Former CDF Prefect sits down with the Rover for exclusive interview

Gerhard Cardinal Müller visited campus from Oct. 26-29 to speak on the indispensable role of the Church in the defense of human dignity in an event sponsored by the theology department and the law school’s Religious Liberty Initiative. As part of the visit, His Eminence also celebrated Mass in the law school chapel, attended a graduate theology course taught by a former pupil, and shared lunch with students and faculty.

The cardinal—a bishop, professor, and theologian—served from 2012-2017 as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the curial office which exists to “promote and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals in the whole Catholic world” (Pastor Bonus, III.48). Cardinal Müller’s close friend, Joseph Ratzinger, preceded him as prefect immediately prior to being elected Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinal’s visit also offered His Eminence an opportunity to connect with old friends. Cardinal Müller shares a close bond with liberation theologian, Professor Emeritus Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, who welcomed him to the university in absentia at Wednesday’s lecture.

Theology professor Ulrich Lehner, who studied under Cardinal Müller in Munich and served as His Eminence’s guide on campus, spoke with the Rover about their relationship: “One of the things that I admire most about him is his steadfast witness,” Lehner said. “He is like a German oak tree planted in the ground despite all weathers and storms around him.”

Cardinal Müller also reconnected with Fr. John Paul Kimes, a professor in the law school who concelebrated the cardinal’s Mass at St. Pius X Church in Granger, IN. In an interview with the Rover, Fr. Kimes, who worked closely with Cardinal Müller as a prosecutor for the CDF, recalled the cardinal’s steadfast commitment to defending the Church’s credibility in the modern world and underscored his qualifications as a teacher and defender of the Catholic faith:

“Cardinal Müller’s personal background as a distinguished theologian, university professor, and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith only adds to the innate authority that he has as a bishop of the Church.”

Following Cardinal Müller’s Wednesday lecture, His Eminence sat down with the Rover to discuss the role of the Church and the Catholic university in the modern world.

The Rover: Your Eminence, in yesterday’s lecture you spoke about the role of the Church as prophet in combating human rights violations. What is the Church’s message to the world regarding human dignity?

His Eminence: Every human being is a singularity. No one is identical to another, and this uniqueness is under attack by the politicians and business leaders who want to create a new world. They do not acknowledge that each human being is of infinite value because they reduce human beings, who have souls, to consumers and worker bees. I think that the sciences are important, but they cannot give us a metaphysical and theological anthropology.

We belong to the material world. We are, as a species, shaped by evolution. But we cannot reduce the essence of our existence to the biological or sociological conditions of the human race because we, in our existence, are able to transcend these conditions. The other animals cannot reflect about themselves. They cannot have a concept of the world or the soul. They are confronted with objects, such as prey, food, etc., but they cannot reflect on the meaning of ‘being.’ They are instinct-driven while humans create in freedom an understanding of the world. Empirical sciences alone do not allow you to see the complexity of the world and its wholeness, yet human beings are able to create an abstract concept of the whole of the world and what is beyond, what is metaphysical. We are able to grasp that the cause and principle of existence is not within us, but transcends us. We are able to realize that all being comes from the one necessary being—and that is God.

That makes humans special in the world, however not just our species but every single individual. After all, every individual grasps this big Beyond, which we call God, in a different way, worships and glorifies God in a way only this individual can. This God wants, wills and loves every single individual and that is the most important message which we, the Church, have to proclaim: Every human life counts and has dignity—everyone regardless of age, talents, mindset etc. We have to proclaim this together with the other religions and philosophies and worldviews in the face of ideologies that deny this specific human dignity.

The Rover: How can the University of Notre Dame, its students, and the theology department, join the Church in carrying out its prophetic task?

His Eminence: The motto of a Catholic university should always be what St. Anselm of Canterbury so brilliantly said seven hundred years ago: “fides quaerens intellectum” (“Faith seeking understanding”). The program of fides is looking for intellectus. It is a never-ending adventure.

Faith and reason are the most important, dynamic elements of our Western Christian culture as even Jürgen Habermas, the famous German Marxist of the Frankfurt School, has recently acknowledged. At age 90 he wrote a 2000-page history of philosophy in which he stated this bold thesis. He is to my knowledge not a strict atheist, but rather an agnostic, and I was stunned when he said in this book the only possibility for the survival of modern society is the Catholic liturgy!

What he means is: The Catholic liturgy expresses that humans are not to be reduced to their functions. When we pray to the Lord in the Holy Mass, we adore the absoluteness of God, and we do a really selfless act. We thank and praise without having monetary or physical or other advantages. We have our gaze fixed upon God and thus transcend the boundaries of the material world. Such adoration embodies the freedom of each person. One is free to say “Thou” to this God, and nothing in this act of veneration and not even my own existence depend on any functions or conditions. You can “be” truly you—you can “be” before God in the truest sense. Remember that this is the insight of one of the most brilliant Marxists of the century!

Universities grew out of the Catholic mindset of taking reason seriously. After all, the Church Fathers didn’t say, “What value can Plato, Aristotle, Seneca have? This is all wrong and has nothing to do with us. We have the Revelation.” No, Revelation is the Word of God to us, who are thinking persons, endowed with reason. When God speaks, Christians believe his divine reason, the person of the Logos (Christ) speaks to our human reason.

The Church therefore rejects a reduction of reason to mere problem-solving or to seeing reason only as an instrument for shaping the world and its living conditions. Such an understanding remains on the surface. The Christian understanding of reason reaches deeper: after all, we are able to comprehend with our intellect the deepest principles of existence, can find ethical principles and thus distinguish between right and wrong. A Catholic university offers a truly holistic view of reason, which brings sciences, arts and letters together to the search for truth, beauty, goodness, and justice.

As young people you have the great chance to form and shape your mind within this beautiful tradition. Seize that chance and study, pursue virtue, and make this tradition your own. It does not help if you only externally adopt some ideas. They have to take root in your soul and be owned internally. For example, when I said “own and live the virtues,” that means do the good even—and especially—when nobody sees it. Do the right thing when nobody applauds, and no parent or teacher acknowledges it. Your Father in heaven sees it.

The Rover: There’s recently been much discussion on campus about the LGBT movement, which makes frequent use of the term “dignity” and its advocacy. How does the Catholic conception of dignity relate to these issues?

His Eminence: A husband, a good Catholic man with nine children was asked, “If your son will confess himself to be homosexual, what will you do?” It was not a real question; it was a trap. [The father] said, “I will protect my son from being instrumentalized by your ideology.”

We have to distinguish between having difficulties with your sexual identity and sexuality, and this ideology. God loves every human being—regardless of sexual orientation. But we know from reason and revelation that God has a plan for how humans should live. If one struggles, one is invited to consult God in one’s conscience, to discuss one’s problems with the help of a good advisor and pastor in the church, but not to instrumentalize all forms of sexuality for an ideological program. We must absolutely say no to LGBT propaganda, absolute no against LGBT ideology because it’s absolutely wrong. It is absolutely against our natural, philosophical, and theological anthropology.

If you are Catholic, you believe that God has created human beings male and female. Moreover, reason tells us that the distinction between the two sexes is the absolute condition for the existence of mankind and consequential generations. Moreover, it is also important for children to grow up with parents of both sexes, between the two poles of maternal and paternal orientation.

In a Catholic university, there must be pastoral care for everybody. Nobody is to be excluded. Moreover, not only do people who identify as LGBT wrestle with their sexuality, but also heterosexuals do. They face challenges and need to develop themselves in good spirit. God has given us the task to see sexuality as a gift with which much responsibility comes. It is moreover a deeply personal gift and thus must not be taken lightly like going to the gym or eating a meal. We have to develop it and let our sexuality mature. College is a good school for this. We learn to become responsible. I cannot say, “I’m a man, I will do what I want.” The goal is to find a woman and to form a family with her. Or, if not, you may have a priestly vocation or a vocation to a religious order, or a vocation to chaste single life.

And we should not forget that matrimony cannot survive without chastity. After all, both partners exclude all other sexual partners, and they learn to live responsibly with their sexuality within marriage. They have become one flesh and one mind. That is chastity within marriage. We all must learn faithfulness to another person and to never treat another person as a means for personal, sexual gratification. For us as humans, our highest goal is love of the other person, not using other people for our own desires—that is also true in marriage.

The Western world has lost religion and its orientation towards God. We have replaced the search for a sense of existence with ideologies. In the Roman Empire the emperors declared themselves gods … and in the twentieth century Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong regarded themselves to be godlike dictators. This is a perversion of the real idea of God. The man who makes himself God is the premier tool of the devil.

The Rover: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Your Eminence. Do you have any final words of encouragement for Notre Dame students and faculty?

His Eminence: Enjoy your life as children of God!

Cardinal Müller’s newest book, The Pope: His Mission and Task, further discusses the topic of human dignity and the pontiff’s role in leading the Church and the world in its defense.

Special thanks to Professor Lehner for organizing both the cardinal’s visit to Notre Dame and his interview with the Rover.

Paul Howard is a sophomore in medieval studies from upstate New York. When he’s not jamming out to Renaissance polyphony, he is most likely cheering against the Houston Astros or dominating the competition in 8-ball pool. He can be reached at

Sarah Hui is a sophomore in the Program of Liberal Studies and Theology. If portals existed, she’d visit Guadalupe, a joyful, lush Costa Rican village, and the folks at Andre House in Phoenix (whilst meeting new friends around the globe). Reach her at

Photo credit: Courtesy of Matthew Cashore, University of Notre Dame. Used with permission.