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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:
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