Fire on the earth

Fire on the earth

Cardinal Walter Brandmuller at his desk © Francesco Pistilli (KNA)

He is considered a conservative historian faithful to the Church – and yet he became known above all because he criticized two popes: Cardinal Walter Brandmuller. This Saturday, the native Franconian will be 90 years old. And once again causes debate.

When Pope Benedict XVI. When the former professor of church history was appointed cardinal, some people first had to ask who this Walter Brandmuller was. It was also somewhat unusual that the chosen one had to be consecrated bishop beforehand. For many years, the native of Ansbach had taught church history in Augsburg and was active in parish pastoral care near Augsburg.

Brandmuller thinks pope's resignation is wrong

For Brandmuller, the cardinal's dignity was an honorable distinction; at the age of almost 81, he would no longer have been allowed to vote for Benedict's successor. But after the surprising resignation of Benedict XVI. in February 2013, he probably would not have wanted it either. For Brandmuller considered the withdrawal to be wrong – which he also made known in a newspaper interview in 2017. The pope emeritus therefore even wrote him two letters in which he justified his decision.

Benedict XVI. Brandmuller did this, in part, with clear words, as was to be learned a year later from the "Bild" newspaper. The paper had gotten hold of the personal letters, much to the annoyance of the sender – and probably also of the recipient. Brandmuller denies having given the letters to the "Bild" newspaper.

"Dubia" request to Pope Francis

The resignation of Benedict XVI. Still considers the longtime president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science wrong. That may also be because he takes a very critical view of the tenure of his successor, Francis. Thus the rather quiet Frank became known worldwide as one of the four so-called Dubia cardinals. Together with Raymond Burke and Joachim Meisner and Carlo Caffarra, who have since died, Brandmuller wrote critical inquiries ("Dubia") to Francis in the summer of 2016 about his letter "Amoris laetitia" on marriage and the family.

He would still write them today in the same way. "The question is: Is adultery morally justifiable under certain circumstances??", says Brandmuller. And further: "Are there actions that are evil in and of themselves??" Since "modern moral theology everything has become uncertain," Brandmuller complains in conversation in his apartment in the 4. Floor of the Palazzo della Canonica next to the sacristy of St. Peter's. The "whole edifice of Christian and human morality" is in danger of "collapsing"; then "one could also justify homosexuality".

Brandmuller considers ex-Nuntius Carlo Maria Vigano's harsh criticism of Francis and his Curia on his personnel policies, cover-ups and homosexual rope-lines in the Vatican to be largely justified – except for his demand that the pope resign. The last time there was such a relationship was with Emperor Henry IV. (1050-1106) wrote to Pope Gregory VII. (1025/30-1085) given, according to the historian. Something like that does not work.

Brandmuller was appointed a member of the world-renowned committee in 1981 as the successor to Hubert Jedin, the doyen of German church historians at the time. Brandmuller represented the fund of Vatican historical research on the international stage, since 1998 as its President. Above all, however, the committee must provide historical support to the rest of the Curia.

When Pope John Paul II. When the Catholic Church made its historic confession of guilt in 2000, there was an inquiry from Papua New Guinea, for example, about misdemeanors committed by missionaries during Christianization. Another time it was about a possible re-establishment of the Templar Order, which was dissolved in 1312 – material enough for novels in the style of Dan Brown. But for such a thing "I lack the imagination", Brandmuller admits.

Reform of the Curia "a total flop

If he could, he would like to write "something about concepts and methods of church reform". He considers Francis' current curia reform a "total flop". It is necessary to ask if it is necessary at all. With the exception of Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin, the Council of Cardinals has "no idea about the Curia".

After his appointment as cardinal, which for him "was in the air at the time," Brandmuller became close with Benedict XVI. reputed. But that is "a legend. With Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. a "polite, collegial relationship" connects him.

According to Brandmuller's recollection, they got to know each other in Rome in 1970. Over an ice cream in the Piazza Navona, they discussed the recently published book "Infallible"?" by Hans Kung entertained – and agreed to write something about each: Brandmuller from a historiographical point of view, in order to "prove quite a few mistakes" to Kung, Ratzinger from a fundamental theological point of view.

When Benedict XVI. When Brandmuller was appointed cardinal 40 years later, he chose the saying "Ignis in terram" (fire on the earth). This comes from the words of Jesus "I have come to cast fire on the earth". The theologian associates it with his name: A fire miller, he says, is someone who builds his mill on an area cleared by fire. Besides, the motto is an image of the Annunciation of Jesus. Christianity is "not a sleeping powder, but dynamite," Brandmuller quotes a theologian. "When the Gospel is lived, it changes the world"."With this estimation Brandmuller might meet then also with Franziskus.

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Christina Cherry
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