Interview with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller
“Man does not get his dignity from the State – it is given by God”
Joanna Bogle meets Cardinal Gerhard Mueller
Rome in stifling heat, and St Peter's Square is sizzling in blinding sunshine. Buildings offer a relief: a sense of centuries of summer heat simply dissipating into thick walls.
Meeting the Prefect of the CDF does have an agreeable sense of drama about it – the opening scenes of a film. And the tall, rather imposing figure in a cassock with red piping fits the scene – ease and dignity as he comes through the double-doors into the vast high-ceilinged room. But the greeting is a warm and friendly one, the eyes are smiling, and somehow the conversation flows freely from the start.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller has a measured, thoughtful way of speaking, fluent English, soft fizzy accent, a friendly approach and a complete lack of any pomposity. When he talks about the Church, there is a warmth and a sense of commitment that is centred on something personal. We chatted a bit – about Britain and so on – and conversation was easy and congenial. I asked him about his own life, how he came to be a priest.
“In our village it was normal to be a Catholic – different from England - and we had a good parish priest and a good school that had a great influence on me. But when you sense a call from Jesus Christ to be a priest, it is not a call to some social organisation. The Church is the house of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit – Christ is the Word made flesh. That was what became convincing for me.”
Today’s Europe is rapidly becoming de-Christianised, and even our ideas on what it means to be human, as men and women, somehow seem dissociated from previous understanding. This is something with which the Church is grappling, although traditions of Christianity still linger. This is evidently a major issue for the Cardinal. He is forthright is describing the “nihilistic” understanding of life prevalent today and in the need to offer the truth about who we really are and our relationship with God.
“Christianity is not just a culture, it’s also essentially a belief in the eternal God and in the Church and the sacraments that Christ has given to us. Baptism for example is not just a sign of a family tradition – it means that we become a new creature with a personal relationship with God. And the community of the faithful in the Church is in contact with God, with his Word and with sacramental grace...and this is a personal God, who became one of us, born as a baby, a participation in our destiny up to his death on the Cross for our sins. And his Resurrection is a sign of hope that cannot be destroyed – and this means that we can confide everything to God with confidence.”
Growing up in the diocese of Mainz – where the Bishop was for centuries a major figure and Christianity taken for granted – Mueller is conscious of heritage inherited, but above all on the need to focus on the centrality of truth. His language on this echoes that of the most famous of his recent predecessors, Joseph Ratzinger, in its emphasis on the importance of truth and of teaching it, rather than of seeing the Church as essentially resting on rules.
“It includes repeating documents of the past, but also of responding to new challenges, for example in bioethics and anthropology. Above all, it is understanding the revealed truth about us – that religion is an element of our being. The testimony of the faith is the work of God, not just of human feeling.
“The CDF must continue to fulfil the role that was shaped so well by Cardinal Ratzinger: not only to defend the Faith but to promote it, to carry it forward. The Faith is not just a treasure to be admired, as in a museum, but is actively present in the world. And the CDF and the Bishops must lead people into a dialogue with God, to understand human existence in the light of God in his real presence with us in the Church and her sacraments.”
Mueller exudes an air of quiet authority – a man convinced not only of the truth of the Faith but of the Church’s responsibility to teach and uphold it. He is realistic about the difficulties of our era, and of tougher times ahead, especially with the increasing attempts to impose a secular ideology.
“Man does not get his dignity from the State – it is given by God. It is the natural law for man to have his religious faith and his moral understanding and practice. Everyone should respect that natural law.
In some places today there is a crushing of democracy in the name of democracy. So the Church defends freedom, not only of the Church but of liberals too. We are not seeking to control – but to allow true freedom to flourish”.
He sees the Church as the voice of truth and of human dignity and values. “We cannot let the State control and prescribe the religious beliefs of the community.”
We have been talking of serious things, but there is an underlying cheerfulness. This is a man convinced – a word he often uses – of the truth of Christ and of the Church, with a confidence in that truth and in its ability to conquer anew, and with a fresh vigour.
Mueller lists St Anthony of Padua, St Bonaventure, and St Thomas More among his favourite saints – this last because of his integrity and courage and his loyalty to the Church in the face of so much pressure to concede to the demands of the king and government. “ I well remember learning abut him in school and discussing it all. He has a message for us today”.
Appointed Bishop of Regensberg by Pope Saint John Paul, he chose Dominus Jesus - “Jesus is Lord” as his episcopal motto. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 in succession to Cardinal William Levada.
Has he got a message for us, for the FAITH Movement, and for the Church in Britain in general.
A warm smile and a thoughtful statement, made with a steady emphasis: “Remember John Paul: ‘Do not be afraid!’ Be afraid of no one. We have our hope in God who guarantees our dignity and our liberty.”