Tornielli, macchè “nuovo compito”?

Andrea Tornielli, the well-known vaticanista in charge of La Stampa‘s VaticanInsider, is once more proving Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s claim that the Italian journalist has “jettisoned objectivity” in recent years. This time, Tornielli is making a mountain out of a molehill based on a French-language interview given by Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), to La Croix. In his new piece at VaticanInsider, he singled out a single phrase from the Cardinal’s interview and grossly blew it out of proportion, assigning to it a significance far beyond its plain meaning. It appears to be another naked attempt by Tornielli to depict a rift between Francis and his CDF chief– a rift which, based on testimony from both the Pope and the Cardinal, is completely baseless.

In his article, Tornielli says that Müller “announced a sudden and new (inedita) competence for his dicastery, namely, “‘to theologically structure a pontificate'” (Il cardinale tedesco preannuncia un’inedita competenza del suo dicastero: quella di “strutturare teologicamente un pontificato”). Tornielli uses the word inedita (“unpublished”, “unedited”, “sudden”; something revealed by surprise) to describe this so-called “new competence”, The theme of novelty is manifest in the article’s full title: “Müller suggests new task for Congregation for Doctrine of Faith” (Müller suggerisce un nuovo compito per la Dottrina della fede). Tornielli’s implication is clear– as if Müller were attempting a grab for more new powers in order to keep the Pope on a tighter leash.

Le parole del cardinale Müller, con l’introduzione dell’inedito e fino a oggi non ancora formalizzato compito di «strutturare teologicamente un pontificato», sono passate quasi inosservate. Se da un lato aprono scenari dottrinali nuovi rispetto alla tradizione della Chiesa, dall’altra sembrerebbero lasciar intendere che, secondo Müller, l’attuale pontificato – come peraltro anche quello di san Giovanni XXIII – non abbia sufficiente «struttura» teologica.

The words of Cardinal Müller, with the introduction of the novel and hitherto not yet formalized task of “theologically structuring a pontificate” have passed almost unobserved. If on one hand this opens new doctrinal aspects with respect to the tradition of the Church, on the other hand it seems to suggest that, according to Müller, the current pontificate– like the pontificate of Saint John XXIII– does not have a sufficient theological “structure”.

The comments on “theologically structuring a pontificate” have “passed almost unobserved” for good reason– namely, if one reads the entire La Croix piece, one sees that those comments constitute a single phrase in a lengthy interview which covers far more important topics. Furthermore, what Tornielli mistakenly considers significant was thankfully (and rightfully) left alone by La Croix because, as I will hopefully demonstrate, the Cardinal’s words break no new ground.

Here is the text of the relevant part of the interview in the original French [full text here] with my English translation.

La Croix: Comment concevez-vous votre rôle auprès du pape François? Est-ce différent d’avec Benoît XVI, qui était théologien et vous avait précédé à la Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi?
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller: L’arrivée sur le Siège de Pierre d’un théologien comme Benoît XVI est sans doute une exception. Mais Jean XXIII n’était pas un théologien de métier. Le pape François est aussi plus pastoral, et la Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi a une mission de structuration théologique d’un pontificat.
La Croix: How do you conceive of your role in relation to Pope Francis? Is it different than with Benedict XVI, who was a theologian and who preceded you at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
Cardinal Müller: The arrival of a theologian like Benedict XVI on the throne of Peter is doubtlessly an exception. But John XXIII was not a theologian by trade. Pope Francis is even more pastoral, and the Congregation for the doctrine of the faith has a mission to theologically structure a pontificate.

Is the good Cardinal really proposing something new and inedita? Is providing a clear theological basis for a particular pontificate really so different from what the CDF/Holy Office/Inquisition has done in the past? Tornielli obviously thinks so, and he further explains why this so-called “new competence” is in fact inedita. Citing Pastor Bonus 48, he continues:

Si tratta di una significativa novità, dato che secondo l’articolo 48 della Costituzione apostolica sulla Curia Romana «Pastor bonus», promulgata da Giovanni Paolo II nel 1988, “compito proprio della Congregazione per la dottrina della fede è di promuovere e di tutelare la dottrina della fede e i costumi in tutto l’orbe cattolico”.

This is a significant novelty, given that according to article 48 of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia Pastor Bonus, promulgated by John Paul II in 1988, “the proper task of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine of faith and morals in the whole Catholic world.”

Of course, Tornielli engaged in selective citation, leaving out the important phrase in bold below:

[original Latin] Proprium Congregationis de Doctrina Fidei munus est doctrinam de fide et moribus in universo catholico orbe promovere atque tutari; proinde ipsi competunt ea, quæ hanc materiam quoquo modo attingunt.

Compito proprio della Congregazione della Dottrina della Fede è di promuovere e di tutelare la dottrina sulla fede ed i costumi in tutto l’orbe cattolico: è pertanto di sua competenza tutto ciò che in qualunque modo tocca tale materia.

The proper duty of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world; so it has competence in things that touch this matter in any way. 

That last phrase in bold explains why the CDF has the widest competence of all the Curial Congegations. Any issue with a moral or theological component, no matter how tangential, and which normally falls under the competence of another dicastery, is subject to the CDF’s prior judgment (praevio eius iudicio subiciunturPastor Bonus 54). Accordingly, the CDF, through all its influence and input in all the activity of the Holy See, by the very nature of its work provides the current pontificate a theological basis and articulation. The extent and comprehensiveness of this theological articulation, however, varies from pontificate from pontificate; as Cardinal Müller mentioned, Benedict XVI was himself a theologian by trade, and thus the “theological structuring” of that pontificate came largely from the pope himself. The pontificates of John XXIII and Paul VI likewise had their own theological structure, but these popes had an Ecumenical Council to help them articulate that “structure”. More significantly, John Paul II’s CDF under Ratzinger helped to develop perhaps some of the clearest theological structuring for that pontificate in the form of the new Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dominus Iesus, and many of the great encyclicals from Papa Wojtyla’s pontificate.

The good German Cardinal, in his remark about “theologically structuring a pontificate,” is merely explaining what the CDF has always done as a result of its work in promoting and safeguarding Christian faith and morals. No Congregation, much less the CDF, operates outside the authority of the Pope; on the contrary, everything the CDF decrees, orders, and writes is explicitly approved by the Pope in an audience granted to the Prefect. Therefore, Müller is not, as Tornielli strongly implies, claiming a hitherto unknown responsibility or task for himself; he’s simply doing his job.

And so we ask, Tornielli, macchè “nuovo compito”? 

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