Signs for the Church in Germany

Articles and statements seem to be aimed at redirecting the "synodal path" of the Church in Germany.

June 21, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes
German synod

Translation of the article into English

The aim of several statements produced in recent months seems to be to help channel, variously orient or reformulate the objectives and methods of the so-called "Synodal Way" of the Church in Germany.

A few days ago, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, a highly respected figure with great weight in the Church in Central Europe, granted a interview with Communio magazine in which, from the theological foundations, he confronts the theoretical bases that inspire this process. Among other things, he underlines the "diachronic dimension" of the Church, which does not reinvent itself in every time, because it is inserted in a long historical process, in which in a certain sense it depends on what it has received, at the same time that it proposes it in its own epoch and for the future. Schönborn affirms that "the Church is a living organism in time (8...). 

It is the Church of those who have believed before us and of those who will believe after us. And we are not at liberty to pretend that the Church's history of faith, the history of holiness and naturally also of the sinfulness of the members of the Church in diachronic consideration, does not exist". He also alludes to a defining element of the Church's unity: her fidelity to the deposit of faith in which she herself has her origin.

A few days before this interview, the Italian theologian Marco Vanzini had written in Omnes also on this dimension. For him, precisely because of her synodal character, the Church follows a path in which she advances by listening: first of all, to the inheritance that has been deposited in her; and secondly, by exercising the necessary renewal in every age. If she did not listen to those voices that precede her, and at the same time bring them up to date, the Church would run the risk of becoming stagnant or of abandoning "the way which is Christ in order to follow fallacious directions".

For Vanzini, "listening to and dialogue with tradition and in tradition" are a guarantee that it offers the world not a solution of human wisdom, but an incarnation of the divine word. In this sense, the synodality of the Church is above all historical: today's Christians walk with those of yesterday and prepare the way for those of tomorrow. "Trusting in the assistance of the Spirit of truth, the Church knows that Tradition is the place where God continues to speak to her, enabling her to offer the world a doctrine that is always living and relevant."

At the plenary assembly from February 3 to 5, the German Synodal Way approved for the first time a series of proposals calling for changes in priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, the formulation of the Church's sexual morality or the conception of the Church as the foundation of power. From the theological perspective mentioned above, their approval would introduce a breakdown in the listening to what has been received, and in the faithful transmission of the deposit to successive generations; this, regardless of the motivation that inspires the proponents, which is the desire to put a solution to the causes of sexual abuse, but also, for many observers such as Cardinal Schönborn himself, also the "instrumentalization" of abuses to introduce reforms that belong to a separate agenda.

Schönborn offers an example: "When at the third synodal assembly in Germany a vote was taken on the question of whether the very necessity of ordained ministry in the future should be discussed, and this motion received 95 votes in favor and 94 against, something has gone wrong here. Plain and simple. Because such a question cannot be negotiated synodically (...). This question is not negotiable. (...) Imagine a synodal path without the depositum fidei. That is no longer synodality, it is another way, but certainly not synodality in the sense of the Church". On the true nature of synodality, which inspires the process of the Synod of the Bishops of the universal Church, you can read here the complete explanation by Luis Marínone of its Undersecretaries.

Since the plenary assembly in February, there has been a succession of signals directed towards Germany, calling on the promoters of the Synodal Way to reconsider their approach. From the Conference of the Bishops of Northern Europe The letter was balanced and fraternal, but also unequivocal. Likewise, the President of the Polish Bishops' Conference wrote to the President of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Bätzing, explaining the reasons why the method and objectives of the Synodal Way seem unacceptable to him. The same has been done by French, American and other bishops, individually or collectively. Now it has been Schönborn, who belongs to the Germanic linguistic and cultural world, who has made his disagreement public.

Almost at the same time as the publication of the interview with the Austrian Cardinal, on June 14, Catholic Civilization has published an interview granted by the Pope to the Jesuit magazines of Europe. When asked about the situation in Germany, Francis recalls that he made this comment to the president of the German bishops: "In Germany there is a very good evangelical Church. There is no need for two". In this expression and in the Pope's letter to German Catholics June 2019 is almost all said and done.

Within Germany, the positions of various bishops, reticent or critical of the Synodal Way, were known, such as the Cardinal Rainer Woelkiof Cologne, and several others. Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg, is promoting a web page with reflections and alternative texts to those used by the Synodal Way. Also the respected theologian and Cardinal Walter Kasper has declared his skepticism. And various groups of the faithful, especially lay people, have organized themselves to redirect the process. One example is the initiative "Neuer Anfang"which promotes a manifesto with alternative proposals for reform. These movements do not act in the manner of those who seek confrontation or rupture, but rather encounter and dialogue on serious theological bases. This is the effort of people like the philosopher and winner of the Ratzinger Prize 2021 Hannah-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, who spoke in Madrid at a convocation of our Forum Omnes.

It is difficult to know how things will develop, but it does not seem that we can now dispense with the references that mark these signs to Germany: perhaps they indicate the clues for the redirection of the Synodal Way.

The authorAlfonso Riobó

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