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'I can think of no worse response': Black theologian Dr. Jessica Murdoch blasts 2023 Synod plans in event with ousted Vatican doctrine chief Müller

In Philadelphia Thursday night, a conservative Black theologian teamed with an aggrieved German cardinal to discuss the meaning of Catholicism. The results were not pretty.

(Catholic Women's Forum)

On Thursday night, the Collegium Institute hosted a retired CDF chief, the German cardinal Gerhard Müller, for a lecture promoting his upcoming book on the fundamentals of Catholicism.

The wide-ranging address to the crowd assembled at the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute in downtown Philadelphia began, however, not with an explication of Church doctrine, history, or patrimony, but with a curt diatribe against the “Synodal Path”.

According to Müller, the process represents a “Protestantization” of Catholicism. He then went further, however, saying the effort serves to “de-Christianize” the faith altogether.

This intro was presumably in reference to the ongoing activities of the German Bishops’ Conference, which involve possible attempts to defy Church teachings on marriage, sexuality, and church governance.

Germany did not appear to be mentioned explicitly, however, and Müller is known to also be a critic of Pope Francis' global synodal efforts, inaugurated officially this month.

In any case, Müller’s comments seemed to land well with the 100-odd capacity crowd, which included an Italian royal pretender.

The cardinal garnered applause for his criticism of various hot-button issues, including climate change being presented as a preeminent issue in the Church.

While his speech for the most part did present basic Catholic doctrine, with citations from the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council and presented as a salve for confusion and postmodernism in the West, ideological balance was not its strong suit.

Perhaps it can be no surprise, though, as the cardinal was ousted by Francis from his post in the Roman Curia in 2017, the manner of which Müller called “unacceptable” at the time. (He would thereafter retire prematurely, five years short of the mandatory age of 75.)

He did not mention that controversy during last night’s event, and scarcely mentioned Francis by name at all. In fact, the papacy was not a central focus of his remarks by any stretch, though criticisms of Protestantism were plentiful.

A brief shot was also taken at “Traditionis Custodes”, Pope Francis’ latest edict, which curtailed celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass worldwide. (Müller made a point to read certain parts of his speech in Latin, in one instance mentioning the motu proprio explicitly.)

His partner in the event, Black Catholic theologian Dr. Jessica Murdoch of Villanova, commented on his remarks afterward, mostly steering clear of any direct criticism of the pope and instead championing Müller’s philosophical and theological emphases.

She herself received applause at one point after criticizing the state of Catholic theology produced in academia today.

The Q&A session which followed opened the floodgates for even more open critiques, especially upon the invitation for attendees to present their inquiries.

One response from Müller featured a mention of Black Lives Matter, in which he supported a “bad apples” approach to reform and ridiculed the idea of abolishing the police.

Müller’s comments largely echoed those from his appearance just hours earlier on EWTN’s infamous “The World Over” show with Raymond Arroyo, in which discussion of that topic consisted almost entirely of criticizing the roughly ~7% of George Floyd protests that were violent.

They later discussed the aforementioned (and now ongoing) 2023 Synod of Bishops, entitled the “Synod on Synodality” and perhaps to be the capstone of Francis’ papacy.

“It is not necessary”, Müller said in reference to the wide-ranging lay initiative of the project.

“It’s more important that they read and listen to the word of God… It’s the synod of the bishops, not the synod of all laypeople.”

During the Collegium event, a questioner likewise asked Müller’s opinion on the synod. The prelate expressed further doubts, saying it could likely prove to be too theoretical and circular, comparing it to a mouse in a running wheel—much to the crowd’s delight.

Murdoch, also a known critic of Pope Francis and the synodal process, chimed in with similar concerns.

“I can think of no worse response [to the modern Church],” she said bluntly, claiming that the synodality presented by Francis is a devolution of the teaching office of the Church into a perpetual listening session.

Like last month’s event with another archconservative Francis critic, the retired Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap, yesterday’s event was not livestreamed, but will likely be posted on YouTube in the coming days.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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