Bishop Heiner Wilmer, this Catholic Moment, and the Catholic Future

One hopes that Pope Francis is also aware that the appointment of a man such as Bishop Wilmer as Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith would throw into crisis the Synod on Synodality that has become the centerpiece of his pontificate.

Bishop Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, in a 2016 photo. (Image: Priests of the Sacred Heart/Wikipedia); right: Sculpture in front of St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican. (Image: iam_os/Wikipedia)

Bishop Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, the boyishly handsome bishop of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, would likely not object to being counted among the most progressive bishops in a German episcopate dominated by progressives. Nor is the 61-year-old Dehonian priest and former Superior General of the Priests of the Sacred Heart shy in expressing his opinions. Thus, in 2020, at the height of the COVID plague and governmental restrictions on church attendance in Germany, Bishop Wilmer had no criticism of the “gathering ban” but had this to say about live-streamed Masses for those forbidden from gathering in churches:

I personally don’t feel comfortable with all this streaming. We have said here in the diocese, we have an official streaming service, but also only audio, from the Hildesheim Cathedral. I personally don’t think it’s good if every parish priest, every priest streams from some little chapel or from the living room…..It also can’t be that we are only fixated on the Eucharist! Of course it is important, but the Second Vatican Council says that the Lord is not only present in the Eucharist, but also in the Holy Scriptures, in the reading of the Bible, and we should take seriously the word of Jesus, where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

Then, when his interlocutor asked, “Does that mean the Eucharist is overrated, and you’re advocating trying other forms of cohesion, even communal experience?” Bishop Wilmer replied is these striking terms:

Well, in the reaction of some believers, the Eucharist is already overrated. As if there were nothing else.

Such seeming insouciance about what the Second Vatican Council called the “source and summit” of the Church’s life runs parallel to what appears to be the bishop of Hildesheim’s indifference to doctrine. Thus, in opening the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality for a Synodal Church in Hildesheim cathedral, Bishop Wilmer declared himself, in so many words, a fervent disciple of the Zeitgeist:

We need a new look at sexuality and a new way of thinking about the ministry of the priest. We need a new look at gender-just participation for everyone in the church, men and women alike…

As for the purpose of the Synod on Synodality for a Synodal Church, Wilmer declared that “the pope wants to turn the Church upside down.” And doing so would require that “everyone also has to let go of something, including their own convictions,” in order to hear “what the Spirit wants to say to us.”(The bishop did not indicate that the “Spirit” might be “saying” that we should “let go” of the truths embodied in Scripture or the convictions expressed in the Nicene Creed, but one could only wonder what limiting principle would be available to temper “everyone letting go of something” to the point where we all let go of everything.)

Bishop Wilmer is also firmly within the consensus of the German episcopate that the radical reinvention of Catholicism being proposed by the German Synodal Way is necessitated by the sins and crimes of clerical sexual abuse. But was he also expressing a consensus among his brother bishops when he averred, unblushingly, that “the abuse of power is in the DNA of the Church”? Or when he added that we have to say that there are “structures of evil” in the Church to which “we have to say goodbye”? Including, one can only assume, the hierarchical governance of the Church, in the name of what Bishop Wilmer endorsed as an ecclesial “separation of powers.”

In other circumstances such candor, however disconcerting from a doctrinal point of view, might be welcomed: here, at last, is a bishop with the gumption to say what many other German bishops really think, although the others are content to shelter behind the lay Church bureaucrats and ill-educated theologians whose Catholic Lite proposals dominate the German Synodal Path.

But these are not “other,” or even normal, circumstances. For according to persistent stories emanating from Roman sources (some the usual hysterics, others far more credible), Bishop Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, will be named Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, perhaps as soon as December 19.

Should that happen, it would mark a truly extraordinary moment in an extraordinary pontificate. And not simply because there is something surreal about an ecclesial situation in which Heiner Wilmer succeeds such fellow-Germans as Joseph Ratzinger and Gerhard Ludwig Müller as a principal guardian of what John XXIII called, while opening the Second Vatican Council, “the Sacred Deposit of Faith.” But also because such an appointment would seem a papal repudiation of the man Pope Francis previously appointed as Prefect of the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his fellow-Jesuit, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer. Why?

Because in his address to the German bishops gathered in Rome in late November, Cardinal Ladaria offered a calm but devastating theological critique of the German Synodal Path that Bishop Wilmer so fervently supports – and which he in fact embodies. In that address, the cardinal reminded German Catholicism that it is part of a universal Church that has settled teachings on the goods of human love and its expression; a Church that must reject gender ideology as incompatible with the biblical Word of God; a Church that is governed by bishops by the will of Christ; a Church that has determined that it has no authority to admit women to Holy Orders; and a Church that reads the “signs of the times,” not through opinion polling among ill-catechized Catholics, but through the lens of ancient, timeless, and irreformable convictions grounded in revelation.

What would it mean – what would it signal to the rest of the world Church – for the Holy Father to appoint as Cardinal Ladaria’s successor a man who, we may suppose, finds Ladaria’s critique of the German Synodal Path unacceptable? Would Pope Francis be repudiating his own “Letter to the People of God Journeying in Germany,” to which Ladaria referred at the beginning of his address to the German bishops, and which urged the Synodal Path to listen less to the alleged signs of the times and more to the enduring truths of the Gospel?

One hopes that Pope Francis is also aware that the appointment of a man such as Bishop Wilmer as Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith would throw into crisis the Synod on Synodality that has become the centerpiece of his pontificate. Defenders of the synodal process that is now entering its continental phase, in preparation for the meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023, have long insisted that the recklessness of the German Synodal Path must not be confused with the Pope’s synodal process; the Germans, concerned Catholics have been advised, are the outliers.

But the German Synodal Path, its deconstruction of the Church, and its creation of a Brave New Catholicism cannot be regarded as an outlier if one of its episcopal protagonists and defenders is named Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. Under those circumstances, the German Synodal Path can only be considered the driver of the world synodal process. And that risks detonating the entire process.

During the cardinals’ meetings in Rome in August 2022, a veteran cardinal with both extensive pastoral and curial experience reminded a newly created cardinal that, according to a venerable tradition within the Roman Curia, its senior members must warn the Pope if, in their considered judgment, he is about to make a grave error. That ancient practice of fraternal correction, which can trace its origins to Galatians 2.11, has been largely in abeyance for the past decade.

It should be recovered immediately, not least by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. For the Holy Father must be fully informed of the views of Bishop Heiner Wilmer, so that what are likely to be the implications and grave consequences of bringing him to Rome to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith are clear.


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About George Weigel 429 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), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).

21 Comments

  1. It would be very difficult for me to adequately express what extreme anxiety this pontificate has caused me. It seems PF is determined to prove that the Church has been a fraud from the beginning by changing unchangeable doctrines. Would it be sinful to pray that the Lord would call PF home, immediately? Alas, the college of cardinals has been stacked anyway. We would very likely just end up with a PF clone.

  2. Bishop Wilmer applies ambiguity on doctrine as a form of adherence similar to Pope Francis. Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer who also seemed in line with the Zeitgeist when he admonished the American bishops allow for diversity regarding communion for Catholic bishops who support abortion, has now regained visible status as a defender of the faith in his condemnation of the German Synodaler Weg. If that’s why he is ‘released’ at 78, 3 years past retirement age when others are retained by Pope Francis he goes out with honor.
    “For the Holy Father must be fully informed of the views of Bishop Wilmer”(Wiegel). Considering His Holiness’ personal appointments of Card Hollerich SJ as Synod on Synodality relator, Archbishop Paglia as prefect of the Pontifical Academy for Life, his tolerance [of which Wiegel very recently warned against as damaging calling into question Synodality itself] of the German Synod it’s sufficiently clear there’s a pattern. Card Parolin’s warning the Pontiff of Wilmer’s extreme heterodoxy is questionable.
    George Wiegel’s previous marked concern on the direction of the Synod on Synodality itself – if Francis doesn’t take decisive action against the German Synod [Robert Royal theorized it may be a template for the former] that it would cast a shadow on his pontificate – would also be duly warranted in the Heiner Wilmer CDF scenario.

    • Correction: To clarify should read, “when he admonished the American bishops allow for diversity concerning bishops who permit communion for Catholic politicians who support abortion”.

    • I have great respect for your intelligence and that of Mr. Weigel, although he has been stubborn about acknowledging Francis’ faults. But I have trouble understanding how anyone can doubt that Francis has not been fully aware of and approving of the heterodox leanings of Bishop Wilmer already.

    • It certainly does sound like an attempted hostile takeover, which may lead to schism. But schism is preferable to accommodating apostasy.

      The views of the progressive German bishops was, I believe, aptly defined in an earlier era by a fellow German. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it “cheap grace.”

    • After the fall of the papacy’s Papal States temporal power in 1870, Pope Leo XIII was then in tremendous fear of Freemasonry seizing control of the Spiritual power of St. Peter’s Chair as well. In great distress, Pope Leo XIII sent out the Calling All Angels, SOS, Distress, Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was recited after all low Masses around the world from the 1880s to 1964. It is still recommended today.

      The 1890 version of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, is really an exorcism prayer, put in place to protect the, “Holy Place” Chair of St. Peter, from the, Matthew 24:15 The Great Tribulation. “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place”.

      Do we have our best Catholic Priest exorcists praying, night and day 24/7, the 1890 Exorcist prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, at the Vatican? I think we ought to have all Catholics around the world now switch to praying the 1890 version of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, to beg Michael the Archangel come and “cast into Hell, Satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl through the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

      A portion of, Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel 1890 version
      These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.

      In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most blessed Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.

      Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.
      Quoted from:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_to_Saint_Michael…

      “Papal ban of Freemasonry,
      Leo XIII “emphasizes that ‘the ultimate and principal aim’ of Masonry ‘was to destroy to its very foundations any civil or religious order established throughout Christendom, and bring about in its place a new order founded on laws drawn out of the entrails of naturalism’.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_ban_of_Freemasonry

      Matthew 24:15 The Great Tribulation.
      “When you see the desolating abomination spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, a person on the housetop must not go down to get things out of his house, a person in the field must not return to get his cloak. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days. Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the sabbath, for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be.

  3. We read: “What would it mean – what would it signal to the rest of the world Church…?”

    WOULD IT MEAN that, as the Synod on Synodality suffocates the Church in the “smoke of Satan,” the Prefect for the (mere) Dicaster for the Doctrine of the Faith would remain…SILENT?

    WOULD IT MEAN that the very idea of articulate “doctrine” has been fully displaced by the fluid “process” (!) of synodality?

    WOULD IT MEAN that while the Nicene Creed is retained, it serves in a more decorative role, like the coliseum, or anything fixed in writing, or any other “backward”-looking memory of a past hat means nothing–that “meaning” itself has no meaning?

    WOULD IT MEAN, then, that the lockstep Synod on Synodality will be extended not only from 2023 into 2024, but then into 2025—the 1700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea? Surprise, surprise!

    WOULD IT MEAN, then, that the Council of Nicaea was not a doctrinal affirmation of the singular event of the Incarnation at the center of human history, but rather that the “incarnation” is more of a culture-bound idea (Rahner?), and instead, that “realities are more important than ideas”? This ambiguous anti-doctrine being one of the four “principles” (a doctrine!) superimposed into Evangelii Gaudium (2013)…

    NICAEA, about which: https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/10/18/opinion-yesterdays-council-of-nicaea-and-todays-synodism/

    A CWR posting from which, this: “The institutional question is: Was Nicaea more an act of consensus and decision, or firstly and instead, a forthright and deeper judgment of fidelity and exclusion [!]? Was Nicaea the result of a voted synodal consensus while ‘walking together,’ or was it the rejection [!] of a false consensus, while standing together? Some historians estimate that prior to Nicaea, eight out of ten Catholic bishoprics had succumbed to the Arian apostasy. Does this lingering secular-ecclesial ‘consensus’ best account for the forced exile of Athanasius, five times after Nicaea, between 335 and 366? Too rigid? Too bigoted?”

    Textual abuse (!) and silence by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith WOULD MEAN no longer that “the smoke of Satan” has entered the Church (as Pope Paul VI reported), but rather that the Church has entered the smoke of Satan.

    • With apologies for added length, an ADDENDUM to the above inquiry: The Second Vatican Council developed the needed grounding for our totally novel situation today of nihilism and the “tyranny of relativism”—by rooting the future of the Church within it’s very self-understanding (ressourcement) and then, with this, evangelizing willfully and truly (aggiornamento).

      Three Points and a further Inquiry:

      FIRST, likewise, the Catholic Act of Faith engages the whole person; it is an act of both the INTELLECT (rooted in MEMORY) and the WILL. The will, and the intellect engaged with reasoned inquiry, a field well-plowed by the Classical world.

      SECOND, facing a similar turning point in Arabia, Islam is an act only of the WILL (the time prior to Muhammad is dismissed as “the days of ignorance”—a time of intertribal division to be replaced by a megatribe moving ever forward and outward). One becomes a Muslim by simply saying “Ash Shadoo an La ilaha illa Allah, Wa Ash Shadoo ana Muhammadan rasoolu Allah.” (“I bear witness that there is no true god except God [Allah], and I bear witness that Muhammad is the [Final] Messenger of God.”)

      THIRD, in our own post-Christian and tribal moment of nihilism and the “tyranny of relativism,” the synodal strategy disconnects too much the Church (and the human person!) from its full personality (of the memory/intellect and will), with too little self-accountability. Rather, a “compiled, aggregated and synthesized” expression of so many willful (!) needs.

      But no need for the well-grounded and real Second Vatican Council…

      Possible because the Council is rooted in both the full Revelation AND the full meaning of each human personality in the innate NATURAL LAW (Gaudium et Spes, nn. 16, 17). As understood in the Catechism (unmutilated, as now signaled by Bats-sing, Grech/Hollerich & Co.) and as affirmed by the Magisterium regarding moral absolutes in Veritatis Splendor (especially nn. 95, 115).

      INQUIRY, after unsuccessfully “walking together” at the areopagus with the pagan Athenians (toward their “unknown god”), the less accommodating (!) St. Paul entered the port-city corruptions of Corinth to teach only “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:1-2). Why, therefore, is today’s synodal “endless journey” so backward looking (and even Islamic?)—so detached from the conversion, thanksgiving and sacrifice (!) of the Eucharist (CCC 1374)?

  4. sigh…another ecclesiastic functionary who could not find God or his behind with a flashlight, and so, revolution must be the answer, where the voice of the people MUST be the voice of God. They are so very lost. I bet he has a really nice residence, and excellent liquor cabinet at the residence bar, though.

  5. When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(Lk 18, 8)
    PF is using the power of the papacy to destroy the papacy…. The CC can become one of the Largest of 40,000+ Proddy sects … each of us can shop for a Suitable or apt Church of What’s Happening Now, for God wills all of them. Maybe people will be invited to dip their symbolic Eucharist in a cup of coffee and Irish cream.
    We are in chastisement… sex, drugs and rock’n roll have delivered us. Or are we aborted?

  6. If you look at his published work and background, the thinness of his preparation in sacramental theology, scripture, ecclesiology and dogmatics is notable.

    He did seminary academic work at Freiburg (Germany), studied the modern philosopher Blondel at the Gregorian in Rome, and returned to Germany to earn his Doctorate in Theology at Freiburg, his thesis being Blondel and mysticism.

    Blondel is quite the abstract modern theologian.

    The danger in that sort of academic hyper-specialization is a lack of broad knowledge in theology. He has five publications, all of them on rather abstract topics (Blondel, Duns Scotus’ First Principles). According to his wiki he was a visiting prof at Fordham Prep – and he taught history!

    The office of Prefect of the CDF (now the DDF) demands a background in Scripture, Dogmatics, Ecclesiology and Sacramental Theology. That would usually be substantiated via a deep publication history on relevant matters of theology.

    It’s no surprise he views the Eucharist as “over-rated.” The trend among younger Catholics towards the Vetus Ordo is a precise and direct response to clergy who speak of the Eucharist as if it were a community encounter, rather than as a) central aspect of the Catholic faith and b) essential to salvation history.

  7. “One hopes that Pope Francis is also aware that the appointment of a man such as Bishop Wilmer as Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith would throw into crisis the Synod on Synodality that has become the centerpiece of his pontificate.”
    Lol. He’s aware.

  8. How is this possible? How can this or any Pope, leader of the Roman Catholic Church and one who sits on the seat of Peter, who has been given the keys to the Kingdom put any priest into a position of authority? How is it the Pope does not stop this heresy within the German Church and those popping up elsewhere? Saddened, sickened at those statements from the Bishop and another reason to believe that THE Church will soon be smaller but more faithful to Jesus Christ and his teaching. I am no theologian by a long way, but I try to be a faithful Catholic and this Bishop and others are unfaithful IMO.

  9. If this man is appointed head of the CDF then truly dark days are ahead. The SCJs are extremely heterodox and this man will be a poison.

  10. While not for a moment agreeing with this appointment, which will be anything but good; I have to admit for a 61 year old to look like he was only ordained is quite an accomplishment! What’s his secret?

  11. Watching Mass on the Computer may be acceptable if a parishioner is ill or cannot reach Church that Sunday. However, used for any reason other than illness does not fulfill your Sunday obligation.
    the franciscan

  12. To say the least, Germany isn’t a nation teeming with evangelizing, committed Catholics. Nor has it been for a very long time. Nor will it be if all these “changes” were adopted. What more needs to be said?

  13. Even within the church, “important” people are given privileges over the ordinary. Horrible that these pro-abortion politicians were so welcomed and were given communion! Popes and priests that did and do that should be intensely corrected and maybe even excommunicated!

  14. During my years of atheism, the philosophical proposition was always self-evident to me that if God existed, He could not be an idiot. My delay in becoming a believer was prolonged by the fact that vast numbers of religious people I met had no problem at all treating God as an idiot which is exactly what God would have to be to turn everything “upside down” He had previously been leading them towards for thousands of years. In due course I simply applied the self-evident fact that it is impossible for sinners to not be idiots much of the time, which would include self-serving assumptions about God.

  15. In the midst of the Christmas season, late in the day on Dec. 27, Rorate Caeli blog published news. Heiner Wilmer’s appointment to the DDF was apparently shut down by the College of Cardinals.

    rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2022/12/cardinals-block-appointment-of-heiner.html

7 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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