The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Vatican: German synod plans ‘not ecclesiologically valid’

The assessment, reports Ed Condon, signed by the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, says that the German bishops’ plans violate canonical norms and do, in fact, set out to alter universal norms and doctrines of the Church.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, leaves the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on October 3, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican City, Sep 12, 2019 / 01:18 pm (CNA).- In a letter sent to German bishops last week, the Vatican has said that plans for a binding Church synod in Germany are “not ecclesiologically valid.”

Plans for a “binding synodal process” were first announced by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German episcopal conference, earlier this year.

CNA reported last week that draft statues for the planned “Synodal Assembly” were approved in August by the executive committee of the German bishops’ conference, ahead of a final hearing at a full meeting of German bishops, set to be held Sept. 23-26. CNA also reported that small working groups connected to the synod have already begun discussing a series of controversial Church topics.

In a Sept. 4 letter addressed to Marx, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, said that plans for a Synodal Assembly must conform to guidelines issued by Pope Francis in June, especially that a synod in Germany could not act to change universal Church teaching or discipline.

Ouellet also sent Marx a four-page legal assessment of the German bishops’ draft statues.

Both the letter from Cardinal Ouellet and the attached legal assessment were obtained by CNA.

The assessment, signed by the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, says that the German bishops’ plans violate canonical norms and do, in fact, set out to alter universal norms and doctrines of the Church.

In his legal review of the draft statutes, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, noted that the Germans propose to treat four key themes: “authority, participation, and separation of powers,” “sexual morality,” “the form of priestly life,” and “women in Church ministries and offices.”

“It is easy to see that these themes do not only affect the Church in Germany but the universal Church and – with few exceptions – cannot be the object of the deliberations or decisions of a particular Church without contravening what is expressed by the Holy Father in his letter,” Iannone wrote.

In his letter to the Church in Germany issued in June, Pope Francis warned the German bishops to respect the universal communion of the Church.

“Every time the ecclesial community has tried to resolve its problems alone, trusting and focusing exclusively on its forces or its methods, its intelligence, its will or prestige, it ended up increasing and perpetuating the evils it tried to solve,” Francis wrote.

The Vatican’s legal assessment raised a series of concerns about the proposed structure and the participants in the German “synodal path.” It concluded that the German bishops are not planning a national synod, but instead a particular Church council – something they cannot conduct without explicit Roman approval.

“It is clear from the articles of the draft of the statutes that the [German] Episcopal Conference has in mind to make a Particular Council pursuant to canons 439-446 but without using this term,” the letter said, emphasizing the need for Vatican permission for such a gathering.

“If the German Episcopal Conference has arrived at the conviction that a particular Council is necessary, they should follow the procedures provided by the Code [of Canon Law] in order to arrive at a binding deliberation.”

A council, unlike a synod, is a meeting of bishops given the authority to make laws for the Church in a particular country or region, but only under the direct authority of Rome, which defines the scope of its authority. A synod, which the German bishops have called their planned gathering, is instead supposed to be a pastoral and consultative group, without the authority to set policy. Holding a council at the national level is far less common than is holding a synod, and requires that the Apostolic See approve its agenda, scope of action, and its final resolutions.

The German bishops’ plan for the synod confers to the synod’s membership the ability to make new policies for the Church in Germany. This, the Vatican letter said, is not acceptable.

The Vatican letter also said that the proposed make-up of the Synodal Assembly is “not ecclesiologically valid.” It cited the bishops’ proposed partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics, a lay group that has taken public stances against a range of Church teachings, including on women’s ordination and sexual morality.

The Vatican assessment noted with concern that the Central Committee of German Catholics only agreed to be involved in the process if the synod assembly could make binding policies for the German Church.

“How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church?” Iannone asked.

“The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions [on these matters], this is beyond its competence,” his letter said.

“Synodality in the Church, to which Pope Francis refers often, is not synonymous with democracy or majority decisions,” Iannone wrote, noting that even when a Synod of Bishops meets in Rome “it is up to the Pontiff to present the results.”

“The synodal process must take place within a hierarchically structured community,” the letter added, and any resolutions would require the express approval of the Apostolic See.

The legal assessment concluded finally that the German proposals “leave open many questions that deserve attention.”

Senior officials at both the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts confirmed to CNA that both documents were sent to Cardinal Marx last week, with the instruction that their contents should form the basis for further discussions of the synodal process when the German bishops next meet as a full conference.

It is not clear whether the letter and attachment have yet been circulated among the German bishops.

Those instructions would seem to effectively call for the German bishops’ to scrap their plans entirely.

A senior official at the Congregation for Bishops told CNA Sept. 12 that the questions raised by the assessment are “obviously urgent.”

“There is of course a sense that the Germans simply do not wish to listen. The pope himself has written and there seems to have been no notice of it,” the official said.

A high-ranking official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was not involved in the review of the German proposals, told CNA that there is a widespread impression among Vatican officials that the German bishops, led by Marx, are largely indifferent to Vatican interventions.

“Everyone knows what the Germans want to achieve, they have been perfectly noisy about it. There’s a growing sense that Marx can’t wait for a conclave to act like the pope. He has decided he knows what is best for the Church and he will see it done.”

“What more is there to do but wait and see. The pope himself has already written to the Germans and they ignore him. If they can ignore the Holy Father, they will ignore anyone else in the Curia for sure.”

At an August meeting of the executive conference of the bishops’ conference, the German bishops rejected one synod proposal that was shaped directly by recent instructions to the German Church from Pope Francis.

At that meeting, the 27 heads of Germany’s dioceses defeated an alternative proposal for a synodal process centered on the “priority of evangelization” called for by Francis, choosing instead to press ahead with the “Synodal Assembly” plan backed by Cardinal Marx.

While mirroring many of the structures of the Marx plan, the alternative document proposed “a comprehensive and thoroughgoing spiritual renewal consistent with the universal Church and its faith in the sense of the ‘Priority of Evangelization’ called for by Pope Francis.”

Instead of seeking to deal with topics beyond the bishops’ canonical authority  – like universal Church teaching on sexual morality, clerical discipline, and women’s ordination – it would have instead focused on themes like the role of laity in evangelization, youth ministry and catechesis, marriage and family support, vocations, and catechetical instruction for the evangelization.

“There is no question that they know what the pope wants of them,” a senior official at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts told CNA. “The question is if the German bishops remain interested in what the Holy Father says.”

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Catholic News Agency 9788 Articles
Catholic News Agency (


  1. As with all recent Vatican moves, we now ask “How are they trying to pull the wool over our eyes? In what sense is this supposed to fool us?”
    The answer may be that this is supposed to be an expression by the Pope that he really wants to exercise central control over the church, so we should not worry about his efforts to give local churches more control. But in fact, we should be wary of this sneaky pope. Maybe this is just reassurance before he really pulls a fast one in the Amazon synod, which is being set up for local control of something that touches the entire church – the use of married men as priests. We have learned that we can never trust pope francis under any circumstances. Never. He always misdirects, misleads and has an ulterior motive. I bet this whole German thing was preplanned by Marx and the Pope long ago.

    • Please remember that according to the universal catechism of the Catholic Church the pope has absolute authority over the church.

    • CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH… 882. Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”402 “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

  2. It would be great if this article or a follow-up article actually gave some or any significant details regarding the actual content of the German propositions 4 changes. this present article here just is talking about the politics and The binding nature of the German prepositions. But what is not explained in any kind of detail is what those propositions actually are here. please try to at least add a Cummins here describing what the propositions state. Thank you. God bless you. Jesus is Lord. — Mark Kamoski

  3. If there is a Schism it will not come from Traditional American Catholics but from ze Germans, who should be noted are responsible for the most disastrous Schism in the history of Christendom, i.e the Reformation.

  4. As unfortunate and sad as it is Samton is correct. We’ve reached a level of awareness due to all indication that there is a definite pattern of undermining the Deposit of Faith by application of dual messaging. The veneer of orthodoxy to bide time for the implementation of heterodoxy. We may and should continue to write and comment intelligently assessing the issues. Nonetheless we must, we have no option insofar as I may speak for my own integrity as priest and witness to Christ than to speak the truth. Can an Apostle underhandedly undermine the doctrines of the Church, Christ himself? Yes. We have historical evidence of that.

  5. We’ll have to wait and see- remember what happened with communion for protestants? The CDF said no, then a short time later Cardinal Marx obtained “private approval” from Francis, and we never heard anything more about the problems raised by the CDF. There is thus valid reason to be suspicious that this is hardly the end of it. I might predict it will resurface in another, lesser form, or piece by piece, whereupon there will be less opposition because “it’s not as bad” as the original proposal.

  6. German Bishops led by the Archbishop Marx seem to be inclined to favour a Church that gives freedom to the faithful in matters of faith. A kind of democracy may be the idea. However Jesus never mentioned such freedom or democracy in Commandments. He said even lust constitutes a sin as the adultery is committed in the heart. German Bishops do not find anything wrong in homosexual marriages or living together before marriage. What brand of Catholicism they aspire can be imagined by us who want to loyal to the Universal Church !

  7. It seems the Catholic World Report does not publish comments upholding Catholic teachings on homosexuality,gay marriage, abortion, living together and such matters. It is not clear whether the Catholic World Report is afraid of anti catholic force.

  8. Frankly it’s time for the Pope to deal decisively with the German Catholic Church. They have been infecting the universal church with their heterodoxy for 50 years now and their entire Church is palliative because of it. If they want a modernist quasi protestant Church they either need to break communion with Rome or be excommunicated.

  9. The invention of and the use of the printing press in 1436 by Martin Luther enabled him to pass along his thesis and nail it to the door.Massive flood of information to the public.NO Fact Check back in those days of yore.Now another group of German Bishops will use the latest forms of 21st Technology to perform another Schism in the Catholic Church.Satan walks around in broad daylight these days.

  10. What is wrong with Germany? Don’t they recall the last time this was tried they got the Fuhrer in due time. Duh, get the connection!!!! The TRUTH never fails.

  11. The Church right now is being run the way the Jesuits operate. Just enough “tradition” for the dummies out there…with their own “discernment” tradition of heterodoxy and green lights served up in whispers on the side (historically, the spiritual directors of got-bucks benefactors, “pillows under the elbows” of even royalty), but let’s face it, it’s been front and center heterodoxy for the Jesuits for decades. Their social justice/progressive thing? A better fund raising campaign in an increasingly secular, post-Christian world and sadly post-Christian Catholic Church.

    As for the Hegelian German Bishops, what do they even still believe? Let’s start with Revelation. To what extent do they even accept Scripture within Catholic Tradition? With that said, their “urgency” is about maintaining their lifestyles including room, and board, high quality calories.

    So before any German Synod starts…what do they even believe and why does anyone owe them a living? The same questions applies to a good number of Jesuits who adhere to alternate beliefs/creeds, starting with Sosa…and maybe Bergoglio.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Defining schism down – Catholic World Report
  2. Synods and Sausages: Making a mess in Germany – Catholic World Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.