In what Vatican watchers are calling a “critically important move” (See Allen, NCR), Pope Benedict has appointed Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as the new Prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency where Archbishop Romero’s canonization cause is currently awaiting to be processed. Bishop Müller is personal friends with the “Father of Liberation Theology” Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez and has expressed admiration for Archbishop Romero.
Writing last year in the German magazine Christ und Welt, Bishop Müller responded to a liberal ecumenical group which proposed an unauthorized canonization of Archbishop Romero to protest the beatification of Pope John Paul II. “By what right does one witness the lives of two great servants of God to claim to sow the weeds of discord and distrust in the fields of the Church?,” Müller demanded, warning that to drive a wedge between the two constitutes a “destructive antagonism”, and a “disastrous exploitation of the holy martyrs of Jesus Christ.” Müller argued that John Paul and Romero were united in the service of Christ. “In different ways, John Paul II and Óscar Romero served the kingdom of God,” he argued. “They are committed to the unity in Christ and unity in his church. We should not argue about the saints that God gives his Church,” Müller wrote, “but learn from them,” to obtain a richer understanding of the Gospel.
Writing specifically about Archbishop Romero, Müller defended his orthodoxy. “Anyone who reads the moving sermons of the Servant of God Oscar Romero finds,” he said, “no evidence of a difference with Catholic doctrine.” Moreover, Müller praised Romero as a model bishop: “Archbishop Romero,” he wrote, “is truly the voice of those without a voice, and thus an advocate of the poor and an example to every bishop as a defender and father of the ‘poor, homeless and neediest of all’,” as every bishop is called to be during his ordination. Müller wrote that the final words of Archbishop Romero’s last sermon—the improvised Eucharistic prayer seconds before his assassination—is “his legacy to us.” In a revealing touch, Müller quoted the text in its entirety, and cited the accurate version of the quote, not the commonly available version which contains an error (previously discussed in this blog). Finally, Müller has attended the commemoration of Archbishop Romero’s anniversary in San Salvador.
Bishop Müller also co-authored a book with Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez on the Latin American church movement, Liberation Theology. (An der Seite der Armen. Theologie der Befreiung [“On the Side of the Poor. The Theology of Liberation”], Augsburg 2004). “With Gustavo, I learned more deeply the meaning of this theological current,” Müller told a Peruvian university magazine in 2008, explaining that he first became exposed to the movement at a Peruvian seminar on it in 1988. He has also stated that Gutiérrez’ theology, “is orthodox because it is orthopractic and it teaches us the correct way of acting in a Christian fashion since it comes from true faith” (Ab. Romero’s theology has been subject to CDF scrutiny for orthodoxy and ‘orthopraxy’). Müller has reportedly attended retreats with Gutiérrez every year since 1998 to the present. “The great challenge that we have as intelligent beings and creatures of God is studying reality and acting according to morality and ethics,” Müller told the Peruvian magazine. “When Jesus returns, the first thing He will ask us is what we have done for the hungry and those who suffer the most.”
But for all his sympathy Bishop Müller’s appointment might not mean very much for Archbishop Romero’s cause if it were not for one thing—the complete confidence of Pope Benedict XVI, which is that much more important given the climate of leaks and distrust in the current Vatican. “Müller clearly enjoys the pope’s confidence,” John Allen writes, noting that Müller compiled the comprehensive collection of all the pope’s theological writings. Pope Benedict has known Müller for years, and even attended Müller’s Episcopal ordination, where Müller took as his motto “Dominus Iesus,” the title of one of the Pope’s important writings while he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the office Müller will now hold.
It is almost certain that Bishop Müller’s appointment won’t constitute an affirmative boost to Archbishop Romero’s canonization. That is, Bishop Müller cannot push the process forward. But it seems equally sure that anyone counting on the process to be derailed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith now is bound to be disappointed. For example, Fr. Jon Sobrino has said that some objections to the canonization cause arise from Ab. Romero’s collaboration with Sobrino, who is associated with Liberation Theology. Bishop Müller’s collaboration with Gustavo Gutiérrez (who similarly was rebuked by the CDF previously) is likely to take the sting out such objections. And while Müller cannot ordain the beatification to happen, his friendship with Gutiérrez demonstrates that it is more difficult to condemn someone who advocates for the poor once you get to know them: in a recent interview, the rector of the Jesuits in Munich said that John Paul’s interactions with Romero led the pontiff to “a much better understanding of the archbishop’s situation” and “an evolution” in the pontiff’s assessment of Liberation Theology. With Bishop Müller’s appointment, it seems very likely that Ab. Romero will have a fair judge at the CDF.