Top Catholic theologian replaced
VATICAN CITY: In a major shake-up of the Vatican’s administration on Saturday, Pope Francis replaced Catholicism’s top theologian, a conservative German cardinal, who has been at odds with the pontiff’s vision of a more inclusive Church.
A Vatican statement said Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller’s five-year mandate as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a department charged with defending Catholic doctrine, would not be renewed.
The position is the most important one that a pope fills in the Vatican hierarchy after the Secretary of State. Most incumbents keep it until they retire, which in Mueller’s case would have been in six years.
Mueller, 69, who was appointed by former Pope Benedict in 2012, will be succeeded by the department’s number two, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.
Ladaria is a 73-year-old Spaniard who, like the Argentinian pope, is a member of the Jesuit order, and is said by those who know him to be a soft-spoken person who shuns the limelight. Mueller, by contrast, often appears in the media.
“They speak the same language and Ladaria is someone who is meek. He does not agitate the pope and does not threaten him,” said a priest, who works in the Vatican and knows both Mueller and Ladaria, asking not to be named.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has given hope to progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision for a more welcoming Church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.
Mueller’s departure follows the high-profile exit of fellow conservative Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican economy minister who took a leave of absence on Thursday to face charges of historical sexual abuse in his native Australia.
In 2015 both were among 13 cardinals who signed a secret letter to the pope complaining that a meeting of bishops discussing family issues was stacked in favour of liberals. The letter was leaked, embarrassing the signatories.
“Clearly, the pope and Cardinal Mueller have not been on the same page for five years,” the priest said.
Mueller has criticised parts of a 2016 papal treatise called “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), a cornerstone document of Francis’s attempt to make the 1.2 billion-member Church more inclusive and less condemning.
In it, Francis called for a Church that is more compassionate towards any “imperfect” members, such as those who divorced and remarried, saying “no one can be condemned forever”.
German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller in the cathedral in Mainz yesterday. Pope Francis on Saturday declined to renew his mandate as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.