Though absolutely licit, the pope’s act may be considered a show of bad manners. Ordinarily, when a Church official comes to the end of his appointment before the normal age of retirement (Müller is only seventy years old), either his appointment is renewed, or he is given a brief extension—six months, a year—before being replaced. The formula for the latter is: You will remain in charge “donec aliter provideatur,” until we decide differently.
It seems clear that the dismissal has not arisen from any substantive reason involving the work of the congregation. No explanation of this kind has been made. The pope’s choice was made freely and executed the hard way, without delicacy. This behavior is not surprising for anybody who knows how Jorge Maria Bergoglio acted while provincial superior of the Jesuit Province of Argentina—he was dismissed from that position for being unduly authoritarian—and as archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Prior to the publication of that book, something happened that deeply distressed the cardinal. It was the dismissal of three priests of his congregation. Müller received a letter from the Secretariat of State, ordering the priests’ dismissal but giving no reason for it. When Müller did not answer that letter, a second letter came. Müller requested an audience with the pope. Time passed, with dates for the audience repeatedly fixed and then changed at the last minute. Finally, Müller got his audience. “I received this letter,” he told the pope, “but before acting on it, I wanted to talk with you, and know the reason for the dismissal. They are good priests and good workers.” “I am the pope,” answered Francis, “and I need give no reason to anyone for my decisions. I said they must go, and go they must.” Then the pope stood up and held out his hand, indicating that the audience was over. Müller was deeply upset.
Then the same thing, more or less, happened to him. The cardinal told his story to a German newspaper, the Passauer Neue Presse. In an interview, he said that the pontiff had “communicated his decision” not to renew his appointment “within one minute” of the end of the last day of his five-year term as prefect. As in the case of the three priests, Müller was given no reason for his dismissal. “This style I cannot accept,” Müller declared, adding that in Rome, too, “the Church’s social teaching should be applied.”
Read the whole thing. There is a shocking coda to this story, which came out in an interview Cardinal Müller gave to a German newspaper. The occasion was the death of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the former Archbishop of Cologne, who passed in his sleep last week. Cardinal Meisner, who was close to Benedict XVI, was one of four cardinals who signed the dubia, a formal theological challenge to Pope Francis’s teaching in Amoris laetitia. The dubia asks the Pope to clarify what its signers see as apparent theological contradictions between the encyclical and established Catholic teaching.
Anyway, according to Cardinal Müller, the night before Cardinal Meisner died, he (Müller) spoke to him by phone to inform the elder prelate that Francis had fired him from the CDF. According to Müller, the elderly cardinal was “deeply affected” by the news. He died in his sleep later that night.
Müller and Meisner, gone within a single day. Hoo boy. I tell you, by the time we come to the end of all this mercy, we will have had so much mercy we will be sick of it.
UPDATE.2: To this, the reader Augustinus says:
I’m not at all convinced by John Allen’s explanation of the dismissal of Müller. For one thing, while Ladaria may not be in line with Francis theologically, if Francis cared about the CDF or what it did, he would have assigned someone to be its Prefect who was already in his pocket like Schönborn, Fernandez, Forte, or O’Malley.
Not so much business as usual for the CDF as a promise of continuing irrelevance to the activities and decisions of the Holy Father—sort of like:
the Secretariat for the Economy, with Cardinal Pell stripped of his power long before the current abuse accusations, mainly because he seems to have gotten too close to the truth about the money, and the authority was subsequently returned to the hands of the very officials from whom it had been stripped in the halcyon days of reform (!!!)—if you can’t beat the corrupt, you might as well join them;
and the Congregation for Bishops, with the Pope’s personal secretary screening appointments, undercutting the usual processes—who needs process when you can have a spy;
and the Congregation for Divine Worship, stocked with officials and consultors inimical to the liturgical vision of the current Prefect, who is only still there because Francis appointed him not knowing what he was getting—fierce and fearless devotion to the Lord and His Holy Church;
and even the Pontifical Academy for Life, as Archbishop Paglia himself recently found out after daring to issue a ridiculous statement in the Charlie Gard matter that was later walked back by the Holy See’s spokesperson.
For a Pope who wants to focus on the peripheries there is certainly a lot happening at the center.
For all this talk of reform, it seems that everything that happens of consequence in the Vatican now passes through the hands of the Pope, and anyone or anything he doesn’t like—well, too bad for that or them, whatever the merits.
This is, of course, Jesuit governance. Absolute power in the hands of the superiors and questions are not to be asked. I say that not to knock it, that’s how Ignatius wanted things; it’s just true.
And it’s hard to know what’s going on at the peripheries when the center spends so much time focusing attention on himself. But who am I to judge?