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Bishop Gerhard Müller to CDF

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:

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.

Gustavo Gutierrez, father of liberation theology, and Gerhard Muller, at one of their annual sessions.

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