Shortly before the Vatican announced on Saturday a “thorough study” of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and accusations against him of sexual abuse, Cardinal Gerhard Müller called for new procedures to investigate abuse cases, especially when it comes to prelates.

In an interview on EWTN’s World Over program with Raymond Arroyo that aired Oct. 4, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017 said the rule that requires papal approval for the CDF to launch an investigation into a bishop or cardinal needs to change.

Currently, Cardinal Müller said the CDF can launch an investigation into any priest accused of sexual abuse, but when it comes to bishops or cardinals, special papal permission is required. 

Problems with this rule allegedly came into particular focus in 2013 when Pope Francis reportedly interrupted Cardinal Müller, who was celebrating Mass, to instruct him to halt an investigation into abuse allegations against Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, one of the Pope’s friends. 

When Arroyo asked if the story was true, Cardinal Müller did not corroborate or refute it due to the limits of the pontifical secret, but said this special permission of the Pope generally “is the problem and I think we should change this point.” 

“The Congregation should begin this investigation, and the interference of the Pope, or some friends of the Pope, is not needed,” he said. 

Instead of following this procedure, he said the Pope’s friends tried to discredit the CDF’s actions regarding clergy abuse when he served as prefect, calling the Congregation “bad,” “dogmatic, hardline,” or that “Müller is German, too strong.” The cardinal rejected such claims, instead insisting he wished only to apply the relevant Church law, regardless of whether the abuse involved a prelate or priest. 

The solution, Cardinal Müller said, is “the independence of the ecclesiastical courts and the canonical process.” There must be an “ordinary process,” he said, and “only at the end should the Holy Father be informed and be able to make the final decision.” He added that there must be no obstructions, comparing the situation with the President of the United States who cannot simply call someone up to “stop a case.” 

The “great problem” in this pontificate, he continued, “are the so-called friends of the Pope. We are his true friends, and yet some in the mass media call us the enemies of the Pope.” He also singled out members of the C9 Council of Cardinals who he said have asked the Pope to appoint some candidates as a bishop simply because of “power” and “not because he’s qualified as a shepherd.” 

Cardinal Müller disclosed that while prefect, the Pope created a “special college” of 10 persons within the CDF who “decided against our opinion to recuse the penalties” on some priests guilty of abuse because they were “absolutely against” their laicization. The cardinal also put this down to a “naïve understanding” of the situation among Church leaders who “hadn’t learned anything” of clergy sexual abuse.

He also said some Church leaders have a “misunderstanding of mercy.” Mercy should first be applied to “the victims and not the perpetrators,” he said, adding that “the only and just solution for the victim is that the perpetrator be dismissed from the clerical state.” Laicization is required because a priest is a “representative of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who does all good for the sheep and cannot ruin young people or any people.” 

Cardinal Müller also said clergy abuse victims “have a right” to know about decisions made by the Congregation, and believes the Church must “learn from civil legislation and have more independence” in investigations. 

On the question of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony, Arroyo asked Cardinal Müller if he was aware of punitive measures placed by Benedict XVI on then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick due to allegations of sexual abuse of seminarians and priests. 

“As a Congregation we, I, didn’t know anything about these measures against him,” he said, but added that “privately I had heard a little bit that this person is too liberal, whatever that means [sic].” He also said he was “not surprised” by the allegations made by Archbishop Viganò, and said he wants the archbishop and the Pope to meet and be reconciled — and for the Pope to “give answers to these accusations or questions, for the People of God, because the People of God have a right to know what happened.” 

See the full interview here: