Have the Germans lost their bet on reform?

As opposition to Germany’s controversial “synodal way” solidifies, the country’s bishops seem determined to redouble their efforts in favor of a revisionist ecclesial program that has already been criticized by the Holy See.

But with more and more bishops around the world lining up to express their “concern” about their process, the prospect of inspiring a global call for the revision of Catholic doctrine now seems dashed, and the process risks now to leave the German bishops isolated and in danger of disappearing. break communion with the universal Church.

Georg Bätzing, Bishop of Limburg and President of the German Bishops’ Conference. Credit: Credit: Arne Dedert/dpa/Alamy

To share

The bishops of the Nordic nations of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland last week signed an open letter to their brother bishops in Germany, expressing their “anxiety” and “concern” about the “path Synod” in progress in Germany.

The intervention was remarkable: the Church in the Nordic countries was, for much of its history, dependent on German largesse to provide money, clergy and even bishops. If their letter had a fraternal tone, it was also clear: “The orientation, the method and the content of the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany worry us.

At the heart of their concerns, the bishops said, was the apparent desire of their German colleagues to adhere more closely to the zeitgeist than to the communion of the Church.

The Nordic letter warning of the German plans came after a similar dispatch from the bishops of Poland and, significantly, was reported on the official Vatican media site. Indeed, the concerns expressed by the Nordic and Polish bishops essentially echo those expressed by Pope Francis in his own letter to the Church in Germany.

For his part, the president of the German episcopal conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, has previously said that the Church must find “solutions” “adapted to its cultural context and avoid that the gap between the Gospel and the respective culture dig “. more and more wide.

Last week he called for the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be amended to accept any type of sexual relationship, in or out of wedlock, provided it is “done in fidelity and responsibility”.

Cardinal Reinhardt Marx of Munich celebrated a special Mass last weekend marking “20 years of queer worship and pastoral care” during which he renewed calls for a “dynamic of openness” by re-addressing “the question of what we have to say about sexuality” – in short, for openness to the prospect of doctrinal change on the matter.

Although the German bishops may seem unfazed, support for their program from the entire global church has always been key to their plans for their “synodal process.” Their preparatory texts and documents have always been published in several languages, and many German bishops have made it clear that they see themselves as paving the way for others.

But international episcopal opinion now appears to be hardening against the German synodal agenda, following the Vatican’s pushback and failure to make clear progress at recent synodal sessions in Rome.

In June 2019, Francis warned Germans against pursuing a course of doctrinal and disciplinary independence from the universal Church, saying: “Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out alone of his problems, relying solely on his own strength, methods and intelligence, he ended up multiplying and maintaining the evils he wanted to overcome.

The Vatican’s own Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and the Congregation for Bishops then informed the Germans that their “synodal path”, which they are pursuing in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics, a radical secular group that opposes to Church teaching on abortion, female ordination, and human sexuality, was not a synod at all and is “ecclesiologically invalid”.

But between the pope’s initial warning and letters from brother bishops, the German bishops continued, championing the causes of ending clerical celibacy, blessing same-sex unions in churches and ordaining women.

They have done so at home, through the “fundamental text” of the synodal journey and the statements of individual bishops, but also abroad – striving to incorporate their agenda into the discussions of recent meetings of the Synod of bishops in Rome, on the family, young people and the Amazon region.

German investment of time and money in promoting a revisionist agenda for the world church has been considerable, and impatience with the Vatican and Pope Francis has been marked.

When the CDF responded with a pope-approved “no” to their demand to bless same-sex unions in churches, German clergy staged a nationwide demonstration of defiance against Rome. When Pope Francis failed to adopt the German calls for married priests and women deacons following the Synod on the Amazon, the Central Committee of German Catholics – who are co-chairs of the synodal path – accused the pope of “lack of courage for real reforms.”

But, even as senior Church officials in Rome warned of the potential for schism stemming from the German synodal agenda, the bishops continued there, apparently confident that the Vatican will show a “lack of similar courage” to respond to the German challenge.

The bet of the German bishops appears to have been that Rome would say ‘no’, but do nothing, while support for their calls for reform grew as bishops’ conferences around the world adopted the German agenda in their own synodal sessions. .

But this support did not materialize. Instead of leading a global march, the German bishops increasingly seem to be marching alone.

But their situation does not mean that the bishops will bend their reforming hand – indeed, they may already be prize pool committed.

The Church in Germany has long relied on its financial resources to give it outsized influence in world church affairs. It collects about 7 billion euros per year through the national tax from the Church, which gives it the possibility of being generous benefactors of the Church in other places, such as the Nordic countries and the Amazon region. .

But this financial stability is threatened by a precipitous decline in vocations and an exodus of Catholics from the pews.

According to a 2019 survey, 30% of German Catholics said they were “members of the Church and can imagine leaving the Church soon”.

The German bishops have banked on the synodal reform program as a means of bridging “the gap between gospel and culture,” as Bätzing called it, and trying to climb out of a demographic cliff.

The upshot of all of this could be that, even if the global Church sides with Rome in condemning their synodal conclusions, the German bishops may be faced with a choice between a Church in schism and no Church at all.

Share the pillar

Comments are closed.