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The Self-Fulfilling Prophet

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Critical interviews by major Church leaders have become increasingly popular since the election of Pope Francis last year. Earlier this year, Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga jumped into the ring, giving a forthright interview with a German newspaper in which he heralded a “new era in the Church.”

Cardinal Rodriguez, archbishop of the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, was hand-picked by Pope Francis to lead the newly formed Council of Cardinals, a kind of “papal cabinet” created to draw up Church reform proposals and to advise the Pope on Church governance, including making recommendations on how to streamline Vatican bureaucracy. In his interview with the Cologne-based Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger (Jan. 20), the Honduran cardinal explained that, under the direction of Francis, the Catholic Church is heading in a new direction. “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,” said Rodriguez. “Francis wants to lead the Church in the same direction that he himself is moved by the Holy Spirit. This means closer to the people, not enthroned above them, but alive in them.”

A straightforward reading of the cardinal’s comment would suggest that, at least by Rodriguez’s assessment, the previous pontificate or two were characterized by stagnation — stifling the fresh air that supposedly wafted into the Church in the 1960s and 1970s under John XXIII and Paul VI. It would not be impertinent to question whether the Honduran cardinal is here being critical of, say, Pope Benedict XVI, whom he seems to suggest “enthroned” himself above the people.

Cardinal Rodriguez was more direct in giving his opinion of Cardinal-Designate Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), who recently nixed a proposal to re-examine the Church’s stance on divorce and remarriage. In the interview, Rodriguez urged Müller to 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. The world isn’t like that, my brother,” Rodriguez said, rhetorically addressing Müller. “You should be a bit flexible when you hear other voices, so you don’t just listen and say ‘no, here is the wall.'” (Rodriquez, by the way, admitted he has not actually talked with Müller about this issue.)

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