Pope Francis Appoints Spanish Jesuit Ladaria to Succeed Cardinal Müller

Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, currently Secretary to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, takes over as prefect of the important dicastery, replacing Cardinal Gerhard Müller whose five-year mandate was unusually not renewed.

Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ seated next to Cardinal Gerhard Müller at a book presentation in Rome, Nov. 27, 2014.
Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ seated next to Cardinal Gerhard Müller at a book presentation in Rome, Nov. 27, 2014. (photo: Bohumil Petrik/CNA)

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis has appointed Spanish Jesuit Luis Ladaria Ferrer to replace Cardinal Gerhard Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Ladaria, 73, who has served as Secretary, or number two, to the CDF since 2008, will succeed 69-year old Cardinal Müller whose five year mandate as prefect expires on Sunday.

Unusually for a cardinal prefect of a dicastery, the Pope has decided not to confirm him in that position for another five years.

In a statement issued at noon today, the Vatican said the Holy Father “thanked the Most Eminent Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller at the end of his five-year mandate as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as president of the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’, the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the International Theological Commission.”

The statement added that Archbishop Ladaria would assume all these positions held by Cardinal Müller. There was no announcement of a new appointment for the German cardinal.

Although rare for a cardinal prefect not to have his mandate renewed after his first five years, Benedict XVI did the same with Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, whom he transferred in 2006 from serving as prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples to being Archbishop of Naples.


Majorca native

Born in Manacor, on the Spanish island of Majorca, Archbishop Ladaria is known to be a kind, affable and theologically conservative prelate who has a special interest in patristics, the branch of theology that deals with the lives, writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians.

On being appointed by Benedict XVI as Secretary to the CDF in 2008, he gave an interview with the magazine 30Giorni in which he said “it doesn’t take much effort to find out the relevance of the Fathers of the Church” whose work we must “read and savor” to be “better able to approach the freshness of the Gospel message, Jesus.” He said that is of “permanent value rather than something tied to what is topical, which by its nature is variable, changing minute by minute.”

He also said he does not like “extremisms, either progressive, or traditionalist ones” but believes “there is a via media” which is the “correct path to take, even if each of us has his own peculiarities, because, thanks be to God, we do not repeat, we are not clones.”

In the same interview, he underlined the role of the CDF which is first about “promoting and then, if necessary, protecting” the faith. He added that the Congregation “always moves with discretion and speaks exclusively through its acts.”

From 2004, Archbishop Ladaria had served as Secretary-General of the International Theological Commission and led the Commission's evaluation, beginning in 2006, of the concept of limbo which, he said, found “more appropriate ways to address the issue of the fate of children who die without having received baptism, for whom a hope of salvation cannot be ruled out.”

As Secretary, Benedict XVI appointed him in 2009 as a member of the Holy See's ill-fated commission that sought to bring the Society of St. Pius X back into full communion. Now, as president of 'Ecclesia Dei,' he will again be at the center of those efforts.

Last August, Pope Francis named Archbishop Ladaria president of the Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate, which is considering the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons. He has said privately he expects the commission to complete its work in two years, so possibly August next year.


Views on Amoris Laetitia

The Spanish prelate has publicly said little, if anything, about the Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). How he will deal with the thorny issue of interpreting the document is therefore unclear, but as a Jesuit and given his personality, he is expected to take a less disputed position than that of his predecessor, even though his official stand on admitting remarried divorcees to Holy Communion has been clearly in conformity with previous papal teaching.

Cardinal Müller always maintained that the most contentious passages of the document, in particular whether it allows Holy Communion for remarried divorcees without an annulment and without a firm purpose of amendment of life, could be read in accordance with the Church’s teaching and Tradition.

But that position became increasingly harder for him to maintain when it became clear that the Holy Father supported interpretations that did allow Holy Communion for such divorced and remarried couples in certain cases — a position critics have said is not in conformity with past papal teaching (in a leaked letter, later authenticated by the Vatican, the Pope told Argentine bishops there were “no other interpretations” of the document).

In an interview in February, Cardinal Müller warned bishops to stop interpreting Amoris Laetitia in ways that contradicted unchangeable Church doctrine. His comments came after bishops’ conferences such as Germany’s said it allows Holy Communion for some remarried divorcees living in what the Church has always taught is an objective state of adultery, while others such as Poland’s emphatically said it doesn’t. Individual bishops around the world have similarly been at odds over the issue. 

Cardinal Müller backed the four cardinals who sent the Pope five dubia in an effort to seek clarification of Francis’ position on this and other disputed passages in Amoris Laetitiasaying they had every right to ask such questions. However, he was opposed to the initiative being made public, and also thought a “fraternal correction” of the Pope was “not possible at this time” because the document posed “no danger to the faith.”

News of the German cardinal’s departure also comes at a time when the CDF has been increasingly isolated during this pontificate on doctrinal matters. In February, it emerged that despite lodging a large number of corrections of Amoris Laetitia before its publication last April, none was accepted.

Having a Jesuit in charge may help bring it in from the cold, but some will feel uneasy about having two members of the Society of Jesus holding the two most senior positions in the Church.

Asked in 2008 what he thought about being the first Jesuit to be appointed Secretary to the CDF, Archbishop Ladaria said he didn’t think it was a problem but that Benedict XVI chose him because he “seemed to him to be the best person.”