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The rumor has been floating around for some months, and this week it was announced that Cardinal Levada has retired as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the bishop of Regensburg, Gerhard Müller, has been appointed to take his place.
His official biography and extensive information can be found in English at his diocesan website.
The two NCRs cover the story here:
- National Catholic Register (moderately conservative)
- National Catholic Reporter (moderately liberal)
Talking with one of my German colleagues in Rome, she was complaining how the German press has continued to remind people that this was once the office of the Universal Inquisition. That, and that Müller has been widely painted as an archconservative and favoring the current trend towards traditionalism.
I chuckled and pointed out that most of the English-language blogosophere seems to focus on his connection to Liberation Theology, and that if anything, the traditionalists have protested because he is “heretic” and a “modernist” – terms almost inevitably misused, but that is nothing new.
I have read only one of Müller ’s books, and that is his Priesthood and Diaconate, which I have used for my License thesis. He writes to counter the arguments made by some German feminist theologians that women have been and ought to be ordained to the diaconate. The major argument he sets out to counter is that, although the question of ordination to the priesthood – understood as the presbyterate and the episcopate in this case – has been closed since John Paul II’s 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the question of the ordination of women to the diaconate remains (ostensibly) open.
First, it is interesting to note that in the translation, there are a couple of humorous editorial notes attached to his text. This same German friend keeps remarking that the problem with German theologians, ministers and ecclesiastics is that they all think that “the German Church is the center of the Catholic Church”- or whatever issues are big in the German world must be the main issues for the universal church. Not unlike the American/anglo-phone phenomenon, actually.
At various points in his book, Müller demonstrates this by saying something like “theologians in the whole world are asking this question” or “everyone seems to think this is an inevitability”. But after the translator and editor have their input, it looks like this: “theologians in the whole [German-speaking] world are asking this question” or “everyone [in Germany] seems to think this is an inevitability.”
More substantially, I was struck that he seemed not to address the most fundamental ecclesiological point of the argument he was trying to counter and correct. The argument for the ordination of women to the diaconate, in the current context, is that, if you maintain that within the one sacrament of holy orders there are not only three orders, but two distinct classes of orders – one to the priesthood and one to ministry/diakonia – then you can argue that a prohibition of ordaining women to priesthood does not necessarily dictate a prohibition to the ordination of women to diaconate.
However, if you argue that the three distinct orders within the one sacrament are modeled in a Trinitarian concept, then this argument might collapse, and if women cannot be ordained to one order or another it can be argued that they cannot be ordained to all of them. Müller’s strongest move, it seems, if his intent is to demonstrate that women cannot be ordained even to the diaconate, would have been to argue the unity of the sacrament. Instead, he maintains throughout his text this scholastic division between priesthood and other, the very point that the target of his investigation needs to retain in order to make her argument.
It is also interesting to note is that Bishop Müller was heavily involved in the International Theological Commission’s Report on the Diaconate, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, which itself does not close the door on the question of ordaining women to the diaconate.
All in all, he seems an accomplished theologian, interested in ecclesiology and ecumenism, with a healthy ability not to get stuck in some of the old images and models of theology; he is able to judge aspects of liberation theology on its merits, rather than treat it like a bad word, as so many in the anglophone world are sadly wont to do. On the other hand, it seems that the question of women in the diaconate may be closed soon, before the non-German speaking world even had a chance to realize it was open.
I am looking forward to reading more, and seeing what the future brings.
Father John Paul Kimes is a Maronite presbyter serving in the Supreme Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the section which deals with grave delicts, those sins which involve the desecration of the sacraments and, since 2001, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
The Maronite Church is one of the 23 “self-governing” churches that make up the Catholic Church, and is the only patriarchal church with no Orthodox counterpart. The short version of the history is that while communion between the church of Rome and the church of Lebanon was never broken, communication was lost for some centuries at a time. However, at any opportunity where communion could be expressed, it was. So, it is common to say that the Maronite church was always a part of the Catholic communion. Born of the Syrian tradition surrounding Antioch and Edessa, this church settled in Lebanon and took its name from a hermit-priest of the late fourth century, St. Maron.
Given the connection to these communities, the liturgical rites are West Syrian, or Antiochene, and the liturgical language is a variation of Aramaic, and also includes Arabic. While most of our celebration was in English, some key prayers and responses were said in Arabic, and only our Egyptian Muslim and our Italian scripture scholar could keep up without the transliteration!
It’s a beautiful liturgy, even in the simple setting of our chapel. Perhaps especially so. After my experience with the Syro-Malabar Divine Liturgy recently, I was stuck by how much more of a role the deacon has in the Maronite rite. Also that neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are omitted in the Maronite liturgy during Lent. (I found a Maronite liturgy on YouTube you could check out)
After dinner Fr. Kimes engaged questions and shared something of his work in the CDF. One of the questions posed was around the role of lay people in curial offices. There are few offices which are actually required, by law, to be held by a cleric, and the CDF tribunal is one of them. In most dicasteries it is simply a culture that has not been challenged. When he was prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger apparently filled as many positions as he could with qualified non-ordained people. Even when, after becoming pope, the Congregation needed the very particular expertise of a lay person in a position reserved in canon law to a cleric, Pope Benedict granted it without question.
So why hasn’t this openness translated into changes across the curia now that he’s pope? He leaves his deputies to do the hiring themselves; rather than micromanage he prefers to lead by example. I’m not sure it’s a clear example, however, to most that are unaware of this. There remains, too, what might be described as a benign clericalism (my term, not his), a belief that the limitations to certain offices to clergy is broader than it actually is. In some cases this is more explicit and less benign. But even in the case of the Supreme Tribunal of the CDF, which is clearly clerical by law, Fr. Kimes expressed the opinion that this was a wisdom – some of what is dealt with is so heinous, the thought is that the judges need all the sacramental graces and spiritual strength that they can have, hence the preference in law for someone ordained.
When meeting with the second-ranking official of the dicastery known for most of its history as the Holy Office of the Inquisition (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, CDF), one might not expect a relaxed and cheerful pastor.
One certainly does not expect to hear such pearls as, “We are not here to judge who is ‘really’ Catholic and who is not. We are all striving for holiness, but none of us has reached it. We offer people formation in the Catholic ideal, but everyone struggles with the real application of this in their life” or “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!”
Yet, this is exactly what we got in the “grandfatherly” Jesuit Spaniard, Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Secretary of the CDF at Tuesday night’s inaugural Oasis in the City at the new location of the Lay Centre.
Equally reassuring of the man’s Christian heart was his reaction to the fact that the car service that had been arranged to get him to the Lay Centre was 45 minutes late, having left the Archbishop waiting for his ride, without any notice. Any normal person could reasonably expect to be irritated or upset. A typical “VIP” might have just given up and given up on us. More than a couple U.S. hierarchs I have encountered might have thrown a royal fit at such inconvenience. But when the archbishop finally arrived, he got out of the car laughing and waving away Donna’s profuse apologies as if they were not even needed: “These things happen all the time”, he says.
The bulk of his lecture was on the unsurprising CDF 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae, dealing with a range of bioethical issues including IVF, stem cells, and cloning. It was the questions afterword that brought some of the most interesting comments, including the two quotes above, the first being in response to a question about where to draw the line when someone (such as a politician) does not act or profess a view entirely commensurate with Catholic moral teaching on these complicated issues. Others challenged the Church’s insistence that “human life/personhood begins at conception” from a Thomistic framework which allows for a later development.
My Italian is not good enough to have followed the lecture in its entirety, but the conversation afterword was just as lively. Now if only all of our American hierarchy were as pastoral as this CDF honcho! (Yes, you read that correctly!!)
UPDATE: Didn’t realize the press was here too: http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=34844&cb300=vocations