Rorate Caeli

Cardinals block appointment of Heiner Wilmer as Prefect of the DDF

(Translation of German article by Giuseppe Nardi at

It seemed that everything was already fixed: Shortly before Christmas, the appointment of a new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) was expected. But then everything turned out differently - at least for the time being.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the prefect for the Doctrine of the Faith who was still in office, had received his mandate in an unexpected way in the summer of 2017. Until then, the Spanish Jesuit had been secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e. the right hand of the prefect. At the time, the prefect was still Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former bishop of Regensburg, whom Pope Benedict XVI had appointed to Rome in 2012 with the intention of placing this key position in reliable hands to ensure continuity beyond his retirement.

The stalled Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The election of Pope Francis, however, upset all the coordinates much more than some had expected in their wildest imaginations. Cardinal Müller, now disliked as a "Ratzingerian," found himself constantly compelled to make declarations of loyalty to the new pope. He was placed under the general accusation by those who had special expectations of the new pope of representing that church which was now to be finally overcome.

The German cardinal tried to grow into a new role by walking a tightrope, aware of the risks involved. He outlined this in an interview with the French daily La Croix at the end of March 2015, saying that there was a need to "structure the pontificate of Francis theologically." He increasingly felt the need to act as an actual guardian of the faith alongside the "pope of gestures" and "spontaneous speech" - if necessary, even against overly improvisational and deviant ways of the pope himself. Thus, in the spring of 2016, he held a lectio magistralis in Madrid, with which he placed the controversial post-synodal letter Amoris laetitia in ecclesial continuity, thus trying to take the "Bergoglian teeth" out of it.

It was clear to observers that this was not only a difficult but ultimately an impossible undertaking in every respect. Some spoke early on of a "suicide mission." Indeed, things did not go well for long, and Francis dismissed Cardinal Müller suddenly one day in late June 2017, and in a rather unkind manner. Francis's disapproval of Pope Benedict XVI's last prefect of the faith is still evident today, with Francis not conferring any office or role on the German cardinal since. Müller, however, in whose episcopal city Benedict XVI had given his historic Regensburg speech in 2006, continues to be a cardinal and as such still has a not insignificant influence, which he seeks to assert.

Cardinal Müller also gave his answer to the motu proprio Traditionis custodes -- with which Francis wants to strangle the traditional rite, or at least to repress it -- by ordaining priests in the traditional rite immediately after its publication.

The leveled Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In 2017, Luis Ladaria unexpectedly moved up to prefect of the faith. Francis thus secured peace with the unloved Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Whenever Ladaria, whom Francis created a cardinal, wanted to issue a warning, as would be his duty, he was whistled back by Francis. Ladaria obeyed as the office dictated and left it at that, while Cardinal Müller sought other ways in such situations to still say what needed to be said.

Mandates at the Roman Curia are for five years. On July 1, 2022, Ladaria's term expired. Since it was not renewed, it has been clear since then that Francis is looking for a successor. Thus, it was also clear that he envisions a new phase for this dicastery.

The first phase (Müller) was to hem in the Ratzinger legacy and marginalize the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to satisfy those circles that downright loathe the Roman "guardians of the faith." The second phase (Ladaria) was a domesticated Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that hardly took any initiative. The controversial note on Corona vaccination of December 2020 is a rather lonely exception in the convergence of intentions between the Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio and Santa Marta.

The reactivation of a reversed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

In the first half of December, the signals thickened that under Francis a third phase at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might be imminent. Reliable voices from the Vatican already stated that it was certain that this new phase would be named after the German bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim. He had been seriously considered by Francis as the next prefect, following recommendations from interested parties. Thus it was clear that the third phase, after stalling and marginalizing, would lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith into a new active, albeit reversed, phase. Having already transformed a number of other curia authorities in recent years, Francis thus now belatedly set about transforming the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well, which some circles close to him would have preferred to see dissolved altogether at the beginning of his pontificate. Francis himself is not particularly fond of this authority, which goes back to older resentments that prevail in some parts of the Jesuit order.

The days before Christmas passed, however, without the nomination of a new prefect of the faith being announced. What had happened?

The revolt of the cardinals

It is not possible to reconstruct exactly what happened. Reports that the appointment of an ultra-progressive bishop like Wilmer was imminent startled parts of the church hierarchy. Some cardinals organized a consistent opposition to Wilmer's nomination and made clear their opposition to Santa Marta as well. Cardinal Müller seems to have played a not insignificant role in this. He had, after all, already led the cardinals' opposition to a family synod with prefabricated results in October 2015, at that time still as prefect of the faith. Francis raged and reacted with a warning against a "hermeneutic of conspiracy."

It was Cardinal Müller who, in January 2020, made a direct recommendation to Santa Marta that Pope Francis make his predecessor, Benedict XVI, an adviser instead of atheist Eugenio Scalfari (now deceased).

A few months later, in May 2020, it was Cardinal Müller who gave the sensational weight to that warning, written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and as dramatic as it was historic, against dark power games and machinations of globalist circles behind the Coronavirus measures. How much this appeal hit the mark was shown by its dogged silence by the media and political mainstream and by the eagerness with which the leadership of the German Bishops' Conference hastily distanced itself from it.

Now it seems to be thanks to Cardinal Müller who, with numerically strong support in the College of Cardinals, was able to persuade Pope Francis to refrain from appointing Wilmer as prefect of the faith.

Francis, however, is known for his reluctance to let his intentions be thwarted. So for the future, they say in Rome, there is no guarantee. The fact is, however, that Wilmer's failure to be appointed, which was already considered "certain" in the third week of Advent, has a concrete reason: part of the College of Cardinals revolted against it -- successfully for the time being.