The Decline of the Authority and Influence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Francis

[The Decline of the Authority and Influence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Francis]

The current prefect, Cardinal Müller, a Benedict XVI appointee, may soon be replaced by Cardinal Schönborn.

From: VIEW FROM ROME [for] 28 April 2016
by Christopher Lamb |

Situated in a grand, imposing sixteenth-century palace, the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has long been the most feared of all Vatican departments, particularly by Catholic theologians it has decided to investigate. Under the papacy of Francis, however, the department – originally known as the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, and later more informally as “The Holy Office” – seems to have lost some of its teeth.

While it was previously a terrier biting on the heels of anyone who might be bold enough to question elements of church teaching it is now looking more like a lost puppy, trying to find its place in the world.

Part of the problem for the CDF is the Pope’s position that, as he put in his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the Magisterium”. This will have unsettled its prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who has claimed his role is to “provide the theological structure of a pontificate”, something not part of the job description of his predecessors.

Francis is certainly keeping his distance from the Congregation. While in recent pontificates the CDF prefect could look forward to regular audiences with the Pope, Müller sees Francis for just 15 minutes every fortnight. This is all rather different from the days when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation, known as “La Suprema”, and commanded fear across the Catholic world for his judicious monitoring of orthodoxy. Perhaps sensing the winds of change, a group of theologians and bishops who have fallen foul of the CDF in the past wrote last month to the Congregation demanding that procedures for investigating theologians under suspicion be radically reformed. Meanwhile, the Congregation continues its regular meetings, which recently included discussion of whether Just War theory ought to be replaced, as a recent Vatican conference suggested.

There are persistent whispers that Cardinal Müller, a Benedict XVI appointee, will soon be replaced. The leading candidate to succeed him is Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. Perhaps it will be he who helps the CDF mature into a pedigree breed fit for the twenty-first century Church.

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[Coda:] Early on in his pontificate Pope Francis said the Church should not talk only about abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and he has generally held back from pronouncing on these issues. In the teaching of the Church, of course, “pro-life” means much more than “anti-abortion”: it also means respecting and protecting human life at every stage, from inside the womb to final illness and death.

Nevertheless, some Catholics have been disappointed with what they see as the Pope’s failure to take a more forthright stance on the abortion issue. Next Sunday, 8 May, the annual March for Life will take place in Rome. The rally is to be preceded by a conference organised by Voice of the Family at the Hotel Columbus, a stone’s throw from St Peter’s Square. The group has been fiercely critical of the Pope; last October it held a press conference in Rome at which Cardinal Raymond Burke spoke, lambasting the shortcomings of the Synod on the Family. Cardinal Burke will speak at the gathering next week, along with Francis sceptics like John Smeaton, director of the [British] Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who will talk on “Building a Catholic resistance movement”. The March for Life ends with the midday Regina Coeli in St Peter’s Square, led by the Pope.

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One comment on “The Decline of the Authority and Influence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Francis

  1. Appeal by ‘silenced’ priests fails to elicit Vatican response

    Dissident theologians accuse church watchdog of heartless, unchristian attitude

    Thu, Apr 28, 2016, 17:54
    Paddy Agnew

    Fr Iggy O Donovan says Swiss theologian Hans Küng is ‘hopelessly optimistic’ in perceiving a ‘new freedom’ in the Vatican.

    An appeal by dissident theologians for “accountability and transparency” within the Catholic Church’s powerful Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has yet to receive a response from the Vatican authorities.

    Vatican senior spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said he had not read the document, adding that it was very unlikely that there would be any public response from the CDF.
    Other Holy See insiders suggested that there was nothing new in the dissidents’ critique, adding that it looked like similar criticism “voiced 10, 20 or 30 years ago”.

    The appeal, written by 15 dissident and silenced theologians, including Irish priests Tony Flannery and Brian D’Arcy, was sent last February to German Cardinal, Ludwig Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

    In their document, the dissidents repeat long held objections to the authoritarian, self-referential and seemingly heartless manner in which the Church’s theological watchdog body sanctions and disciplines dissenting priests, saying that the CDF “doesn’t reflect the gospel values of justice, truth, integrity and mercy that the Catholic Church professes to uphold”.

    They continued: “The CDF acts in ways that are out of keeping with contemporary concepts of human rights, accountability and transparency that the world expects from the Christian community and which the Catholic Church demands from secular organisations.”

    The dissidents’ appeal to the CDF attempts to enlist Pope Francis to their cause, pointing to a key consideration in his recent post-synodal exhortation, in which Francis wrote that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the Magisterium [Church teachings]”.

    Ironically, the well-known dissident Swiss theologian, Hans Küng, pointed to exactly the same passage of the exhortation in an open letter published on Wednesday in which he speaks of a “new freedom” in the Vatican.

    Recounting how he had been “overjoyed” to receive a letter from Pope Francis in response “to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility”, Küng writes of a “new spirit that I have always expected from the magisterium”.

    Vatican insiders, however, argue that Professor Küng may be a little over-optimistic, pointing out that the difficulties currently encountered by Pope Francis in his attempts to reform the Curia do not suggest any sort of “new spirit”.

    Fr Flannery has recounted how by way of response to the dissident’s appeal, the CDF had instructed his superior general to send him a copy of “To Promote and Safeguard the Faith”, a 2015 CDF publication.

    Augustinian theologian, Iggy O’Donovan, one of five Irish priests to have signed the appeal, told The Irish Times: “Küng has got it wrong. He is hopelessly optimistic. Pope Francis is a well-intentioned man but the Curia is fiendishly difficult to reform.”

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