VATICAN CITY — In a brief interview given just hours after hearing that he would no longer be heading the Vatican’s doctrine office, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said the decision was normal and was not the result of conflict between him and Pope Francis.
“There were no differences between me and Pope Francis,” Cardinal Müller told Allgemeine Zeitung, a regional German paper from Mainz.
Cardinal Müller spoke to the paper while in Mainz for his 50th high-school reunion. He traveled to the city Friday after meeting with Pope Francis earlier that morning, receiving the news that his term as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not be renewed.
The cardinal, 69, said that while he doesn’t know the specifics of why his five-year term was not extended, the Pope informed him of his desire to move away from the trend of renewing Curial mandates.
Although it has until now been common for these terms to be renewed, Cardinal Müller said Pope Francis said he wants to progressively move toward a general practice of limiting mandates to just five years, “and I happened to be the first one to which this applied.”
“It doesn’t matter much to me,” Cardinal Müller said, adding that, “at some point, everyone has to stop.”
Müller was tapped to head the Vatican’s doctrine office, the most important dicastery in the Roman Curia, by Benedict XVI before his resignation in 2012. The charge included the positions of president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission.
Pope Francis renewed Cardinal Müller’s appointment to the CDF and to each of the commissions after his election, allowing the prelate to serve the entirety of his five-year term in each, which ended July 2.
The Vatican announced July 1 that Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria, who was appointed secretary to the CDF by Benedict XVI in 2008, will take over for Cardinal Müller. He is known to be simple, orthodox in his theology, highly intellectual and is described by those who know him as not being a “yes man.”
In his interview with Allgemeine Zeitung, Cardinal Müller simply stated that his mandate as prefect of the CDF “had now run its course,” and the decision to replace him had nothing to do with conflict that’s been painted between him and the Pope.
Nor was it the result of differing opinions on Francis’ 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, he said. While the two didn’t agree on all aspects of the text, the cardinal insisted there was no fight about it.
Despite their disagreements on some points, Cardinal Müller is known to have been a conservative voice within the Curia, and, contrary to other German prelates, backed more traditional interpretations of Chapter 8 of the document, which touched on the reception of Communion for divorced and remarried couples.
However, the cardinal did voice his disappointment in Francis’ decision to dismiss three members of his staff a few weeks ago, noting that the officials “were competent people.”
Regarding his new role, Cardinal Müller said that after ceasing his position as head of the CDF July 3, he will stay at the Vatican.
“I will work academically; continue to serve in my role as cardinal; do pastoral work. There is enough for me to do in Rome,” he said, adding that, “In any case, I would normally be a pensioner by now.”