Fran­cis dismisses Ger­man hard-liner

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY NICOLE WIN­FIELD

vat­i­can city — Pope Fran­cis has pushed out the Vat­i­can’s con­ser­va­tive doc­trine chief, tap­ping a deputy in­stead to lead the pow­er­ful con­gre­ga­tion that han­dles sex abuse cases and guar­an­tees Catholic or­tho­doxy around the world.

Fran­cis and Ger­man Car­di­nal Ger­hard Müller had clashed, most re­cently over the pope’s cau­tious open­ing to let­ting civilly re­mar­ried Catholics re­ceive Com­mu­nion. Müller had in­sisted they can­not, given church teach­ing on the in­dis­sol­u­bil­ity of mar­riage.

In a short state­ment re­leased Satur­day, the Vat­i­can said Fran­cis had thanked Müller for his ser­vice. Müller’s five-year term ends this week­end, and he turns 70 in De­cem­ber. The nor­mal re­tire­ment age for bish­ops is 75.

Fran­cis could have kept him on but de­clined to do so. The Je­suit pon­tiff in­stead tapped the No. 2 in the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, Je­suit Mon­signor Luis Ladaria Fer­rer, to suc­ceed Müller.

Fran­cis’s re­fusal to re­new Müller’s man­date marked his lat­est move to re­make the Holy See’s hi­er­ar­chy more in his mercy-over mo­rals like­ness, fol­low­ing ear­lier moves to re­place hard-line con­ser­va­tives in the Vat­i­can high court and of­fice re­spon­si­ble for the world’s clergy.

It was the sec­ond ma­jor shakeup this past week, af­ter Fran­cis granted an­other Vat­i­can hard­liner, Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, a leave of ab­sence to re­turn to his na­tive Aus­tralia to face trial on sex­ual as­sault charges.

Müller’s and Pell’s ab­sences, cou­pled with Fran­cis’s ear­lier de­mo­tion of Car­di­nal Ray­mond Burke as the Vat­i­can’s chief jus­tice, rep­re­sent a power vac­uum for the con­ser­va­tive wing in the Holy See hi­er­ar­chy.

Fran­cis’s pre­de­ces­sor, Bene­dict XVI, had tapped Müller as doc­trine chief in 2012. He was charged with car­ry­ing on Bene­dict’s ef­forts to rid the priest­hood of those ac­cused of rap­ing and mo­lest­ing chil­dren. But Müller’s han­dling of the abuse port­fo­lio came un­der fire. Dur­ing his tenure, the sex abuse caseload piled up as more and more vic­tims came for­ward from Latin Amer­ica, Europe and be­yond. Last year, Fran­cis con­firmed there was a 2,000-case back­log, and he set about nam­ing new of­fi­cials in the con­gre­ga­tion’s dis­ci­pline sec­tion to process the over­load.

But the greater clash with the pope con­cerned Fran­cis’s 2016 doc­u­ment on fam­ily life “The Joy of Love,” in which he used strate­gi­cally placed foot­notes to of­fer a cau­tious open­ing to let­ting di­vorced and civilly re­mar­ried Catholics re­ceive Com­mu­nion. Müller made clear he dis­agrees with Fran­cis’s sug­ges­tion that any such de­ci­sions could be ar­rived at in the realm of per­sonal dis­cern­ment.

“A pri­va­ti­za­tion of the sacra­men­tal econ­omy would cer­tainly not be Catholic,” he ar­gued in a 2016 speech.

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