After Pope Benedict XVI named 22 new cardinals last week, a large number of whom were Italian (seven in total, six of whom head Vatican departments), the Holy Father could be on the verge of appointing a fellow German to head the all-important Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
German newspapers have been discussing for some time the possibility that the Bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, is being lined up to succeed Cardinal William J. Levada as prefect of the CDF. The speculation is likely to increase after Bishop Müller met the Pope in private audience today immediately following this morning’s weekly general audience.
Long Beach, Ca.-born Cardinal Levada, 75, is said to want to step down sooner rather than later, and so a decision on his successor is expected in the near future, possibly within the next three months, although the Holy Father may insist that he remains in the post a little while longer.
Aged 64 and originally from Mainz in central Germany, Bishop Müller is already a member of the CDF and highly regarded in Rome. A professor of dogmatic theology, he specializes in defending faith and morals, is a prolific author, and has had a dogmatic textbook translated into several languages (a Chinese edition is underway). He has a reputation as a defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and is also an expert on ecumenism as well as an accomplished scholar of liberation theology.
A personal friend of the Pope, the bishop won accolades for his organisation of the Holy Father’s visit to Regensburg in 2006. He is also compiling the collected works of Joseph Ratzinger through the “Pope Benedict XVI Institute”, an organisation he founded in Regensburg in 2008.
The Holy Father, prefect of the CDF from 1981 to 2005, was a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg from 1969 to 1977.
But Bishop Müller is not the only prelate tipped to head the oldest and arguably most important Vatican Congregation. Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Secretary of the CDF, and Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, are also said to be in the running.
The German bishop has also been the subject of faulty speculation in the past: not long ago, the German press suggested he was in line to be president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Archbishop of Berlin. He was passed over for both positions.
One fact could be a clincher, however: the internet portal Katholisches is reporting that Bishop Müller is taking a refresher course in Italian “perhaps not just for a love of the language of Dante”. When hard facts are almost impossible to come by, sometimes it seems tenuous clues such as this are all we really have to go on.