Cardinal Müller Looks at US Politics, the 2020 Election and Catholic Conscience

The prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tells the Register that the Catholic Church must not only demand freedom of religion, she must also take up the task of demanding and promoting that politics be given a moral basis.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller in Rome, Italy Sept. 22.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller in Rome, Italy Sept. 22. (photo: Edward Pentin / National Catholic Register)

Cardinal Gerhard Müller is urging U.S. Catholic voters to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” as they prepare to go to the polls on Nov. 3. 

In an exclusive Sept. 22 interview with the Register, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not explicitly endorse any one candidate, but he is clear that any Catholic or religious politician who actively promotes abortion and euthanasia is “not eligible for election.”

The cardinal also discusses whether he would give Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden, who supports legalized abortion and same-sex “marriage,” and whether a Catholic can vote in good conscience for President Donald Trump. He also criticizes some in Church media who have an “ideological” prejudice against the “American religious right.” 

Cardinal Müller’s comments follow an interview he gave earlier this month to Raymond Arroyo of EWTN’s The World Over in which he urged voters to “look for candidates who are in favor of life” — a principle, he said, which is a “basis” and that “you cannot say social justice is more important than life.” The cardinal also said it was “impossible” to equate support for the death penalty and the environment with support for abortion.

Speaking of the responsibility of any citizen in a pluralistic state, the German cardinal said, “I don’t support a candidate in Germany because he is Catholic, but because he has the right understanding of life and human rights. It is better to vote for a good Protestant than for a bad Catholic.” 

“We must judge according to what they are doing, not only to their words … to the fruits,” he said.


Your Eminence, what are your general views as an observer of the upcoming U.S. presidential elections?

The USA is the leading country in the West. It stands for democracy and the rule of law in contrast to all those states in which human rights are trampled underfoot by dictatorial rule or an ideological oligarchy. If all Americans abide by their Constitution and if the millions of Christians and religious people there set an example of respect for their fellow citizens and charity, then America can fulfil its political task in international politics and also orient its inner life toward the common good (bonum commune). The country needs an inner reconciliation.


Given his views on abortion, same-sex “marriage” and general socialist leanings, can a Catholic vote in good conscience for someone like former vice-president Joe Biden?

God alone is entitled to judge a person. But a democratic election is also about measuring the candidates’ proposals by their consequences. For by their fruits you will recognize the false prophets (Matthew 7:16) says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. In no way are the civil war-like conditions, the murder of innocent people, the devastation of churches and religious and national symbols justified through protest against the failure of individual representatives of state authority. Catholic politicians are obliged to also do everything possible to ensure that the life of the unborn child is protected by law. 

Anyone who would even actively promote the legalization of abortion and euthanasia is not eligible for election as a Catholic, religious person or someone faithful to God, even though he may otherwise do good. 

But from Washington to the Vatican, we must also be self-critical Catholics. We must not accept wrongly acquired money as donations — even if, through it, we could help the poor. It is right that the Pope condemns the abuse of Marian devotion by the mafia. But one must also “fear the Danaans [Greeks], even when they bear gifts (Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes).” So says Virgil with regard to the Trojan horse (Aeneid II, 49). What good is an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party if human rights are not respected and Catholics, Muslims and others are denied freedom of religion, and if atheists will even paraphrase the Bible to match their standards, i.e. falsify the Word of God?


Can a Catholic vote in good conscience for President Donald Trump, given his controversial views on immigration, the death penalty, his immoral past personal life? 

Every human being must now in his conscience, and later before God’s judgment seat, answer for all his thoughts, words, deeds and omissions before his Creator and Redeemer. Unfortunately, the language used in politics and the media has become very harsh and brutal. 

Dissenters are no longer respected with arguments, but personally defamed. It is obvious that Trump’s ideological opponents accuse him of precisely those things they themselves are guilty of. They have the world’s press in their hands and make uncontrolled use of the possibility of mainstreaming the spirit of their political correctness. 

The causes of mass migration must be addressed in the countries of origin by helping them to live in dignity in their own country and culture. In the USA, the death penalty is a matter for individual states, but it is a barbaric punishment. It should no longer be carried out for moral reasons — especially because of the many executions of innocent people due to miscarriages of justice and even judicial killings. But whoever differs from most Americans on this issue [i.e. opposes the death penalty] must first fight against the brutal injustice in Islamist and communist countries.


Would you give Holy Communion to a politician like Joe Biden?

There should be no public debate at the Communion rail. But his parish priest and his bishop, who are responsible for his eternal salvation, must clearly tell him and other Catholic pro-abortionists that the killing of a human being in the womb is a grave sin and that legalizing abortion means participating in a “despicable crime” (Gaudium et spes 51; cf. 27). So says the Church’s magisterium in the Second Vatican Council and, to this day, Pope Francis.


What do you say to some bishops and priests in the U.S. who have endorsed, or at least spoken comparatively favorably, of either presidential candidate? 

Bishops and priests must not put their political preferences above their service to eternal salvation. They should use their influence to form the consciences of the faithful, so that Christians, even in matters of the common good, make their decisions according to the natural moral law and the instructions of Christ. In a democratic state, the pastors of the Church cannot tell the faithful whom to elect, but only whether a candidate or a party is contrary to the essential requirements of the natural moral law. The basic moral question is that nobody has the right to kill another person for his own interest or advantage, especially the mother (together with the father) who has the duty to preserve, to retain and foster the life and welfare of her own baby. The following are contrary to the dignity of the human person: “any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction ... human trafficking ... enslavement ... unworthy working conditions...” (Gaudium et spes 27).

I am not a voter or influencer in the U.S.-elections. But as a brother in the worldwide Christian community and together with all people of good will, I want to say with St. John: “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). Pope St. John Paul II spoke about the struggle between the culture of life and the culture of death. Are you pro-life or pro-death? That is the question now. God said once to his Chosen People: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God.” (Deuteronomy 30:19). 


Should the Vatican and U.S. bishops be clearer, in your view, about who the faithful should vote for given a candidate’s positions on key moral issues that clash with the Church’s?

The Pope and bishops are not the agents of a political tug-of-war, but they are to testify to the primacy (priority) of the common good over the struggle for power. Morality stands above politics and is the measure by which it is judged. It would be absurd to let socialist and gender-obsessed governments and international institutions or certain “philanthropic foundations” get away with violations of human rights (decimation of the world population through abortion, euthanasia, destruction of natural marriage and family). 

It is impossible to soothe one’s conscience with the hope that these representatives will be more social and friendlier to the stranger. There are forces in Church journalism that have a prejudice against the American religious right (evangelicals and good Catholics whom they slander as too rigid), and this is an ideological filter. It’s an ideological position, not a moral position. They don’t look at the content, human rights and basic rights. 

The Catholic Church must not only demand freedom of religion, she must also take up the task of demanding and promoting that politics be given a moral basis.