The Cardinal Müller Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church with Fr Carlos Granados; Ignatius Press, £14

Engaging in a book-length interview can be a highly effective way for a churchman to explain his views. His interlocutor can press him over matters he might prefer to avoid, and readers can pick their way more easily through this format than through a book on its own. Benedict XVI, when Cardinal Ratzinger, produced The Ratzinger Report in response to a searching interview; Cardinal Sarah did the same with his inspiring God or Nothing. Now Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), has given his own responses to a series of questions by a priest-interviewer.

With just the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the table before him, the cardinal offers his opinions and reflections on a wide range of issues: how to provide hope for a post-Enlightenment society; how to respond to the evolutionary belief in blind chance; what he thinks of bishops’ conferences, women’s ordination, celibacy and the scandal of priestly sexual abuse. These are only some of the topics covered in a probing series of questions.

Although less intensely personal and prayerful than the answers given by Cardinal Sarah in his own book, Cardinal Müller’s replies are clear, authoritative, scholarly and wise. Readers who focus too much on apocalyptic blogs should read this vigorous and strong-minded document. Without in any way wanting to court controversy, Müller deftly handles provocative questions. For instance, he reminds readers that “the bishops’ conference is not the local church” and that “the Church is not a federation of episcopal conferences, presided over by a world president.”

He rightly brushes aside the question of women priests as “not a legitimate issue” – the Church does not have “the authority to admit women”. It is a “definitive doctrine, infallibly taught”. In case women feel aggrieved at this apparent snub, Müller adds that in the CDF many highly qualified women are employed, both lay and Religious, and that their collaboration is “indispensable”.

His response to the famous rhetorical question, “Who am I to judge?” is to say decisively that “The Church with her Magisterium has the power to judge the morality of specific situations.” In his response to a question on dark spots in the Church’s history – “The history of the Church is not a shameful history that has to be covered with a plea for pardon” – one senses that the cardinal intends to challenge a modern fashion for hand-wringing apologies. In his thoughtful reply to a question on scandals in the priesthood, Müller is both clear and sensitive: priests must “shun the double life and the scandal that it entails”, and they must take “the most meticulous care of their spiritual life”, with regular confession, periods of adoration, praying the breviary, the “devout celebration” of Mass and “entrusting ourselves to the maternal care of Mary”.

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