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Exclusive interview: Cardinal Müller on Medjugorje, Amoris Laetitia and radical Islam

Mgr Gerhard Müller, Préfet de la Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi – en

© Katharina EBEL / KNA-Bild / CIRIC

Konrad Sawicki - published on 04/21/17

The Vatican doctrinal chief sits down with Aleteia Poland in this wide-ranging, exclusive interview.

POLAND — The head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, traveled to Poland on April 19 for a conference honoring the 90th birthday of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The theme of the conference was “The Concept of the State in the Teaching of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI.”

Aleteia spoke with the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the offices of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Cardinal Müller answered several questions exclusively for Aleteia readers, on topics ranging from Medjugorje to Amoris Laetitia, to present-day martyrs, radical Islam, and religious freedom.

Konrad Sawicki: We are meeting here in Poland. Many Catholics, both here and across Europe, have great expectations for our country. Does Your Eminence believe that Poland has a special mission to fulfill?

Cardinal Müller: Europe is not merely a collection of nations and states. Europe has a soul, which originates in Christianity. Within Europe there are individual nations with their unique histories, unique cultures, and unique ways, and we must draw appropriate conclusions.

Poland had the first democratic constitution in Europe, adopted in 1791. However, Poland was repeatedly buffeted by fate, divided as a state and a nation, and suffered at the hands of former imperial states. Poland preserved its identity thanks to its Catholic faith, and this is the special feature which Poland must contribute from its past and present to the common future of Europe. We must walk along a common path so that each nation might contribute something unique to the journey.

The fact that Poland, as a nation, is united in the Catholic faith, that it maintains its roots and values is also significant, I believe, for other parts of Europe which are dominated by secularism, and a life without God undergirded by materialism.

The voice of Poland says: “No, we have a greater sense of the significance of human life. We see it in prayer, in how magnificent it is to be a human being, to be God’s child.” This propels us toward freedom, towards civil liberty as well as towards our personal freedom as a human being.

I think it is essential that we in Europe see ourselves as a community of nations. Not, as before, when individual states saw themselves as incarnations of power and wanted to expand at the expense of others. We are a cultural community, and our culture has its roots in the Christian religion.

My second questions concerns Medjugorje. The Vatican commission has completed its work, and the pope’s special envoy, Archbishop Henryk Hoser, has begun his mission. Many of the faithful therefore expect that a decision regarding the authenticity of the apparitions will be made soon. Is this expectation justified?

Cardinal Müller: On the one hand, we have a number of pastoral initiatives in Medjugorje. It is only right and proper when people, wherever they are, take advantage of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, receive Holy Communion and reflect on their life-path in the light of faith, for example, considering a vocation to marriage or the celibate life, as priests or male and female religious.

On the other hand, this experience says nothing about the alleged apparitions and messages. The Church has the right, at any time, to say whether these are recognized or not, whether the apparitions are supernatural or whether they are figments of people’s imagination, or subjective visions, subjective religious experiences.

Even if the Church were to recognize these phenomena as supernatural, a single Christian is not bound to believe in them and treat them as an article of faith which leads to salvation. Christians are not obliged to recognize them. An individual Christian remains free. Jesus Christ is the foundation of Revelation for us, and this is the measure of our faith.

The alleged apparitions taking place in Medjugorje are private revelations, which are not excluded as a matter of principle, but they do not have the status and significance of the true Revelation of God as truth and salvation. Jesus Christ comes to us in the life of the Church; he is present in the sacraments, and that is why the faithful should not pin excessive hope to possible explanations of private revelations by the Church. This is because the truth of Revelation does not depend on later phenomena and visions.

We, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, indicate whether this was a supernatural phenomenon, or whether it is not certain that it is supernatural. This is a recommendation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offered to the pope. It is the pope, as the supreme pontiff, who makes decisions about the credibility of these phenomena or a lack thereof. It is not that a special commission or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may confirm or reject the supernatural character of the phenomena; we only issue a recommendation.

It is not proper, I believe, to give the impression that the commission or the Congregation has reached a definite conclusion. This is yet to be seen.

Another question I would like to ask concerns the debate within the Church following the publication, one year ago, of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. Does Your Eminence regard this debate as fruitful, or potentially hazardous?

Cardinal Müller: The true intention of the apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, was to place at the center the full, complete biblical message concerning marriage as a sacrament and a way of life. In addition, it aimed to take into consideration those who, on account of various circumstances, have failed or have run into trouble, so that we would not say: “Here are those who do everything right, whereas the others do not belong to us.”

We want everyone to walk along the path of Christ’s followers, and we wish to be of assistance so that this path might be understood and put into practice.

In this sense, each debate or contention is good. This has one negative aspect, though. Namely, the debate boils down to only one issue, while other major and vital subjects raised are brushed aside. It generates small division and concern when one hears the question: “What do you think about Holy Communion for divorcees who are living in non-sacramental unions?”

We can approach this question only from the perspective of the fullness of the teaching of the Church. The pope has not, will not, and cannot change Revelation. Some claim that the pope has changed the foundations of Church morality and has relativized the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This he would not and cannot do.

My fourth question concerns the present-day Christian martyrs, for instance in Syria, Egypt, or even France. The Second Vatican Council encourages us to read the signs of the times and to interpret them within their current context. What, then, does this signum temporis – the new martyrs – tell us today?

Cardinal Müller: A perception lingers that martyrs lived only in ancient Roman times. When we think about martyrs in contemporary history, it is mainly those in the 20th century in Christian countries such as Germany, the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc.

Now this great challenge has re-appeared due to radical Islamism. The Islamic countries must take a stand with respect to religious freedom, the freedom of human conscience, and they should respect them. One must not say: “I come from God and will decide about your life.” Each and every one of us must decide in their conscience whether or not to remain in the faith.

This is what we need to learn, also in the Western countries which are placing freedom of conscience in jeopardy, for instance when a person is forced to assist in an abortion in keeping with the law. This, too, is a slightly different form of persecuting Christians, the gravest violation of the freedom of conscience. We need to re-learn, also in the Western countries, in secular states, what the freedom of religion and confession of faith means.

We cannot be arrogantly outraged by Islamists, as we ourselves do not fully and unrestrictedly recognize freedom of religion and confession of faith. This is precisely the reading of the signs of the time: the Church is an advocate of unrestricted human rights and universal human dignity, or the dignity of all people. We defend not only the believers of the Catholic Church or other Christian Churches, but defend each and every person.

My last question concerns liberation theology, which I know Your Eminence is interested in. Some Catholics show a persistently reserved approach to it. What is the essence of liberation theology and what can be learned from theologians who adhere to it?

Cardinal Müller: The starting point of liberation theology is: “How can I think about the Divine love in the face of abject poverty and blatant injustice that exist in the world, in South and Central America, in the communities which are predominantly Catholic? Why shouldn’t the Catholic faith provide assistance to social equality and the dignity of each and every human person?”

Here, in the Church, we provide a response that does not resemble that given by the communists. The communists said: “Everything is going to be better in this world,” and these promises were followed only by hell. We, on our part, say: “Through God everything becomes better.” At the same time, we are called to assume responsibility for this world, to get involved and use our reason to care for education, food, housing, and work, for the sake of a good and positive social development.

We have the Catholic social teaching with its principles of respect for the human person, subsidiarity and solidarity. We have these fundamental principles and therefore want to get involved, as the Church and as Christians, so that society might develop well. Not in materialistic terms, though. The temporal is the way towards the timeless, the eternal. This is a union of the way and the aim. Christ is the Way and the Aim. He is Truth and Life.

For us, as members of the Catholic Church, there is no discrepancy between that world and this world, between the material and the spiritual. For us this is unity in Christ. God has become man. Christ is the God-man. Therefore, the human and the divine are united in Christ.

Archbishop Oscar Romero is a perfect example here, a model. As a Congregation, we studied all of his books, writings and statements during the beatification process. I have myself read them in Spanish to examine their orthodoxy. On this basis, we issued a nihil obstat, a permit confirming that nothing prevents Romero’s being raised to the glory of the altars.

We should bear in mind that this line of thinking is strongly influenced by the Second Vatican Council, by the teaching concerning the relations between the Church and the contemporary world. This is the reason for our commitment. Not only the commitment to make this world a better place in material terms, but the commitment to uphold human dignity as the foundation stone. This is, moreover, God’s commitment to us. We must remember Jesus Christ’s suffering and Passion on the Cross, for us and this world. His Resurrection offers us hope in creating a better world, where children receive a good education, where there are opportunities for development and the pursuit of one’s charisms and talents… We must remember the ultimate horizon: our God, the Creator of this world.

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