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The German "Synodal Assembly" is a Problem
The Church's German Problem
THIS EPISODE WAS PUBLISHED BEFORE OUR REBOOT. willwrightcatholic.com is now gooddistinctions.com
Germany in Schism?
The Catholic Church in Germany gave us St. Albert the Great, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Gertrude the Great, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. More recently, we were blessed with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Mueller, and others. And now, what is being exported from Germany is the stench of schism. What is going on in the Catholic Church in Germany?
Schism is the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity. Communion with God and the other Members of the Body of Christ is what makes us the Church. Schism tears this communion apart, usually over doctrine or politics. In the recent case of Germany, it is in obstinate theological errors.
Let’s take a step back… what is going on in Germany that has me invoking the language of schism? How did we get here?
Der Synodale Weg
In September 2018, the Autumn Plenary Assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference was shaped by the survey of cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as was the Spring Assembly in March 2019. The Assembly declared:
“The challenges specific to the Catholic Church, such as the questions of the celibate way of life of priests and various aspects of Catholic sexual morality, will be discussed in a transparent process of dialogue with experts from various disciplines (Der Synodale Weg).”
The “Synodal Assembly” became convinced that the shockwaves of the sexual abuse study required new ways of thinking, free and open debate, and the ability to “take new positions and to go new ways.”
In 2019, the Bishops chose to follow what they called a “Synodal Path.” Cardinal Marx, poetically (considering his name), wanted to give power to the people, saying,
“We will create formats for open debates and commit ourselves to procedures that enable the responsible participation of women and men from our dioceses. We want to be a listening Church. We need the advice of people outside the Church (ibid.).”
It is no mistake that the recent March 2023 vote of the “Synodal Assembly” was about sexual issues. Cardinal Marx, in 2019, said:
“The sexual morality of the Church has not yet absorbed decisive insights from theology and human sciences. The personal meaning of sexuality does not receive sufficient attention. The result: the proclamation of morality does not give orientation to the vast majority of the baptized. It leads a niche existence. We sense how often we are not able to speak when it comes to questions about today's sexual behavior (ibid.).”
Fifth Synodal Assembly
There have been intervening assemblies over the last few years, but, for time’s sake, I’d like to focus on the Fifth Synodal Assembly which took place from March 9 - 11, 2023. There are four “Synodal Forum” topics, with the hot topic being in the fourth of these forums.
There are quite a few news sources which cover the main controversial topics, but I’d like to walk through some key points from each to see if we can suss out what the Germans are thinking. Along the way, I will provide some commentary and critique.
Preamble Text for the Fifth Synodal Assembly
The Assembly begins with a reminder of the sexual abuse scandal which ostensibly precipitated Der Synodale Weg. They show in the preamble their concern with abuse of power, sexual violence, and cover up. The desire of the bishops is to “openly confess guilt and also to deal with the structural causes of this guilt.”
In the preamble, there is great attention given to the scientific study of the MHG, which researched sexual violence against minors by clergy in the sphere of the German Bishops’ Conference. The document then lists the “four central themes and fields of action of the Synodal Path…”:
the spiritual abuse
the abuse of power through clericalism and incompetence
the disregard for women and for people who do not conform to the binary order of male and female
life-hostile constrictions of the Church’s sexual morality
Here, the game is up and the cards are on the table. Yes, spiritual abuse needs to be stopped! Yes, abuse of power needs to be remedied. If women are disregarded, then this is problematic, assuming that the Germans are not suggesting that the perennial reality of Holy Orders is somehow amiss. Unfortunately, as we will see, they are rejecting the de fide of the Church that only a baptized male receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Then, there is this phrase: “people who do not conform to the binary order of male and female.” Such a phrase being included in an official document of a bishops’ conference is scandalous. Maybe the “Synodal Assembly” need to dust off the old Bible. As it says in the opening chapter of Genesis:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27; emphasis mine).”
Number four is also problematic. What life-hostile constrictions does the Church’s teachings on sexual morality place? As we will see, this leads us down a dead-end road, as well.
The document continues:
“It is contrary to God's spirit to impose unity in an authoritarian way. Even if such a path may be tempting for some, it is and remains a temptation that the Church must not give in to. It is necessary for the Church to engage with what is different and strange (Preamble).”
In part three of the preamble, the mask comes off. The opening line says, “The goal of the Synodal Path is to listen anew to the Gospel of liberation.” Liberation theology is pure Marxism and it has been condemned time and again.
There is a lot of lip service paid to Pope Francis calling for a “synodal church.” I am still quite unsure what synodal means. It seems that the Germans have their own peculiar definition. I am certain that whoever wrote the penultimate paragraph of the preamble did not mean for it to sound ominous. But I will let you read these two lines and decide for yourself whether the Germans are making excuses for their actions or actual following the Holy Spirit:
“In a synodal Church, a balance is struck between necessary unity and legitimate diversity. In a synodal church there is a spiritual process of reflection and discernment that leads to binding decisions.”
Synodal Forum I: “Power and separation of powers in the Church - joint participation and involvement in the mission”
Vote: 18 Yes.
I have no desire to rehash the entirety of each of the nine documents (beginning with this one), but I do want to make a few comments on each, along the way. I hope it is helpful to us contextualizing the issues with the German way of thinking.
The three offices of Jesus Christ are priest, prophet, and king. The Germans list them as pastors, priests, and prophets. This seems too much of a divergence to be a translation issue. The kingship of Christ is paramount to understanding that there must be a unity in governance, doctrine, and means of sanctification in the Catholic Church. It might have been intentional to downplay this reality.
Directly afterwards, they list what priests and bishops do:
“Priests and bishops exercise their ministry among the people of God by proclaiming the Gospel in the name of Jesus, celebrating the Eucharist on His behalf, and administering the sacraments.”
Priests and bishops are called to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments, but they do not celebrate the Eucharist “on His behalf.” Jesus Christ is our High Priest. It is always Him who celebrates the sacraments; the priests and bishops act in persona Christi capitis. They do not offer the sacraments apart from Him or “on His behalf.” This is a quasi-Protestant understanding of the sacraments which is worrisome coming from Catholic bishops.
The remainder of this document is structural with respect to different parochial and diocesan councils. Perhaps my commentary on this first document is nit-picking, but sometimes nits need to be picked…
Synodal Forum II “Priestly existence today”
“Priestly existence today”
In this document, the “Synodal Assembly” push for systemic changes. They say,
“From today’s perspective, the theological reasoning often comes up against the limits of logic, whilst many questions reach a broad-based consensus:
A priesthood that is theoretically reserved for heterosexual men alone seems questionable and not compatible with actual practice.
The exclusion of women from admission to the priesthood causes consternation, and there is an unmistakable demand for it to be re-examined.
There is a widespread lack of acceptance today of celibacy as an obligatory way of life for priests.
There are loudly-voiced calls for the opportunity for homosexuality to also be discussed among priests.
On the other hand, there is an increased tendency towards conservative status quo-ism, and even a rejection of change. Many priests are themselves ultimately asking the question as to the why and wherefore of their vocation and the specific tasks involved in the priestly ministry. A prolonged process of discernment, under the guidance of the universal Church, is evidently needed. The question of why the ordained priestly ministry is needed can only be answered in part at present.”
Wow! Where to begin. Women are not excluded from admission to the priesthood any more than men are excluded from being biological mothers. Only a baptized male CAN receive Holy Orders. This is not up for debate, has been dogmatically defined, and has no demand for re-examination.
Clerical celibacy is a discipline and can change. But this change should be done for legitimate reasons, if at all, and not due to “a widespread lack of acceptance.”
The fourth point about “loudly-voiced calls for the opportunity for homosexuality to also be discussed among priests” is purely disordered. I would say that any group of bishops who hint at abolishing clerical celibacy and then directly say that priests should be able to live a homosexual lifestyle are disqualified from sharing their opinion in the Church. Perhaps canonical discipline against them is also called for.
And to the first point: reservation of the priesthood to heterosexual men is not a theoretical reservation. Those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies are not called to the priesthood according to the perennial magisterium of the Church, including the Francis pontificate. This is not a debatable point either, really.
A decline in membership is then mentioned in the document. The German Church has happily drawn government funds for decades and spent money lavishly. Where is the zeal for souls? Where are the vocational discernment programs? Why would a young man wish to become a priest when the bishops are calling into question the catholicity of the Church Herself.
In an effort to overcome “clericalism,” the bishops then suggest that priests are perhaps not needed in the Parish. And there are many relics of a bygone class-system. To their credit, the bishops then make a case for why priests are nonetheless necessary. But the priest must be engaged in what amounts to liberation theology.
Over the ensuing there is a solid exposition of traditional Catholic teaching on the nature of the priesthood. But, then, we are hit with statements like this: “The priestly existence is not different from that of all faithful outside his sacramental acts.” Comments of this sort seem to betray the notion that lay people and clerics are the same, after all, really… except they are not. There is a deep ontological change which comes from being conformed to the priesthood of Jesus Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Again, on clerical celibacy, the bishops say,
“Chastity, or celibacy, is intended to signify the representation of Christ and the prophetic dimension of the priestly ministry. Despite and due to manifold encounters and commitments, many priests lack both the experience of being embedded in the everyday life of the people of God, as well as that of experiencing acceptance of and support for their way of life by the concrete community of the faithful.”
I think this is right. They then go on to propose the solution (and seemingly contradict themselves on the moral question):
“The celibate way of life presupposes a way of life that is rich in relationships, both within the Church as well as with regard to wider worldly relational structures. This however poses a risk of the celibate way of life leading to marginalisation if the symbolism is no longer supported by large sections of the people of God. In addition, sacramentality itself is at risk if celibacy is neither spiritually understood nor lived out in concrete, credible terms, and is tacitly and collectively undermined in a double life that is tolerated by the church leadership.”
“Celibacy of priests - encouragement and opening”
Vote: 25 Yes, 4 No
There are five main motions (votes) on this ballot.
“The Synodal Assembly therefore asks the Holy Father to reconsider the connection of the conferral of ordination with the commitment to celibacy in the synodal process of the World Synod (2021-2023).”
Assuming the affirmation of the first motion, the German Bishops ask Pope Francis to allow viri probati to be ordained or grant dispensations in individual instances to clerical celibacy.
“The Synodal Assembly asks the Holy Father, after any general exemption from the vow of celibacy for future ordinations of priests of the Latin rite, to also give priests who have already been ordained the possibility of being released from the vow of celibacy without having to renounce exercising the ministry.”
The Synodal Assembly is asking for a commission of a social science study on the situation of suspended and dispensed priests.
Flowing from the fourth motion, they would like to establish a working group, with the involvement of suspended and dispensed priests.
Twenty five, out of twenty nine, bishops voted in favor of these motions. In essence, they are requesting an end to clerical celibacy. Again, if this is to happen, the reasons have to be theological and rationally-positive. This discipline should not, in my estimation, be changed based on a response to a particular societal circumstance and bad philosophy of the human person.
“Prevention of sexualised violence, intervention and dealing with perpetrators in the Catholic Church”
Vote: 29 Yes, 1 No
The United States “Dallas Charter” did not go far enough in creating an environment where bishops can be credibly accused and removed due to malfeacance. This German document reminds me of that situation. The response to an identified perpetrator is that they undergo therapy. No. The only answer is removal from ministry permanently and being removed from the clerical state (so-called “laicization”). They are also to be given a diosecan appointed “case manager.” Again, this is not nearly good enough. These perpetrators cannot be allowed to have a “further career” in the Church.
Synodal Forum III “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”
“Measures against abuse of women in the Church”
Vote: 22 Yes.
Women are victims of spiritual and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The legal regulations, the “Synodal Assembly” say, are insufficient. Rightly said. This document outlines what reforms the “Synodal Assembly” feel are needed to address this serious issue. I have no complaints and in agreement that more is needed!
“Women in sacramental ministry – Perspectives for the universal church dialogue”
Vote: 22 Yes, 1 Abstention.
Before the official statements, the bishops write this:
“The "sensus fidelium" of the whole people of God, and here in particular that of women, may continue to be given space. In the women's associations and in initiatives of the faithful at the grassroots level, there are voices in every age group that speak out in favour of opening up all ministries to women as well. We therefore submit to the Synodal Assembly a statement on the sacramental diaconate of women and a statement on how to deal with the debate on women's access to the entire sacramental ministry.”
That is not how the sensus fidelium works. According to the Catechism, the sensus fidelium is: “the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” There is absolutely not a universal consent on the sacramental diaconate of women. In fact, there is an infallibly defined magisterial ruling, following two thousand years of consistent and irreformable teaching, that only a baptized male can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. If you feel like I have mentioned that statement a few times in this article, it is because I have. It is so important for us to not change the fundamental nature of the Sacraments!!!
They then call directly for women to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders (they literally cannot) at the level of the diaconate. Again, a woman cannot be ordained any more than a man can menstruate, become pregnant, or birth a child.
The German Bishops then give a diabolical explanation for this statement. I say diabolical because it reads more like blackmail, half-truths, and like the serpent speaking to Eve in the Garden:
“There are women who experience themselves as called and who, according to public perception and experience, have charisms that also recommend them for leadership in the sacramental ministry. It is necessary to give account to God why the spiritual gifts He has given are not respected in the proclamation of the Gospel. The theological arguments presented so far in the present magisterial documents must therefore be subjected to a critical review in the context of the universal Church, in which the necessary scientific expertise must be obtained. In addition to the theological disciplines, philosophy as well as the cultural, historical and social sciences should also be involved in the process of reflection in view of hermeneutical pre-understanding.”
The discernment of whether a man is called to Holy Orders is an internal and external calling. He has to sense the calling from God and then this calling is confirmed, in faith, by the local bishop. Women “who experience themselves as called” are mistaken. And this notion of “leadership in sacramental ministry” runs counter to the previous document which speaks of leadership as being extra-sacramental. No one needs to “give account to God” why the spiritual gifts He has given are not respected because it is precisely out of due deference to Divine Revelation that ONLY A BAPTIZED MALE CAN RECEIVE THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS. Phew. Glad I finally got to mention that for the umpteenth time.
“People of all genders are equally called to diaconal ministry.” - No; they are not. And, by the way, there are two genders: male and female. One is called to Holy Orders sometimes. The other is never called to Holy Orders.
They end with some twisted notion that because salvation is open to male and female alike then the official ministry must likewise be open to all. Remind me again… what was the gender of Jesus Christ and His Apostles? In an ancient world where female priesthood was the norm, why was Jesus so adamantly counter-cultural? Why were the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and the rest not made apostles?
Only a baptized male can receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is ONE, with three levels of participation: diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate. This cannot change. It will not change.
And one final thought: not a single German bishop voted against this document with its erroneous and spiritual harmful statements!!
“Proclamation of the Gospel by lay people in word and sacrament”
Vote: 23 Yes, 1 abstention.
Only an ordained minister can preach in the liturgy in the homily. Apparently, in some dioceses “qualified persons” are commissioned to preach as well, who are lay or religious. The reasoning given can be read in full with the link above. But, suffice it to say, there is a deep misunderstanding of what leadership actually is in the Church. Our Blessed Mother was not a priest, but she is certainly a leader: the Queen of Heaven and Earth!
We need lay people and qualified persons to preach the Gospel! But not in the Sacred Liturgy. That is a liturgical action flowing from our High Priest Jesus Christ. The ordained men who are acting in persona Christi capitis are the ones to speak, because it is the Head who speaks!
Synodal Forum IV “Life in succeeding relationships - Living love in sexuality and partnership”
“Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other”
Vote: 18 Yes, 3 No.
“There are couples who ask for a blessing for their partnership. This request,” say the “Synodal Assembly”, “is based on the gratitude for experienced love and the hope for an accompanied future. It is an expression of a relationship with God either of one or of both partners.” The motion of this document thus reads:
“The Synodal Assembly calls on the bishops to officially allow blessing ceremonies in their dioceses for couples who love each other but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not see themselves at a point of entering into a sacramental marriage. This also applies to same-sex couples on the basis of a re-evaluation of homosexuality as a norm variant of human sexuality. These are couples who have bound themselves, for example, through a civil marriage. The blessing ceremony differs from the liturgy of a sacramental marriage.”
The Vatican was asked by the German bishops two years ago, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded: “Negative.” In the reasoning, they said that,
“[God] does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him (Reponsum ad dubium).”
Even if the homosexual union, in question, is stable and contains “positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated,” these “cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.” This ruling of the Church is not out of hatred or spite; it is out of love, respect, and truth. By the way, Pope Francis was informed of the Congregation’s response and gave his assent to the publication of the Responsum ad dubium, wiht the annexed Explanatory note. In other words, this was a closed question two years ago. Why then is the “Synodal Assembly” making this motion?
The “Synodal Assembly” recognize the Church’s official response, but they state that “the view of homosexuality underlying this document is not considered sufficient in many places and needs further theological development.” They also go on to say that many German priests are offering these illicit blessings already and will not face discipline from the German bishops.
The document continues:
“The offers of blessing ceremonies are based on the conviction that there is moral value in the common life of couples who live together in commitment and responsibility for each other. Where faith is involved, what is good is worthy of blessing. The Church is enriched by the love of these couples. Such mutual love calls for a blessing. God is present where people love each other.”
This sounds oddly resonant with the English-speaking world’s perennial ridiculous statement: “love is love.” In the words of a priest friend of mine… “love is love? Butter is also butter… it doesn’t tell me anything!” God is certainly present where people love each other and blessings ought to be given to persons. But what is being asked is for the blessing a homosexual relationship and the Church presumes sexual activity outside of marriage, which is sinful. No physical homosexual relationship can ever be made legitimate and for the eternal good of those involved. This is why the Church urges all to chastity, in regard to their state in life.
The Synodal Assembly writes:
“This request for and hope of blessing is already of great relevance and it shows a longing for God that must be taken seriously. A blessing expresses that people want to shape their relationship in the horizon of God and orient themselves on the Gospel. Strengthened by the blessing, these couples make their Christian faith and their relationship with God fruitful in their partnership, in their families, among friends and in their congregations, and sow the seeds for further blessings in and for our Church.”
We must remember, too, that this section is not only speaking of homosexual unions. They are also referring to the divorced and civilly remarried, those Catholics married civilly, and other irregular marital situations. In each case, the person is presumed to be sexually active with someone who is not, in fact, their spouse. These extramarital relations are *objectively* adultery. I do not intend any judgment here. But to suggest that blessing these relationships, as is, is the “pastoral” thing to do is deeply wrong.
In the next to last paragraph, which follows, reads:
“Often same-sex couples and remarried divorcees have experienced exclusion and depreciation in our Church. The possibility of publicly placing their partnership under God’s blessing does not make up for these experiences. However, it offers the Church the opportunity to show appreciation for the love and values that exist in these relationships and thus ask for forgiveness and make reconciliation possible.”
People being excluded or depreciated in the Church is shameful and awful! Absolutely! The Church, and those in it, can appreciate the love and values that exist between these people. But we cannot and must not fail to work ardently to accompany these folks and help them live the call of the Gospel. This call, by the way, begins with our Lord saying, “Repent.” He speaks this life-giving word to us all. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace. But I would never expect the Church to attempt to justify my sins or downplay them so I feel more accepted. To suggest that these people, though in difficult situations at times, need to be called to a lesser standard is pathetic and demeaning. I doubt the Germans see their course of action as demeaning and not in keeping with human dignity… but it, ultimately, is.
“Dealing with gender diversity”
Vote: 16 Yes, 1 No.
The final six page document begins with an expose of modern gender theory, including a discussion of intersex and transgender. There are then two main motions.
In the first motion, the Synodal Assembly seek to recommend “concrete improvements” for intersex and transgender faithful. In Baptismal registers this means leaving the gender entry blank, putting “diverse,” or even changing the gender and first name(s) later. They ask for blessing ceremonies for the relationships of transgender or intersex believers. The German equivalent of LGBTQIA+ commissioners is to be established in all dioceses.
Also part of motion one, they write:
“In parish and Catholic institutions education programmes and offers shall be provided that raise awareness and sensitivity to the issue of gender diversity.”
They also call for education and training for priests on gender diversity. Persons “with an intersex or transgender identity” are not to be excluded from pastoral ministry, nor consecrated life or in a society of apostolic life.
And finally for motion one, they make this absurd, irrational statement:
“The determination of the state of external sexual characteristics is to be abolished where it should still be practice in the course of accepting a man as a candidate for the priesthood.”
In other words, for the Synodal Assembly, you can be whatever you want, but apparently you still have to have a penis to be a priest.
Anyway… the second motion is a recommendation to the Holy Father that there is work to ensure that “transgender and intersex individuals may live their lives and their faith in our Church in their own way of being as creatures of God without experiencing harm, hostility or discrimination.” They claim that the “insinuation of a ‘gender ideology’ must be stopped.”
With all respect to the Synodal Assembly… heck, no. Gender ideology is diabolical. It is a charade which confuses the hearts and minds of hurting people. These people need our respect, love, and assistance. They do not need us to feed further into their delusions and gender dysphoria. Further, this notion of education in schools on this insidious gender ideology is scandalous, evil, and worthy of the strongest admonishment.
The devil works by saying something that is mostly true, but leaving out a large piece of the puzzle. Or he tells a half-truth with a full truth. Here is an example from the last paragraph of the Synodal Assembly’s document:
“Transgender and intersex individuals are part of God’s good creation and share in the inviolable dignity of human beings created in God’s image.”
Yes, unequivocally. These individuals are part of God’s good creation and share in the inviolable dignity of human beings created in God’s image!!! Intersex, as such, is an abnormality and a physical evil. Transgenderism is a mental disorder known as gender dysphoria which plagues between <0.1% to 0.6% of the world’s population. Whether it is one person or one billion, each human person deserves to be treated with dignity and worth. However, love must always accompany truth.
Conclusion - A Few Final Notes
The Synodal Assembly is peddling modern pseudo-science and passing it off as more certain than the Gospel. They are questioning the ability of the Holy Father and the perennial magisterium to dictate what is within the bounds of Sacred Tradition, as understood from the beginning by the authentic magisterium.
What is happening in Germany is mob rule. There is a desire to throw off the Church in favor of a new, radically secular view of humanity. Many of the issues raised by the Synodal Assembly’s documents pertain to the foundations of the Church’s constitution: the Sacraments! In these documents, Marriage and Holy Orders, especially, are having violence done to them. If the German bishops collectively take these proposals of the “Synodal Assembly” and try to implement them, then they are guilty of holding erroneous opinions, outright heresy, schism, and perhaps even a sort of apostasy.
I pray this does not happen. Pray in solidarity with the faithful of Germany. Pray for strength for the good bishops of Germany to stand up for what is good, true, and beautiful. And, wherever you are, do not allow your local bishops to go unquestioned if they purport to approve of this sort of malarkey.
We will see what happens next. I hope the Holy Father will issue some canonical proceedings, take these men and women to trial, and dole out some real ecclesial discipline. Holy Spirt, come. Help us!