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Rome halts proposal for a German Synodal Council

A letter from the Vatican's Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, together with Cardinals Ladaria and Ouellet and endorsed by Pope Francis states that "no one has the right to constitute a Synodal Council at either the national, diocesan or parish level".

José M. García Pelegrín-January 24, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes
German synodal path

A new letter from the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also signed by Cardinals Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Marc OuelletThe letter of the Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, dated January 16 and sent with the express approval of Pope Francis, affirms that "no one has the right to constitute a Synodal Council at either the national, diocesan or parish level. 

The cardinals sent this letter in response to the consultation sent to them by five German diocesan bishops - Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne, as well as Bishops Gregor Maria Hanke OSB (Eichstätt), Bertram Meier (Augsburg), Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg) and Stefan Oster SDB (Passau) - in response to a letter from the Archbishop of Cologne.fter the ad limina visitation of the German bishops

Specifically, they asked whether the German bishops were obliged to participate in the "Synodal Commission" preparatory to the permanent Synodal Council, which is intended to perpetuate the Synodal Way.

On the occasion of the fourth Assembly of this, in September 2022, a compromise formula was reached - "we are not making any final decision today"- to circumvent the note from the SaThe Holy See last July, which recalled that the synodal path "is not empowered to oblige the bishops and the faithful to adopt new forms of government".

However, at the assembly of the Central Committee of the German Catholics ZdK held in December 2022, its vice-president Thomas Söding made it clear that for them, the Synodal Commission was only a preparatory phase: "we are now setting up the Synodal Council at the federal level, with its prelude, the Synodal Commission."

Nor did it leave any doubt as to the function of said Council, thus confronting the aforementioned note from the Holy See: in said body "important questions for the future of the Church will be decided".

It is no longer a consultative body, but "a joint action" of the ZdK and the German Bishops' Conference. And he concluded his intervention: "I only hope that the Episcopal Conference understands the seriousness with which the ZdK wants to reform the Church".

In answering that no bishop can be forced to participate in the "Synodal Commission", the cardinals explain why such a Council cannot be implemented: "The "Synodal Council" would constitute a new structure of Church governance in Germany, which - according to the action text published on the website "Strengthening Synodality in the Long Term: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany" - seems to place itself above the authority of the German Bishops' Conference and, in fact, to replace it". 

The main doctrinal concern refers to the mission of the bishop, "as stated in no. 21 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium".

In a press release, the President of the German Bishops' Conference DBK states that the planned Synodal Council has no more competence than the Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference. Synodal Way and that it would be within Canon Law. He added that the vast majority of the Permanent Council - the diocesan bishops of the DBK - has reaffirmed the will to implement the resolution of the Synodal Assembly on the Synodal Committee.

The President of the Central Committee of the German Catholic ZdK, Irme Stetter-Karp, has also expressed her opinion on the matter: she considers it "absolutely correct" that Bishop Bätzing refuses to accept Rome's accusation.

Thomas Söding, vice-president of the ZdK, added: "The Synodal Council will come. And I really hope that it will succeed in winning all German bishops to it."

However, despite this defiant reaction, it does not appear that the Synodal Council has much of a way to go anymore, as the January 16 document is not the directive of a Vatican authority that can be challenged. 

The veto expressed therein by the three cardinals to the Synodal Council has the full authority of the Pope, according to the literal formula they use: "The Holy Father has approved this letter. in forma specifica and has ordered it to be transmitted".

In an interview with the Catholic news agency KNA, Norbert Lüdecke, professor of canon law at the Faculty of Catholic Theology at the University of Bonn, reached this conclusion: "In my opinion, this document marks the end of the planned Synodal Council.

If now the President of the DBK, Bishop Bätzing, affirms that this would be within the framework of canon law, Lüdecke asks: "Why have they spoken up to now that it would have decision-making power and binding force? This is precisely where the letter of the Secretariat of State comes in, which does not accept that any body should have decision-making power over the bishops." 

That the Pope has approved it in forma specifica means that "it is no longer an official act of the Curia, but of the Pope. The decisions of the Curia can be appealed to the Pope; but nothing can be done against the Pope".

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