VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has tapped a fellow German to lead the Vatican doctrinal office he headed for 24 years before being elected to the papacy.

The Vatican announced on Monday (July 2) that Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller will replace American Cardinal William J. Levada as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The congregation that was once known as the Inquisition still focuses on enforcing orthodoxy in the Catholic Church, and it remains one of the most influential departments in the papal bureaucracy.

The CDF, as it is called, launched the Vatican investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main association for the various communities of American nuns. In recent years its mission has expanded to include dealing with reports of sexual abuse by priests all over the world.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a leading U.S.-based support group for victims of sexual abuse by clergy, criticized Mueller’s appointment because in 2004, while serving as bishop of Regensburg in Bavaria, Mueller had returned a local priest, the Rev. Peter Kramer, to pastoral work without alerting the parish to previous charges of sexual abuse against Kramer.

“Pope Benedict had hundreds of options here. Yet he deliberately elevated a bishop who knowingly put kids in harm’s way,” SNAP said in a statement. “This choice rubs salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of thousands of suffering victims and millions of betrayed Catholics.”

In 2010, Mueller rejected criticism over his handling of the case, saying that reinstating Kramer in parish ministry had been done in collaboration with parish officials.

Mueller, 64, is considered a close follower of Benedict’s teachings and he is the curator of the German edition of the pope’s complete works. But Mueller has also raised eyebrows among conservatives for some of his connections to liberation theologians and his criticisms of schismatic traditionalists who Benedict is trying to woo back into the Roman fold.

Levada, a former archbishop of San Francisco, turned 76 in June and is retiring after seven years as head of the CDF.

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