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.