Cardinal Müller on Reform of the Roman Curia and the Church

Cardinal Gerhard Müller
Cardinal Gerhard Müller (photo: Edward Pentin)

Pope Francis, in his approach to reforming the Roman Curia and the Church, is pursuing a “spiritual cleansing of the temple, at the same time both painful and liberating, so the glory of God can shine in the Church, the light of all mankind,” the Vatican’s doctrinal chief has said.

In an article in tomorrow’s L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addresses the theological criteria for a reform of the Church and the Roman Curia, laying out what he believes should be the basis of the changes.

The publication of the piece is timed to coincide with a meeting from Monday to Wednesday next week of the C9 Council of Cardinals who are to evaluate progress on the reforms. Their conclusions are to be presented at a consistory of the College of Cardinals, scheduled for 12 and 13 February.

Cardinal Müller makes a point in the article of warning against worldliness in the Church. He argues that the Church receives “her true meaning not from social consensus” or through “political power” but through preaching salvation, especially “to the poor and those on the peripheries of life.”

The Church cannot understand herself, nor justify herself, in terms of worldly standards of “power, wealth and prestige,” he says. “Reflection on the nature and mission of the Church of God is, then, the basis and prerequisite of any real reform.”

“Faced with the fragility of men,” he continues, “there is always the temptation to spiritualize the Church, that is, to relegate her to the area of mere ideals and dreams, beyond the abyss of temptation, sin, death and the devil as if, to reach the glory of the resurrection, we do not have to cross the valley of suffering and pain.”

Then, in what is perhaps an implicit criticism of the Church in his native land of Germany, often deemed too wealthy and worldly, Cardinal Müller refers to what Benedict XVI called “entweltlichung” of the Church: her liberation from forms of worldliness. Pope Francis continued this thought, he adds, by talking about a “poor Church for the poor.”

“The Church must never give into the temptation of self-secularization, adapting to secular society and a life without God,” he said. “The size of the Church’s assets or the number of employees in our administrative structures are not the compass used to orientate the renewal of the Church.” Instead, he writes, it is the “spirit of love” in the Church which “serves people through preaching, the sacraments and charity.”

He recalls that the Curia is not merely an administrative structure, but a “spiritual institution rooted in the specific mission of the Church of Rome.” The cardinal then underlines the role of the Pope and bishops within it, and cautions against comparing the relationship between the universal Church and particular churches to secular organizations. “The Church is the Body of Christ,” he says, “and is led and represented by the College of Bishops ‘cum et sub Petro’. [with and under Peter].”

Cardinal Müller discusses collegiality in the curia, explains the essence of papal primacy, and says the job of curial officials is to support the Pope in his service of Catholic unity. He also maintains the Pope “is not restricted in any way" by the curia’s actions, but is in fact supported by them them in exercising his Petrine ministry. He also underlines the importance of understanding the Curia as a “spiritual family”.

But he points out that the Synod of Bishops is not part of the curia in “the strict sense”. Instead it is an “expression of the collegiality of the bishops in communion with the Pope under his direction”. It is an “expression of the catholicity of the Church”, and belongs to a “different theological category”.

Recalling the importance of listening to the Holy Spirit which brings harmony, Cardinal Müller contrasts this with the spirit of the world that sows “conflict and mistrust.”

In recent years, some have called for more decentralization as part of any reform, often with a view to giving bishops’ conferences more autonomy and authority. This has been a particular wish of many German bishops who, in wishing to allow holy Communion for remarried divorcees, differ from the Vatican.

But the cardinal says a “proper decentralization does not mean episcopal conferences are given more power, but only that they exercise authentic responsibility to which they are entitled under the episcopal authority of teaching and governing of their members always, of course, in union with the primacy of the Pope and of the Roman Church.”

He ends by stressing that “real reform” of the Roman Curia and the Church “aims to render more luminous the mission of the Pope and the Church, in the world today and tomorrow.

Never before, the German cardinal writes, has the world “encountered such radicalism which tends to define man without God, closing the door to transcendence and destroying the common foundations of the human person.”

Referring to the "dictatorship of relativism" and "globalization of indifference", terms used by Benedict XVI and Francis respectively, “the boundaries between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, are confused,” he says. 

“The challenge for the hierarchy and for all members of the Church is to resist these worldly infections”, he says, also in the “treatment of these spiritual of diseases of our time.”

Pope Francis, he says in closing, “is pursuing a spiritual cleansing of the temple, at the same time both painful and liberating, so the glory of God can shine in the Church and be a light for all people. Recalling then, like the disciples of the Lord, the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me" (John, 2, 17), we will understand the objective of the reform of the Curia and the Church.”