Vatican ex-doctrine chief pens manifesto amid pope criticism

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican's former doctrine chief has penned a "manifesto of faith" to remind Catholics of basic tenets of belief amid what he says is "growing confusion" in the church today.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller didn't name Pope Francis in his four-page manifesto, released late Friday. But the document was nevertheless a clear manifestation of conservative criticism of Francis' emphasis on mercy and accompaniment versus a focus on repeating Catholic morals and doctrine during the previous two papacies.

Mueller wrote that a pastor's failure to teach Catholic truths was the greatest deception - "It is the fraud of the anti-Christ."

Francis sacked Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2017, denying the German a second five-year term.

In the document, which was published by conservative Catholic media that have been critical of Francis, Mueller repeats basic Catholic teaching that Catholics must be free from sin before receiving Communion. He mentions divorced and remarried faithful, in a clear reference to Francis' opening to letting these Catholics receive Communion on a case-by-case basis after a process of accompaniment and discernment with their pastors.

Mueller also repeats that women cannot be ordained priests and that priests must be celibate. Francis has reaffirmed the ban on ordination for women but has commissioned a study on women deacons in the early church. Francis has also reaffirmed priestly celibacy but has made the case for exceptions where "pastoral necessity" might justify ordaining married men of proven virtue.

"In the face of growing confusion about the doctrine of the faith, many bishops, priests, religious and lay people of the Catholic Church have requested that I make a public testimony about the truth of revelation," Mueller wrote. "It is the shepherd's very own task to guide those entrusted to them on the path of salvation."

The manifesto was the latest jab at Francis from the conservative wing of the church. Already, four other cardinals have called on the Jesuit pope to clarify his outreach to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

And the Vatican's former ambassador to the U.S. has demanded Francis resign over what he claimed was the pope's 2013 rehabilitation of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick despite knowing the high-ranking American slept with adult seminarians. McCarrick is likely to be defrocked in the coming days after he was more recently accused of sexually abusing minors.

Mueller's manifesto carries the date of Feb. 10 — the eve of the sixth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's historic announcement that he would resign. Many conservatives are nostalgic for the doctrinal clarity and certainty of Benedict's reign.

It was published after Francis penned a joint declaration of "fraternity" with a prominent Muslim imam during his recent trip to the United Arab Emirates. Some conservatives say the document's claim that the pluralism of religions is "willed by God" muddies Catholic belief about the centrality of Christ. Francis has defended the document as doctrinally sound.