The cardinal who heads Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals said the Catholic Church is entering a “new era” and accused critics of the pope’s statements on economic injustice of failing to “understand reality.”
“Francis wants to lead the church in the same direction that he himself is moved by the Holy Spirit,” said Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in an interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger of Cologne, Germany, on Jan. 20. “This means closer to the people, not enthroned above them, but alive in them,” said the cardinal, who leads the council appointed by Pope Francis to work on reform in the Roman Curia and advise him on church governance. “I’m firmly convinced we are at the dawn of a new era in the church, just as when Pope John XXIII opened its windows 50 years [ago] and made it let in fresh air,” he said.
Cardinal Rodríguez said the pope favored “above all, a simpler life and leadership” from priests and bishops in line with the “sometimes forgotten message of Jesus.” According to the cardinal, Pope Francis believes church leaders should go out to people, rather than “sitting in our administrative offices and waiting for people to come.”
He said most Catholics were “behind the pope” and suggested that Cardinal-designate Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, could be less absolute in his defense of authority in the church. “I understand it. He’s German and a German professor of theology on top of it. In his mentality, there is only right or wrong, that’s it,” said Cardinal Rodríguez. “But I say: The world, my brother, isn’t like that. You should be slightly flexible when you hear other voices, instead of just listening and saying, no, here this is the wall.”
The cardinal’s remarks follow recent criticisms of Cardinal-designate Müller, formerly bishop of Regensburg, Germany, for a perceived rigidity on church teaching. The archbishop was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head the doctrinal congregation in July 2012 and named a cardinal by Pope Francis on Jan. 12.
Speaking on Jan. 21 at a Catholic university symposium in Venice, Cardinal-designate Müller said he believed church life should not be “so much concentrated on the pope and his curia.” He said the pope’s apostolic exhortation in November, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), did not, “contrary to superficial interpretations, contain any instructions for a change of direction or revolution.”
Cardinal Rodríguez said, however, that the pope’s priority was that the church should “reach the common people” and show compassion through “a different kind of care for the world, especially the needy.” He added that there had been “a lot of shouting” against the pope’s “critique of capitalism” in “Evangelii Gaudium,” especially in “U.S. business circles” who did not “understand reality.” “Who says capitalism is perfect, especially since the recent financial market crisis?” the cardinal asked.
Asked about calls for the church to change its attitude toward divorced and remarried Catholics, Cardinal Rodríguez said the church was “bound by God’s commandment” that “what God has joined together, man must not divide.” But he explained that there were “many ways to interpret” the commandment, and “still much room for a deeper interpretation” without reversing the teaching.
The cardinal said the next Synod of Bishops, planned for October, would tackle new social issues like surrogate parenthood, childless marriages and same-sex partnerships, which were “not even visible on the horizon” at the last synod on the family in 1980.