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The Germans’ “Synodal Path” is a walk into lunacy

Synods have existed in the Catholic Church for a long time. But the Germans’ plan is something else altogether.

Prelates and other clergymen attend Mass March 6, 2017, during the opening of the annual meeting of Germany's bishops at the cathedral in Cologne. (CNS photo/Sascha Steinbach, EPA)

Believing as I do that synodality holds out much promise for the Church, I have watched with growing dismay–shared with many others–as a German concoction called the “Synodal Path” lurched erratically forward during the last couple of years. Now, with a key document of that strange enterprise in hand, I conclude that this particular “path” is a one-way road to disaster.

As in several other churches, synods have existed in the Catholic Church for a long time. Diocesan synods are fairly common today. Since Vatican Council II, a Synod of Bishops has been part of the Vatican structure, with an assembly scheduled late next year on the subject of synodality. And Pope Francis for some time has been talking up the idea of a “synodal Church.

But the Germans’ Synodal Path is something else. The glaring faults of this joint project of the German bishops’ conference and a lay group called the Central Committee of German Catholics are on full display in a document on power in the Church that appears to represent a semi-final stage in the deliberative process.

Dated January 22 of this year and marked “only for members of the synodal assembly,” the 38-page single-spaced document carries the names of Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, representing the bishops’ conference, and Dr. Claudia Luecking-Michel, vice president of the Committee of German Catholics. Bishop Overbeck is on record elsewhere approving of same-sex marriage and women priests. Dr. Luecking-Michel is a longtime Church activist and a former member of the German parliament, the Bundestag.

The document’s controlling idea is that the Catholic Church must adopt the structures and processes of secular liberal democracy operating through a network of synods and synod-like bodies. All leadership positions in the Church, including bishops and pastors, are to be elective and term-limited. Decisions of bishops and pastors can be overruled by majority vote. The pope’s role in selecting bishops is simply to confirm the results of the elections that choose them.

The document further holds that “plurality” even of “core convictions” is acceptable and even desirable in the Church. “A plurality of ways of thinking and living and a cultural multilingualism in the house of the Church is legitimate and even required,” it says. And lest there be any doubt: “plurality in questions of truth and doctrine is legitimate.”

But make no mistake–differences won’t be permitted to slow down “reforms.” And here the document shifts gears, from permissive to authoritarian: “The ability to act must not be put at risk by blocking discourse….We expect that recommendations and decisions adopted by a majority will also be supported by those who have voted differently….We expect everyone to help promote the ability of the synodal assembly to act.”

There is more–much more–including reams of tedious rhetoric, but this suggests the document’s flavor and makes it clear where the Synodal Path is headed: toward the kind of coercive pseudo-democracy much favored by progressive ideologues.

Some democratic structures and procedures can and should find a place in the Church. In saying this, however, it is essential to remember that the Church, by the will of its founder, is not a democracy. Rather, considered in its institutional aspect, it is a hierarchical body with a magisterial teaching authority vested in the pope and the bishops in union with him.

The Vatican reportedly is not happy with the Synodal Path. It shouldn’t be. One can only hope Rome will say an emphatic no before this lunacy goes much farther.


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About Russell Shaw 224 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, and, most recently, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity.

20 Comments

  1. “Plurality in questions of truth and doctrine is legitimate.” At the time of St Anthanasius, and perhaps at other times throughout history, didn’t the plurality in the institutional Church subscribe to the Arian heresy?

    • “Plurality in questions of truth and doctrine is legitimate.” For whatever reason, I am not grasping what this means. Would you be so kind as to break those words down please.

    • Sure, Tom. And, today, the plurality of German bishops subscribe to the theses of the “Synodal Path”, which have little to do with catholic orthodoxy.
      I’m missing the Athanasius of today.

  2. Sounds like more of the German forbidden fruit diet. More of the Gospel according to Harvey Weinstein. As distasteful as this sounds, based on this article, the German Church is very close to trafficking the Bride of Christ.

  3. We read from Germania: “The ability to act must not be put at risk by blocking discourse….We expect that recommendations and decisions adopted by a majority will also be supported by those who have voted differently…. We expect everyone to help promote the ability of the synodal assembly to act.”

    But WAIT, this totalitarian doctrine is actually French, as of 1789! Rousseau, in his earlier and radically democratic Social Contract, said that unwilling subjects will be forced to obey the general will: they will be “forced to be free.”
    But WAIT AGAIN, Rousseau was not French but actually Swiss, from Geneva! The gangrenous Synodal Path is so very international—disinterred as it is from the collective graveyard of history. And like the terminal Synodal Path, Rousseau also committed suicide.

    (Ecclesiastes 1:9—“there is nothing new under the sun.”)

  4. The German Bishops: the vanguard of the post-Christian cult of Anti-Christ, doing the bidding of their co-coordinator, the Pontiff Francis, who cleared the way for them by defying the 1st Commandment, and brazenly orchestrated idolatry and profaned the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Rome in October 2019.

  5. The German bishops seem to be latching onto the current trend of redefining science, morality, life and religion…. they want to be protestant Catholics all in the name of inclusion and progression. sad…..

  6. Thank you, Mr. Shaw! An excellent article. The German prelates would do well to remember that Christ gave the keys of Heaven to Peter, not all the disciples and that what Peter holds on earth will be held in Heaven and what Peter rejects on earth will be rejected in Heaven. If the Germans want to believe and teach doctrines contrary to the dictates of the Chair of Peter, they should 1. remove their vestments, 2. put on their street clothes, 3. take their last paycheck and 4. LEAVE THE BUILDING, as they are NOT Catholic. All churches and accompanying buildings BELONG TO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. The Germans have NO RIGHT TO THEM AT ALL! Go ahead, leave and the rest of the real Catholic will pray for your return, as soon as the Germans learn what human decency really is.

  7. Since when does any single or body of leaders in the catholic church have the authority to change or transform what the Son of God, Jesus, founded?—-
    “The document’s controlling idea is that the Catholic Church must adopt the structures and processes of secular liberal democracy operating through a network of synods and synod-like bodies. All leadership positions in the Church, including bishops and pastors, are to be elective and term-limited. Decisions of bishops and pastors can be overruled by majority vote

  8. And the German bishops are compelling because? The Catholic Church in Germany is growing and vibrant? The German people are paying any attention to the German bishops? Germany has been an exemplar of the Gospel in the past century or so? The German bishops have the courage to challenge the popular culture? Etc.

  9. If someone doesn’t Love us must get out, or convert by reading sometimes the CWR for expample ;-). If the Holy Teachings, the Martyrs, the Cathecism, the History, the Church, all of us, are saying they are wrong, maybe they are wrong.

  10. It appears that the bishops in Germany are forming their own Catholic Church. Luther is at work again. Hopefully the Pope will refuse to go along with anything that comes out of this Synod. If he does then you will open the gates to other countries doing the same thing and becoming like Protestants. A second Reformation. God help us and the Church to prevent this from happening.

  11. “Since when does any body of leaders in the catholic church have the authority to change or transform what the son of God, Jesus, founded?”

    Since we have a pope who is allowing it, that’s when.

  12. A synod all path of only bishops doesn’t reflect the movement of the Holy Spirit through the whole church.

    St John Cardinal Newman said:

    “Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way, a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right, that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we think best, nor what is best for another, but what is best for us.”
    ― John Henry Newman

  13. Liberal democracy has elevated evil lunacy like “plurality…” Father of Confusion at work overtime in our Church. In it! What I wouldn’t give for a good stiff belt of orthodoxy right now.

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