As most of us expected, the resignation (because of the age limit) of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Card. Levada, has been accepted and the Holy Father has appointed Gerhard Ludwig Müller, 64, previously the Bishop of Regensburg, as the new Prefect raising him to the dignity of Archbishop.
Müller is now also, ex officio, President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and the International Theological Commission.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you may be saying, “What does this mean?”
It is too early to tell. Pope Benedict knows the brief and work of the CDF as well as anyone can, since he ran that shop for nearly a quarter of a century. It is unlikely that he would choose someone out of harmony with his own vision. However, keep in mind that Ratzinger revolutionized the office CDF Prefect, in a sense. As a working theologian, he did more than just make the trains run on time, which is the main task of a Prefect. Prefects don’t to all the work themselves. They have a lot of help. In some ways watching the upper and middle management of a congregation is more helpful.
However, let us not forget that the German-speaking Church (including Austria) is in theological and disciplinary melt-down. Having a German-speaking Prefect will be an advantage. If English-speaking bishops couldn’t pull one over on Card. Levada when it came to abuse cases, German-speaking bishops won’t fool Müller for one second.
But one of the projects the CDF now has on the table is to aid the reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the USA. Müller will have a role to play in that, since he is now the Prefect.
That said, Müller, being now a Roman curial head, will soon exert influence in other dicasteries. He will be appointed as a member of other congregations and will attend their regular meetings. He will be made a Cardinal at the next consistory.
Again, Pope Benedict has turned to someone whom he knows. Not only is the new Prefect German, but Müller also has been involved with the preparation of the editions of the complete works of Joseph Ratzinger.
Some people have expressed misgivings over Müller’s open thoughts on a range of theological questions, including Liberation Theology. Let us not forget that Joseph Ratzinger used a point from Liberation Theology as a starting point for a book on liturgical worship: Christ is the Liberator who frees us from sin and death and liturgical worship is as an act of the Liberator, liberating for those who participate. Frankly, I think that focusing on the fact that Müller has read Liberation Theology is not very productive. Liberation Theology has been pretty much junked, and picked over for the good points it had.
Note also that Müller begins his tenure as Prefect on the eve of the Year of Faith, which is clearly an important project for Benedict. The Holy Father must see in Müller, as Prefect of “Faith”, someone who can advance that project.
Also, if Card. Levada was able to deal swiftly and effectively with many of the bad cases involving priests in the English-speaking world, it may be that now a European focus is coming into view and Müller could be more effective.
Regarding the SSPX, the Holy Father made Archbp. DiNoia the Vice-President of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei“. I imagine he will exert greater immediate influence. Nevertheless, Müller will have a different view of the stand off than did the previous Prefect.
Müller has made some statements about clerical celibacy and Mariology that have a few people scratching their heads. That said, his job is to make this run smoothly at the Congregation, not to shape the Church’s doctrine.