Breaking: German Catholic bishop proposes alternative ‘Synodal Way’ text

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, southern Germany. / Julia Wächter.

Regensburg, Germany, Sep 3, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

A German Catholic bishop on Friday proposed an alternative text for the country’s controversial “Synodal Way.”

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, southern Germany, presented the text on a website launched on Sept. 3, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In an introduction to the website, the bishop wrote: “We are joining in the Synodal Way, but we are increasingly convinced that [this process] will not reach its goal if it continues along the path it has taken so far.”

“We are convinced that only a Synodal Way that is undertaken alongside and by the whole Church can be sound and achieve its goal. The whole Church is not only the worldwide Church, but also the early Church and the Church of the saints who have already arrived at their destination.”

“Its foundation is the God-man Jesus Christ, who is truly present in the Eucharist and from it builds up the Church.”

The Synodal Way is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops’ conference initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes — raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Bishops and theologians have expressed alarm at the process, which is expected to end in February 2022, but bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing has defended it vigorously.

The new website appears as participants prepare to attend a plenary session of the Synodal Way in Frankfurt, southwestern Germany, on Sept. 30-Oct. 2. The event will be the second meeting of the Synodal Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way.

The assembly consists of the German bishops, 69 members of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), and representatives of other parts of the German Church.

Explaining the rationale for the new website, Voderholzer, a professor of dogmatics, wrote: “On this site you will find, among other things, alternative texts, commentaries and Vatican statements on the themes and forums of the Synodal Way, in which we make our view known.”

“We rely on arguments and on ‘sound doctrine.’ As best we could, the arguments presented here were brought into the process of the Synodal Way. However, because of the prevailing majority there, they have not been and are not being taken into account so far.”

The website includes a 45-page document, called “Authority and responsibility,” that offers an alternative to the text endorsed by members of the Synodal Way’s Forum I, dedicated to the way power is exercised in the Church.

The document is the first in a series that will also address the topics of the other three synodal forums. It was co-authored by Fr. Wolfgang Picken, dean of the city of Bonn, Marianne Schlosser, a theology professor in Vienna, Austria, journalist Alina Oehler, and Augsburg auxiliary Bishop Florian Wörner.

The authors expressed concern about the direction of the Synodal Way.

“In the current debate on Church renewal, the necessity of which has become obvious through the abuse crisis, positions are often put forward whose contents have no secure connection with the reappraisal or prevention of abuse of power within the Church,” they wrote.

“Thus, the calls for the introduction of women’s ordination or the desire for a comprehensive adaptation of Church structures to the standards of modern democracies (especially with regard to the separation of powers), as well as doubts about the spiritual authority of the ordained ministry, the plea for its consistent desacralization, or a far-reaching reorganization of the Church’s sexual morality, are components of a reform agenda whose origins lie far before the abuse crisis and have only been secondarily associated with it.”

They continued: “Such a conflation of interests does not serve the serious concern with which the Synodal Path was begun and brings with it the danger of new divisions within the German Church as well as in its relationship with the Vatican and the universal Church…”

“If the hope is raised that majority votes of a German synodal assembly could lead to changes in official Church doctrine and universal canon law, or at least legitimize a German Sonderweg (special path) in questions of the doctrine of faith and morals, the end result threatens to be a potentiation of the energy-sapping frustration that has already been associated for decades with the struggle for radical reforms in the Catholic Church.”

“The German Synodal Path would be well advised to avoid such disappointments by setting the right priorities in advance. Only then will it be possible to dovetail fruitfully with the synodal process for the whole Church, which Pope Francis initiated in the spring of 2021.”

The document proposed 14 “theses” on “a changed approach to power and abuse of power in the Church.”

Bishop Voderholzer, who was appointed to Regensburg in 2012, is a longstanding critic of aspects of the Synodal Way.

With Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, he drafted alternative statutes to guide the process. The proposal was voted down by the German bishops’ permanent council in August 2019.

A month later, the Regensburg bishop voted against the statutes adopted by the German bishops by a margin of 51-12.

“In a many-hour debate, some improvements were achieved in detail,” he said. “But I have made it clear on several occasions that the thematic orientation of the forums seems to pass by the reality of the crisis of faith in our country.”

In February 2020, he said that he detected an “authoritarian despotism” in the procedures of the Synodal Way and in September of the same year, he sharply criticized a text produced by the forum on the role of women.

Pope Francis addressed concerns about the trajectory of the Synodal Way in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE aired on Sept. 1.

Asked if the initiative gave him sleepless nights, the pope recalled that he wrote an extensive letter that expressed “everything I feel about the German synod.”

Responding to the interviewer’s comment that the Church had faced similar challenges in the past, he said: “Yes, but I wouldn’t get too tragic either. There is no ill will in many bishops with whom I spoke.”

“It is a pastoral desire, but one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter that need to be taken into account.”

In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to German Catholics urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods, and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” he wrote.


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5 Comments

  1. Diminishing reactionary Bishop Voderholzer with scant support represents Catholic orthodoxy’s brave few equivalent to our Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Surge is what best describes the horrendous coterie of bishops and laity opting for a morally spiritual desolate Nirvana. “Asked if the initiative gave him sleepless nights, the pope recalled that he wrote an extensive letter that expressed everything I feel about the German synod”. Letters are fine depending on what they achieve. His letter for example regards communion for those in manifest adultery in response to Argentine hierarchy was oblique yet incorporated in AAS as doctrine; this letter is an oblique nothing burger amounting to inactive response. He’s the pope, or has he forgot? He alone has the authority to correct hierarchy error and admonish. Reference to letters with no effect is unconvincing. Voderholzer’s “The whole Church is not only the worldwide Church, but also the early Church and the Church of the saints who have already arrived at their destination” addresses the growing schism. Schism for the faithful. But if the pontiff objects with lip service might we assume his murmurs are simply oblique approval. Oblique implementation of a not too hidden agenda seems to work quite well for this pontificate.

  2. Stunningly good news… In the worst case, this means that if the schismatic Synodal Way(ward) continues to derail the Church in Germany into becoming ineligible for the state-collected church tax, then there will be still in place the real Catholic Church in Germany–present to carry on as part of the universal Church. In the best case, this means that hell is freezing over.

  3. May God richly reward this bishop and all other courageous souls who distinguish right from might, know Christ, and can choose the best for His Church.

  4. Bishop Voderholzer is one of the few German Bishops who is not schismatic. Let us pray his initiative is considered and helps stop the “Synodal Way” from splitting the Church in Germany from the Universal Church.

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