Why I signed the open letter to the bishops of Germany | Salvatore J. Cordileone
Jthere individual bishops as . . . member[s] of the episcopal college and legitimate successor[s] apostles, [are] obligated by the institution and command of Christ to be concerned for the whole Church, and this concern, although not exercised by an act of jurisdiction, contributes greatly to the advantage of the universal Church . For it is the duty of all bishops to promote and safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church.
This passage from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentiumemphasizes one of the main doctrines articulated and developed at the Council: the collegiality of bishops among themselves and in union with the Bishop of Rome, and the concern that each must have for the universal Church, beyond the limits of his own Local Church.
The decree of the council concerning the pastoral care of bishops in the Church, Christus Dominusresumes this theme with more precision:
As legitimate successors of the Apostles and members of the episcopal college, the bishops must realize that they are linked and show concern for all the Churches. For by divine institution and the rule of the apostolic office, each with all the other bishops is responsible for the Church. They should be particularly concerned about regions of the world where the . . . loyal . . . are in danger of departing from the precepts of the Christian life, and even of losing the faith itself.
Inspired by this teaching we received from the Second Vatican Council, I signed this week Fraternal open letter to our brother bishops of Germany with seventy other cardinals and bishops from around the world (and the number of signatories continues to grow). Because the German Synodal Way deviates radically from established Church doctrine and ancient, well-established discipline, it threatens to cause a schism in the Church, even beyond Germany itself. Our concern is motivated by this threat, especially when we hear prominent voices of the Church in Germany rejecting the authority of Scripture and Tradition, especially with regard to the unbroken teachings of the Church on the questions of sexual morality, gender ideology, sacraments and the exercise of authority in the Church.
The open letter is therefore an exercise of the collegial episcopal authority given to the Church by Christ, and follows other recent interventions by members of the College of Bishops, in particular the Letter of Brotherly Concern from the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference to the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, and the similar letter from Nordic Episcopal Conference. As we reminded our brother bishops in the fraternal open letter:
. . . Christian history is littered with well-meaning efforts that have lost their foundation in the Word of God, in a faithful encounter with Jesus Christ, in genuine listening to the Holy Spirit, and in submitting our wills to the will from father. These futile efforts ignored the unity, experience and accumulated wisdom of the gospel and the Church. Because they did not heed the words of Jesus: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5), they were in vain and damaged both unity and vitality. evangelism of the Church. The German synodal path risks precisely leading to such an impasse.
I have signed as Archbishop of San Francisco so that the faithful in my own archdiocese will know that I have serious concerns about the action of the German bishops. I signed to be in collegial solidarity with the bishops of the whole world in opposition to the direction of the Synodal Way of the German Church. Thanks to the contacts I have with the Church in Germany, I have also heard the appeals of the Catholic faithful in Germany for the support of the Church all over the world. To provide these German Catholic faithful with such support and encouragement is another act of solidarity for the sake of the unity and peace of the Church.
In particular, I hope the letter makes it clear that:
- Episcopal conferences have no authority to teach doctrines contrary to the teaching and tradition of the universal Church, nor to erect the Catholic Church in their country into a national Church independent of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
- The Ten Commandments are not subject to revision. No human being has the power to alter any of the Ten Commandments. It is a scandal for any bishop to suggest that the Catholic Church alter the divine order in relation to chastity.
- Priestly celibacy is a precious value in the life and mission of the Church and must not be set aside. If priestly vocations are rare, Catholic communities should do some soul-searching on how they live the Gospel.
- The Church does not have the power to ordain women to the priesthood. Saint John Paul II made a definitive statement of this. While the diaconate is a different order from the priesthood, there is unity among the ranks of holy orders, and suggesting that women be ordained deacons will inevitably lead to their (putative) ordination as priests.
To this last point, it must be added that all the baptized, women and men, as a dignity conferred by baptism, exercise the baptismal priesthood, which is a solid foundation for the apostolate of the laity. The history of the Church is filled with great things done by women in furthering the kingdom of Christ. To suggest that women must be ordained priests to have equality with men in the Church is, ironically, humiliating for women, because it assumes that what has traditionally been exclusively the domain of men is the only measure of dignity. or value, and therefore anything uniquely feminine is inferior. It is a deeply anti-Christian view of what equality and complementarity mean in God’s plan of creation and in the organization of the Church.
I believe it is no coincidence that many of the bishops who first spoke in signing this letter come from Africa, where the Church is growing despite (or because of) the firm commitment of the Church there to preserve Christ’s teachings on sexuality. morality, even if these are fiercely opposed to many traditional African mores (including polygamy). If the established doctrine of the Church, consistently taught and developed over two millennia, is to be rejected as socially unacceptable, then all truth claims of the Christian faith will crumble. It may seem ironic to some, but it is classical Catholicism that evangelizes. A lukewarm accommodation to the latest dogmas of secular orthodoxy, on the other hand, cannot be the basis of a revival.
I hope and pray that the German bishops will listen to the Holy Father and their brother bishops and turn away from their path of division. The deposit of our Catholic faith cannot be changed, and those who try to change our faith harm themselves and the faithful.
Salvatore J. Cordileone is the Archbishop of San Francisco.
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Photo by Dennis Callahan, courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.