.

While Cardinal Muller may now lose his exalted post as guardian of the doctrine of the faith in the Catholic Church, he went down trying his best to maintain the faith despite personal attack. His calculated moves to retain his position were, we learn from those close to him, not made out of any desire for power, but only out of concern that a successor in his post less given to maintaining orthodoxy may do harm to the Church.
Summarizing, LifeSite News says that Müller was canned for his disagreement with the pope, generally, and for being far too conservative, generally.

Taking another view on the Müller firing is the “progressive” National Catholic Reporter (NCR),in an article by Michael Sean Winters. In this account, Müller was not nearly so conservative on doctrine as the conservatives made him out to be – “it is more than a little ironic that the same arch-conservatives who are floating the narrative that Muller has been sacked because he stood athwart Francis' supposedly heterodox agenda were the same people griping about Muller when he was appointed.” [Winters gives two links from Traditionalist sites as evidence.]

More of the same:
The fact that Cardinal Muller was sacked should not come as a surprise. Conservatives within the curia and more progressive types beyond have both long complained that the man, though very gifted intellectually, could not organize a one man parade. He couldn't run the office. This had become increasingly apparent in the CDF's continued wrong notes on the subject of clergy sex abuse. Those who see this as an ideological purge on account of Muller's increasingly confused position on Amoris Laetitia haven't been paying attention.
Winters noted that “The Holy Father has selected the longtime #2 at the congregation, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ledaria Ferrer, S.J. to move up to the top spot.” Ledaria, a Jesuit, had also been appointed by Ratzinger to the number 2 position in the CDF.

Regarding the non-appointment of Schonborn, Winters says:
[B]y hiring from within, Pope Francis has shown he is not declaring war on the congregation and its staff. If he had wanted to do that, he could have brought in someone from outside, such as Argentine Archbishop Victor Fernandez. Or, he could have selected someone who worked at the CDF, but a long time ago, like Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, now the Archbishop of Vienna.… By promoting Archbishop Ladaria, Francis is indicating that he needs a change in management not a change in overall structure or constitution.
As well, Winters generally takes a harsher line on the hierarchy vs sex abuse victims, and characteristically, he says:
… Pope Francis is completely unafraid to do what is best for the Church. Earlier this week, the Australian authorities brought charges against another high ranking Vatican official, Cardinal George Pell, who was put on a temporary leave of absence to return to his native country and have his day in court. The official statement from the Vatican was deeply ambivalent. Some leaders might think twice before removing a second high ranking official, worried that it would suggest a chaotic situation. Not Francis. He is not someone who cares how things appear so much as how things are. Indeed, this may be the most challenging part of the reform of the curia, getting an organization designed to promote those who work there to remember that its job it to help the pope govern the universal church. Concern with how things look is characteristic of the courtier mentality of years past, not the missionary mentality to which the Second Vatican Council and ALL subsequent popes have called the Church.
There’s the Pell connection. So according to Winters, it’s more likely that “Pope Francis” is taking a bolder stand vs. the sexual abuse network in the Vatican.

The Times of London quotes Pell as saying “I am looking forward finally to having my day in court,” Pell said. “I am innocent of these charges, they are false.” Pell has been criminally charged with sexual abuse by authorities in Australia.

Pell was the architect of the “Melbourne Response” to sexual abuse in 1996, which capped payments to those abused at $50,000 (Australia dollars, or $38,000 USD) at the time, and pledged that “the Church” would “stenuously defend” its claims against those who decided to file lawsuits, according to the NYTimes.

The “Melbourne Response” set up an “independent panel” to handle sex abuse complaints, and established a standard response that included “a general apology” and a maximum payment to abuse victims of $50,000 (AUS) at the time.

More recently (February 2015), the liberal “The Guardian” reported that the Roman Catholic Church in Australia had “spent more than $1m fighting” the claims of a sex abuse victim, “despite him asking for just a tenth of that amount in settlement”:
Cardinal George Pell and the Sydney archdiocese fought a legal claim by an abuse victim, John Ellis, to discourage others from attempting the same, the royal commission has found. It also confirmed the Catholic church repeatedly failed in its dealings with victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

In reports released on Wednesday [“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sex Abuse”] examined the Catholic church’s widely condemned Towards Healing program in dealing with four people, and the handling of complaints by Ellis. All matters had been examined in public hearings over the past two years,

The church spent more than $1m fighting Ellis despite him asking for just a tenth of that amount in settlement, and put him through “distressing and unnecessary cross-examination” and threatened him with legal costs.

“The archdiocese [of Sydney] wrongly concluded that it had never accepted that Father Duggan had abused Mr Ellis,” the report found.

“This conclusion allowed Cardinal Pell to instruct the archdiocese’s lawyers to maintain the non-admission of Mr Ellis’s abuse. The archdiocese accepted the advice of its lawyers to vigorously defend Mr Ellis’s claim.”

The report confirms statements made by Pell who admitted this motivation in a royal commission public hearing in March last year.

“One reason Cardinal Pell decided to accept this advice was to encourage other prospective plaintiffs not to litigate claims of child sexual abuse against the church.”
Why was Muller dragging his feet on 2,000 sex abuse cases? Was it incompetence? If so, how did he become the top doctrinal watchdog in the Vatican? Or was he officially stalling the process? Pell himself may be found to be both the protector-in-chief of sex-abuser priests and an abuser himself.

One thing is for sure: given the intense media spotlight, the Vatican is less and less able to hide its dirty laundry from the public.

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