On Thursday last, the Vatican published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections against the Synodal Way.
Two leading cardinals delivered their theologically argued reservations in direct meetings with the German bishops last Friday, warning the process “hurts the communion of the Church”.
The critiques were published November 24 both in the official newspaper of the Vatican and on the Vatican’s news site.
They included the suggestion of a moratorium on the process – a proposal knocked back in discussions with German bishops in Rome on November 18, CNA Deutsch reported.
The main concern is one of union with the Church, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops, explained.
“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.
The Synodal Way — which is not a synod – risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations, but attempting a “transformation of the Church”, Cardinal Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.
Ouellet said Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God”.
The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalised by this process, he added.
Inspired by gender theory
“It is striking,” the cardinal told the Germans, “that the agenda of a limited group of theologians from a few decades ago has suddenly become the majority proposal of the German episcopate”.
The German agenda, Ouellet said, was the “abolition of compulsory celibacy, ordination of viri probati, access of women to the ordained ministry, moral re-evaluation of homosexuality, structural and functional limitation of hierarchical power, reflections on sexuality inspired by gender theory, major proposed amendments to the Catechism of the Catholic Church”.
In amazement, Ouellet said, many observers and faithful are asking: “What happened?” and “Where did we end up?”
Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Losing an achievement of Vatican II
Firstly, given the Synodal Way is not a synod, Ladaria said, it was not expected to produce a final document. Still, perhaps it should produce one – or something similar – “that can reflect a more linear approach and less reliance on assertions that are not fully substantiated”.
Secondly, the cardinal cast doubt on the Synodal Way’s assumed “connection between the structure of the Church and the phenomenon of abuse of minors”.
Ladaria warned the Germans of “reducing the mystery of the Church to a mere institution of power, or viewing the Church from the outset as a structurally abusive organisation that must be brought under the control of superintendents as quickly as possible”.
Such an approach risks losing “one of the most important achievements of the Second Vatican Council”, Ladaria wrote: Namely, “the clear doctrine of the mission of the bishops and thus of the local Church”.
On the question of ordaining women, Ladaria reminded the bishops, as he has stated previously: The teaching of the Catholic Church on the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood, now or in the future, is clear – and to sow confusion by suggesting otherwise is a serious matter.
Finally, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told the German bishops to recognise their role in the context of the Apostolic succession. “If it is true that the Magisterium is under the judgment of the Word, it is equally true that it is precisely through the exercise of the Magisterium of the bishops, and especially of the Bishop of Rome, that the Word comes alive and resounds vibrantly”, the cardinal wrote.
German response: ‘Not a stop sign‘
Upon their return from Rome last week, some German bishops commented on the objections to their “reform project”, reported CNA Deutsch.
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said the Vatican’s warnings were “not a stop sign for the important and necessary discussions we’re having,” such as the Synodal Way’s vote for women’s ordination.
The terse warnings published this week were not the first intervention by the Vatican against the Synodal Way. In July, the Vatican issued a warning of a new schism arising from the process initiated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
In short, the Synodal Way – Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as the Synoal Path – is still expected to continue as planned by organisers, with the next (and so far final) synodal assembly to take place in spring of 2023.
In the meantime, German bishops are pushing ahead with making changes across the board to the Church in their dioceses, not just on the Synodal Way: This week, labor laws were amended so that employees of the Catholic Church can identify as LGBT, be “divorced” or not even Catholic.
While clerics and those in “pastoral care” are still expected to be Catholic, the Church – which employs about 800,000 people in Germany – is “enriched” by this “diversity in Church institutions”, the German Bishops’ Conference said on Tuesday.
According to a report by CNA Deutsch, the bishops also said that “all employees can, regardless of their duties, their origin, their religion, their age, their disability, their sex, their sexual identity and their way of life”, now be representatives of “a Church that serves people”.