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Exclusive Interview with Cardinal Müller: “We Are Freed In Order to Be Free”

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

What does the Gospel say about being liberated?

Aleteia met with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, on the occasion of the publication of his book, Poor for the Poor: The Mission of the Church, prefaced by Pope Francis.

Müller is the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the body responsible for promoting and ensuring the doctrine on faith and morals, which was long headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Ordained bishop by Pope John Paul II, appointed head of the CDF by Benedict XVI and created Cardinal by Francis, this 66-year-old German is a renowned theologian, but also a regular of the Peruvian slums and a European specialist on the "liberation theology" movement. This is an exclusive meeting with an unusual man of the Church, for whom theology is a discourse on the divine not to be disconnected from the human – for whom the poor are never the subject of a  mere theoretical reflection. 

Your Eminence, you have written extensively on liberation theology,  a little known current or one that is misunderstood by Catholics. What is the Christian meaning of liberation? 

Cardinal Gerhard Müller: As a current of thought, liberation theology was born in Latin America after the Second Vatican Council, the work of the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. But liberation is primarily a biblical theme, since Jesus has freed men from sin and death. It also inevitably has a social purpose. No, Jesus did not come to bring an earthly paradise but the kingdom of God. And this kingdom of God consists in loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. We live in society, we belong to human communities. This is why liberation from death and sin has social consequences. 

Thus, living together should be characterized by moral principles, both individual and social. The Church’s mission is to make present and to communicate this natural law, these moral principles. In 2000 years, the Church has gone through varying social and historical situations! Let us remember that in the sixteenth century, during the conquest of Latin America, the Church was on the weaker people’s side: the Spanish Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas is a major figure of the defense of Indians’ rights. Maybe one day he will be canonized! He was a contemporary of other intellectuals, gathered in the School of Salamanca, who denounced slavery. Several popes of that era also condemned these situations in papal documents. Under the Third Reich, another situation of extreme denial of human rights, Bartolomé de Las Casas became a symbol of resistance and freedom. In 1938, the German playwright Reinhold Schneider imagined a meeting between Las Casas and Charles V in his play Las Casas vor Karl V. Las Casas became the voice of the people of his time including the Jews. For Gutiérrez and for us, these examples are not only historical reminiscences, but events that affect us. 

This theology is therefore present-day? Can we, for example, apply it to any situation in which the Church is engaged alongside human misery? 

We live in the twenty-first century, after the industrial revolution: our era is marked by colonialism, by a false Eurocentrism. The liberation theology was born in a context of great dependence of the South American countries on Europe. To that extent, yes, it can be analogically applied to countries in Africa and Asia. The liberation theology today questions the possibility of proclaiming the dignity of man in the context of a lack of freedom, oppression and disregard for basic human rights.
But beware, human liberation is not achieved by politics alone: this would mean building an ideal society through education. This is Rousseau’s model, which is, in the end, a mad dream of social technique. From where do we get this model? From the Enlightenment dialectic which asserts that man wants to do everything by himself … and that leads to great utopias and ideologies. Experience has shown that these projects have worsened the situation. 

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