Pope Francis warns German bishops: Changing teachings is ‘not licit’, makes churches ‘rot and die’

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Pope Francis on Thursday attacked the leadership of the Catholic Church in Germany, reminding the faithful in the country that German bishops do not have the power to propagate new theology or change the governance of the Church.

The statement was released by the Holy See on Thursday morning. In the message, the pope expressed concern for the laity and clergy of Germany if their leaders broke with established Church teaching. The statement claimed that Catholics would be negatively affected by the many proposed changes to the church being pushed by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and other liberal German leaders in their “synodal path.”

The “synodal way” – sometimes called the “synodal way” – is a controversial religious committee in Germany. The synod, organized by the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics, aims to discuss and address four loose topics: sexual ethics, the structure of church governance, the role of women in the church and the vocation of the priesthood.

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“In order to protect the freedom of the People of God and the exercise of the episcopal ministry, it seems necessary to specify that the “Synodal Way” in Germany does not have the power to compel the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals,” the Holy See statement reads. dioceses, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”

Pope Francis is helped by his aide Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, left, as he walks with a cane to his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 1, 2022.
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, file)

Marx, who led the committee, tabled proposals to change teachings on homosexuality, marriage, masturbation, female priests and others that run counter to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

A significant change in the governance of the German Church or its belief system could push it into a schism with the Holy See, thus separating itself from the Catholic Church. Such a conflict could prove catastrophic both for German Catholics and for the Catholic Church as a whole – thanks to a long-running government “ecclesiastical tax”, the Catholic Church in Germany is perhaps the most richest in the institution.

Earlier this year, more than 100 bishops around the world sent an open letter to German bishops urging them to end the synod and refrain from making illicit changes.

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Pope Francis has struggled to balance his firm grip on the Catholic hierarchy and his defense of Church teaching with his expressed openness to changing non-dogmatic Catholic traditions.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and president of the German Episcopal Conference, celebrates the opening mass of the conference in the cathedral in Fulda, Germany, September 25, 2018.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and president of the German Episcopal Conference, celebrates the opening mass of the conference in the cathedral in Fulda, Germany, September 25, 2018.
(ARNE DEDERT/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Individual Catholic churches—sometimes called “particular churches”—maintain their own bishops and leaders. These regional church leaders are generally expected to act autonomously and manage their own affairs without direct action from the pope. However, Pope Francis was quick to rhetorically crush would-be reformers who risk ignoring Rome’s central authority over changes in teaching or governance.

The pope reiterated this balancing act in his message to German Catholics. The statement on the German Synod quotes a passage from Pope Francis’ “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany”, which says: “The universal Church lives in and of the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and flourish in and from the universal Church. If they find themselves separated from the whole ecclesial body, they weaken, rot and die. Hence the need always to watch that communion with the whole body of the Church be alive and effective”.

The Bishop of Rome ended the message with an appeal to the “universal” nature of the Church and its need for global cooperation – the term “Catholic” is Greek for “universal”.

Pope Francis wrote: “It is therefore hoped that the proposals of the Path of the particular Churches in Germany will converge with the synodal path followed by the universal Church, for mutual enrichment and witness to that unity with which the body of the Church demonstrates his fidelity to Christ the Lord. »

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Pope Francis’ episcopal philosophy has become more complicated than ever, as the leader once commonly seen as a solid progressive has become harder to categorize.

The pontiff recently chose to appoint women to the Dicastery of Bishops for the first time in history, including two nuns and the head of several Catholic women’s organizations. He gained notice for urging mercy and compassion for gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, saying they were all children of God and deserved respect. He, however, refused to endorse any form of same-sex marriage in the church, citing the institution as an unalterable sacrament.

Pope Francis has also refused to enter US politics, ignoring demands from members of the Catholic Church that he explicitly excommunicate President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who both claim to be Catholics despite their support for pro-abortion policies.

The pope called the president’s views “inconsistency” and told him to seek advice from his pastor, but he still hosted Biden and Pelosi at the Vatican on several occasions.

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