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The world episcopate and the German apostasy

Pope Francis should call the German bishops back to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). This responsibility is not the pope’s alone, however.

Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing speaks during a March 3, 2020, news conference in Mainz after being elected as the new president of the German bishops' conference. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA)

As the names Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom suggest, the middle centuries of the first millennium, the era of the Church Fathers, were the golden age of the Catholic episcopate. The Catholic Church recognizes 35 men and women as exemplary teachers; 14 of them – 40 percent of the entire roster of the “Doctors of the Church” – were bishops who lived in that epoch. Theirs were not tranquil times. But even as these brave shepherds battled heresies within the Church and overbearing rulers who tried to subordinate the Church to their power, they created a spiritual patrimony from which we still benefit today, as the Church regularly ponders their sermons, letters, and biblical commentaries in the Liturgy of the Hours.

One characteristic of this golden age of bishops was the practice of fraternal challenge and correction within the episcopate. Local bishops in the mid-first millennium believed they belonged to, and shared responsibility for, a worldwide communion. Convinced that what happens in one part of the body has effects on the whole, bishops like Cyprian, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, and Augustine did not hesitate to correct brother bishops they thought were mistaken in their doctrine or disciplinary practice – and sometimes did so in forceful language.

This concept of the bishops’ mutual responsibility for the world Church was retrieved by the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on episcopal collegiality. The Fathers’ practice of fraternal challenge and correction remains to be recovered, however. That recovery is now essential as the Church in Germany falls deeper into apostasy – a denial of the truths of Catholic faith that threatens schism.

The mechanism for this is the so-called “German Synodal Way,” a multi-year process that aims to substantially alter the Deposit of Faith on matters of doctrine, Church order, and the moral life, thereby betraying Pope St. John XXIII’s intention for Vatican II. According to its recently released “Fundamental Text,” the German Synodal Way will correct the Lord Jesus on the constitution of the Church and its episcopal governance (“Time has passed over these models,” the German text declares), even as the Synodal Way rectifies and improves the Church’s teaching on “gender justice….the evaluation of queer sexual orientations, and….dealing with failure and new beginnings (e.g., marriage after divorce).”

How is this possible? It’s possible, according to the Fundamental Text, because “there is no one truth of the religious, moral, and political world, and no one form of thought that can lay claim to ultimate authority.” Thus, “in the Church…legitimate views and ways of life can compete with each other even in core convictions…theologically justified claims to truth, correctness, comprehensibility, and honesty… [can] be contradictory to each other….”

This is not just a word salad confected by ideologically giddy academics and power-driven Church bureaucrats. It is apostasy, and apostasy in service to the post-modern creed that there may be “your truth” and “my truth” but nothing properly describable as the truth. And lest you think that this approach will lead to a new tolerance of diversity, the Fundamental Text warns those who profess the Nicene Creed, rather than the post-modern creed, that they will be compelled to “support” and “promote” what they reject as departures from Christian faith. The instinct for totalitarian coercion dies hard in some cultures, it seems.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, claims that the German “Synodal Way” is being watched enthusiastically elsewhere in the world Church. If so, that’s only happening among the shrinking cadres of Catholic Lite, who have not learned from the German example that Catholic Lite leads to the Catholic Zero exemplified by this Fundamental Text. It is imperative, therefore, that brother bishops disabuse Bishop Bätzing of the illusion that he, the great majority of the German episcopate, and the bloated German Church bureaucracy are the courageous pioneers of a brave new Catholicism.

The first responsibility here lies with the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who should do what Pope St. Clement I did with the rowdy Corinthians in the immediate post-apostolic period and what Pope St. Gregory the Great did with brother bishops during the age of the Fathers: call the German bishops back to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). This responsibility is not the pope’s alone, however. Other bishops throughout the world Church should let Bishop Bätzing know of their grave concern about the corrosive character of the Synodal Way’s Fundamental Text.

That is what men of the caliber of Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, and John Chrysostom – who would have gagged at the Fundamental Text’s celebration of “ambiguity” – would do.


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About George Weigel 331 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

23 Comments

  1. Excellent article Mr. Weigel, as always. You have a gift of getting to the core of a matter. We need to invoke the intercession of the Church Fathers when we pray for the Church in Germany, which I do daily.

  2. Given the Bishop’s whimpy response to Biden’s pro abortion strategy, does anyone really think the Papacy or any Bishops will push back against the Germans. The Germans gave use Lurther, WW1, WW2, the Holocaust and now they are hell bent on destroying the Church.

  3. A good article on what is going on in the German Church. However, I would not hold my breath on the American bishops speaking out.
    Mr. Weigel refers to the German Fundamental Text’s celebration of “ambiguity.” But at the USCCB conference, when one bishop asked what the exact meaning of ‘Inadmissible” was, regarding the pope’s change to the catechism on the death penalty, he was told by another bishop that it was an example of “eloquent ambiguity.” There were no further questions.

    • Crusader –

      BINGO.

      The quote “eloquent ambiguity” comes of course from Bishop Barron, who appears (regrettably so) to be nothing other than a conformist-careerist. “Eloquent Ambiguity” is the sum total of the “witness” of the USCCB, long-engineered by liars like the sociopath abuser and fraud McCarrick and and his cohort the now deceased Cardinal Bernardin (who also by the way was accused of sex abuse by JMcCarrick’s primary accuser James Grein) to extinguish the voice of those few authentic Bishops who model the sacrifice of the apostles and the Good Shepherd.

      As Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany (Batzing’s predecessor) remains in the fraudulent circle of “Cardinal Coordinators” for the Pontiff Francis (who orchestrated idolatry in Rome in 2019) there is no doubt that the Pontiff Francis wants what is happening in Germany to unfold…because Batzing and Marx and the Argentinian Pontiff are all the same: counterfeit men, betraying the Good Shepherd and masquerading as apostles.

      • “The quote “eloquent ambiguity” comes of course from Bishop Barron, who appears (regrettably so) to be nothing other than a conformist-careerist. “Eloquent Ambiguity” is the sum total of the “witness” of the USCCB…”

        Thank you. This puts the answer to the “pea under the mattress” that I detected about Bishop Barren’s thought process. Something was off.

        Just last week I listened to one of his lectures. He kept saying over and over that “rules are okay” but “habit” is the key to growth. This came out of the mouth of someone who touts his educational credentials. How does this man think habits are formed. Don’t we follow rules, patterns of behavior that we lay down for ourselves or that some lays down for us? Habits are basically formed by following a set of rules. I’m still shaking my head over this. No wonder he comes up with “Eloquent Ambiguity” —-he described himself along with the USCG(lobalist)B, et al. Thanks again for connecting the dots.

    • “eloquent ambiguity.” Indeed, as the saying go, “There’s a lot of that going around these days.” No vaccine has been developed yet — at least not a Catholic antidote.

  4. Does the German hierarchy believe that the Church’s failure to confront the rise of Hitler was due to an excess of orthodoxy?

  5. Thank you, George, for a very insightful and informative article.

    A church that follows the German synodal way will, I believe, become like the American Episcopal Church, continually shrinking. Because really who needs it if we each get to have our own truth.

  6. Past criticism of George Weigel for not referencing Pope Francis for his inaction is due reconsideration with this article, in which Weigel squarely places major responsibility with Francis. Unfortunately, considering his 8 year record there seems little prospect of that except, perhaps, meaningless ‘concern’. So it follows that he, Weigel should give an historical account of the role of the bishops. They do possess Apostolic authority and commission to defend the faith. This is where it gets delicate if hopefully they do react to the German heretical church whose Fundamental Text recalls the Wittenberg 95 Theses. Schism becomes a question, although I don’t perceive it as canonically justified in this case. It would likely stem from resistance to some pontifical injunction, and if so force the pontiff to display his hand. Malta, Sicily, the Philippines hierarchy previously permitted by Rome to give carte blanche access to the Eucharist sidestepping the sacrament of reconciliation was sufficiently serious and most bishops barely emitted a whimper. We’ve passed several justifiable watershed moments these past 8 years of ecclesial crucifixion and bishops have been as innocuous as the Vatican [masterful at initiating crises appearing innocently concerned]. Laity have bravely been in the forefront and will likely be again. Laity do have canonical right to request correction from their ordinaries. A worldwide organized movement could spur the bishops to act, “Why would a rider choose shorter spurs over longer ones? Also, when should I use sharp, pointy spurs and when do I opt for gentler, softer ones?” (John Zopatti in Dressage Today). For the bishops I suggest laity first use the shorter, rounded kind and if necessary the long sharp ones. Presbyters certainly owe their support. We all, that is the faithful to Apostolic tradition if we take up spiritual arms can succeed. A spark of courageous faith may ignite a cleansing fire.

    • With short, rounded spurs, would our bishops would feel anything more than slight irritation?

      Considering Cardinal Tobin’s latest promotion a few days ago, Catholic Culture’s Phil Lawler wrote, “Waiting for episcopal reform? Nighty-night, baby.”

      Mr. Weigel’s perspective is, unfortunately, 1970 and pollyannish.

      • Meiron, there’s continued indication the Church is being maneuvered toward what’s now being allowed to foment in Germany. That is what events, responses from the Vatican, outcomes suggest. As what Rosemarie here fears is true, and our dearth of effective leadership, particularly those among the hierarchy prepared to directly confront the German bishops, and, unfortunately the Vatican, not personally, questioning integrity, rather concisely on the theological, moral issues, and the defense of the integrity of doctrine. We need an engaging leader able to accrue other leaders, preferably a bishop who can motivate the insouciant, the wavering, those lacking courage. Always acting with loyalty to Christ, to the Chair of Peter, defense of the integrity of His Church challenging where necessary errors promulgated by suggestion, never the perennial Magisterium and deposit of Faith. Only in areas where ambiguity is manifest and fostered regarding that Deposit of Faith given by Christ.

    • Never ever use spurs!!! Where is the actual Love being lived? The Love of and from God? What would the disciples of Jezus think and say about this all, especially “the Rock”, Peter? How did Paul and Peter work things out?

  7. So, said German bishops have signed onto the declaration that no religion has the ‘truth’.

    A direct assault on Christ and His Church.

    Where is Francis and the encyclical Amoris Laetitia that unleashed this beast?

  8. “This concept of the bishops’ mutual responsibility for the world Church was retrieved by the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on episcopal collegiality. The Fathers’ practice of fraternal challenge and correction remains to be recovered, however. That recovery is now essential as the Church in Germany falls deeper into apostasy – a denial of the truths of Catholic faith that threatens schism.”

    Instead of being the Missionary Church and keeping our sights on the Crucified, Resurrected Christ, we are floundering and chasing after false ideologies. Leadership in the Catholic Church, and formation of its ministers is, except for certain pockets, quite corrupted.

    I seems to me that the “schism” really commenced in the eighties when Liberation Theology began it’s infant wail in South America and California, as then Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out. Our present pontiff is steeped in this concept and in fact it resides in the marrow of his Argentine bones.

    I truly wonder whether the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, is either WILLING or CAPABLE of taking on the responsibility as “Pope St. Clement I did with the rowdy Corinthians in the immediate post-apostolic period and what Pope St. Gregory the Great did with brother bishops during the age of the Fathers: call the German bishops back to the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).”

    It appears that, by and large, bishops have been feeding and developing what is now in the “Synodal Way’s Fundamental Text” for a fortnight. The body of the USCCB is unhelpful in doing its part to right the Barque of St. Peter. Laity are crying for the upholding of Catholic Doctrine, yet this USCCB is unwilling to take on the bit and bridle and be definitive in fighting for Holy Mother Church.
    Laity are castigated and shunned for speaking out. It seems our present pontiff employs the “tut, tut” maneuver to the Bishops of Germany, yet silently agrees with their “Synodal Way,” in tandem with USCCB. I hope I am wrong.

  9. German Fundamental Text: “there is no one truth of the religious, moral, and political world, and no one form of thought that can lay claim to ultimate authority.”

    Wrong — The one truth is Jesus Christ. A person who can’t affirm this is called a non-Christian.

    • Steve Seitz : Agreed 100%.
      And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth” Mt 28:18. Where is the ambiguity in that ?

  10. The German Bishops. With a few exceptions, are a bunch of heretics and schismatics. They need to be excommunicated and replaced. Problem solved. Even Pope Francis thinks that they are going too far, but despite that he has refused to act to stop this clown show, despite not hesitating to act against Cardinal Burke or the Knights of Malta.

  11. Thank you Mr. Weigel, for another good article. You are always informative and faithful, and I appreciate the short length of your articles! I wish other journalists could learn from your example. I wish Pope Francis could read your article. It is beyond disturbing, the parts of the Fundamental text they you quoted. It’s almost beyond heresy!

  12. I’d like to see Pope Emeritus Benedict speak out as well. He’ll have far more familiarity with the German bishops.

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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  3. Amerikaanse theologen vrezen voor scheuring in Duitse katholieke kerk | EWTN Lage Landen
  4. US Theologians Echo Fears of Schism in Catholic Church in Germany - JP2 Catholic Radio

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