Pope Francis’ general audience of April 19, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Vatican City, Nov 21, 2023 / 04:55 am (CNA).
Pope Francis has expressed deep reservations about the direction of the Catholic Church in Germany, warning that concrete steps currently being taken “threaten” to undermine unity with the universal Church.
In a striking personal intervention, the pope wrote a letter to four German Catholic laywomen that was published in the German newspaper Welt on Nov. 21.
“I, too, share concerns about the numerous concrete steps that large parts of this local church are now taking that threaten to move further and further away from the common path of the universal Church,” the pope wrote in his letter, which was written in German and signed “Francis.”
Chief among the pope’s concerns is a push to establish a permanent “Synodal Council,” a mixed body of laity and bishops that would govern the Catholic Church in Germany. The pope underscored that this kind of “advisory and decision-making body … cannot be reconciled with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church,” and referenced a previous prohibition the Vatican had issued on the topic.
Leadership of the controversial German Synodal Way recently met in Essen on November 10. They aim to establish a Synodal Council in Germany no later than 2026.
The pope proposed a different path forward for the Church in Germany.
“Instead of looking for ‘salvation’ in ever new committees and always discussing the same topic with a certain self-absorption,” the pope urged the Catholic Church in Germany to “open up and go out to meet our brothers and sisters, especially those who are … on the thresholds of our church doors, on the streets, in the prisons, in the hospitals, in the squares and in the cities.”
Birgit Mock, a vice president of the ZdK, on July 31, 2023, attacked Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne for admonishing a priest his statements against blessing same-sex unions. / Synodaler Weg / Maximilian von Lachner
Bishop Gebhard Fürst blesses the bell from St. Albertus Magnus in Oberesslingen in front of the church in Żegoty (Siegfriedswalde), Germany, which has now returned to its homeland of Poland. / Credit: Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart/Arkadius Guz… […]
St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, Germany. / Cedric BLN via Wikimedia (Public domain).
CNA Newsroom, Jun 19, 2023 / 16:40 pm (CNA).
Ahead of a crucial meeting on the German Synodal Way, one diocese has signaled its opposition to plans for turning the controversial event into a permanent Synodal Council — a new controlling body of the Church in Germany.
The official for the Synodal Way in the Diocese of Regensburg, cathedral chapter Josef Kreiml, warned that the preparatory work for a German Synodal Council contradicts a clear instruction from the Vatican, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
The prelate also said that the concept of synodality underlying the Synodal Way isn’t in line with either canon law or the ideas of Pope Francis.
The bishops of Germany’s 27 dioceses are expected to make landmark decisions at their meeting in Berlin on June 19-20 regarding the establishment and funding of the so-called Synodal Committee, which is to then establish a permanent German Synodal Council by 2026.
Some bishops had reportedly considered blocking the move by not providing funds for the body, which could prevent a permanent superstructure overseeing the Church in Germany modeled on the German Synodal Way.
The German Synodal Way was a multi-year process initiated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and co-organized by the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a lay body financed by the German bishops. Its official purpose was to discuss four main issues: the way power is exercised in the church, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women.
The process was criticized by many cardinals and bishops from around the world, as well as by Pope Francis, who warned of disunity and schism in his 2019 letter to German Catholics.
The Vatican has issued a statement saying that the Synodal Way does not have the authority to oblige bishops and the faithful to accept new forms of governance and new orientations in doctrine and morals.
Citing these statements, Kreiml said that the Synodal Way had greatly interfered with the forms of ecclesial governance and had disregarded the general law of the Church, its sacramental constitution, and the proper duties of the bishops.
He urged the German bishops to respect the unity of the Church and to follow papal guidance on synodality.
Pope Francis and other Church leaders have expressed serious concerns about plans to create a permanent synodal council for the German Church.
Such a body would function “as a consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society,” according to a Synodal Way proposal.
More importantly, it would “make fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, questions of the future, and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level.”
Warning of a threat of a new schism from Germany, the Vatican already intervened in July 2022 against a German synodal council.
In January 2023, the Vatican asserted “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”
A Soviet-style council in Berlin?
In June 2022, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian considered close to Pope Francis, said there could be no Synodal Council, given Church history and theology.
“Synods cannot be institutionally made permanent. The tradition of the Church does not know a synodal Church government,” he said. “A synodal supreme council, as is now envisaged, has no basis in the entire history of the constitution. It would not be a renewal but an unheard-of innovation.”
The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who was bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from 1989 to 1999, said the German process had invited comparisons to communist structures in the Soviet Union. “It was a political scientist, not a theologian, who recently expressed this notion somewhat strongly, referring to such a Synodal Council as a Supreme Soviet,” Kasper said.
The cardinal continued: “‘Soviet’ is an old Russian word that means exactly what we call a ‘Rat,’ a council in German. Such a Supreme Soviet in the Church would obviously not be a good idea. Such a council system is not a Christian idea, but an idea coming from quite a different spirit or un-spirit.”
The German theologian and prelate also warned this “would choke off the freedom of the Spirit, which blows where and when it wants, and destroy the structure that Christ wanted for his Church.”
Further concerns were raised by a professor of theology from the University of Vienna in June.
The dogmatist Jan-Heiner Tück warned that a German Synodal Council would transfer leadership authority “from sacramentally ordained persons to bodies, a conversion of power that shows a clear closeness to synodal practices in the Protestant Church in Germany.”