What’s going on in Germany, revisited | Francois X. Maier
WReferring to the quincentenary of the Reformation and its parallels to emerging issues in the 21st century German Church three years ago, Charles Chaput, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, noted that:
Being human, bishops often disagree. Internal differences are common in any episcopal conference, and they are dealt with – unsurprisingly – internally. But two things distinguish the German situation: the global prominence of the [German intercommunion] controversy and the doctrinal substance of the debate. Who can receive the Eucharist, when and why, are not just German questions. If, as Vatican II said, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Christians and the seal of our Catholic unity, then the answers to these questions have implications for the whole Church. They concern us all.
Chaput added that “what happens in Germany will not stay in Germany. History has taught us this lesson once before. Exactly as expected, the confusion within the German Church has since metastasized to other key issues of Catholic belief such as marriage, sexuality, the priesthood, and the nature of the Church. And given the comprehensive global procedures commissioned by Rome for the 2023 “synod on synodality”, the likelihood of containing such problems in Germany seems extremely low.
Bishops from other countries have noticed this. Many have expressed private concerns. Some are starting to respond.
In an open letter “to my brothers in the [world] episcopate and more particularly to the bishops of Germany ”, suggests the Archbishop of Denver Samuel Aquila A response to “Forum I” of the German Catholic Synodal Path. Handed over to Pope Francis prior to publication, the letter was made public today.
At 8,500 words, Aquila’s letter is not and was not intended to be informal reading by the pool. Its objective is more serious: a methodical and thorough deconstruction of the errors of the German synodal process. The text is an articulate and focused theological critique. It is largely anchored in the Scriptures, Vatican II and the constant teaching of the Church. And if its tone is scrupulously respectful, the content is overwhelming. As the letter notes, among the “deeper diseases” of the German Synodal Assembly Basic text “And the theological posture of the Synodal Path to which the document expresses” is a model of intentional proposal “of truly radical revisions of the structure of the Church and of its understanding of its mission”. Aquila gives some examples:
. . . [W]While claiming to be anchored in Vatican Council II, the Synodal Path exploits a selective and misleading interpretation of council documents to support untenable views on the nature of the Church (Lumen Gentium), its relationship with the world (Gaudium et Spes), and its foundation on divine revelation (Dei Verbum), views impossible to reconcile with a full reading of the advice. The result is a vision of the Church that risks abandoning the only one who possesses “the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68).
. . . The approach adopted [by the Fundamental Text] seems likely to undermine the definitive and permanent character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. . . [and] displays an astonishing paucity of references to the Gospels, which are, according to Dei Verbum N ° 18, “the main witness to the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our savior”.
. . . [T]he Basic text assumes that the best or only way to reform the exercise of power [in the Church] is by diffusing thanks to a system of brakes and counterweights. The assumptions underlying such a system deserve to be highlighted. Are the clergy and the laity members of the one Body of Christ, seeking the same common good as eternal salvation, or are they separate interest groups who must pursue their own competing agendas? ? Is power always a matter of self-seeking, or can it be purified by the grace of God in Christ? Rather than launching a bugle call to holiness, as proposed by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, N ° 5) and reinforced by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete and Exsultate, the document calls for worldly models that are not shaped by Christ or guided by the Holy Spirit.
And finally, regarding the inevitable price of a truly Catholic Christian life:
. . . [T]The Basic Text shows hardly any appreciation of how the specific demands of the gospel, as proclaimed by the Church in faith and charity, can and do arouse the sharp opposition that the New Testament constantly poses between l spirit of the world and fidelity to Jesus Christ. . Further, the text ignores the cost of discipleship as articulated by Christ in the Gospel. [emphasis in original].
Ultimately, as Aquila’s letter notes, the German Synodal Assembly “reinvents the role of the Church’s magisterium”, reducing it to that of “moderation of dialogue”. His Basic text is thus marked everywhere by “an explicit and radical doctrinal relativism”. Consequently, “the Synodal Assembly leaves us to ask ourselves: has God spoken to his people or not?”
A letter like that from Archbishop Aquila, with a bishop or bishops in one nation addressing a bishop or bishops in another, is not new in Church history. The college of bishops is finally global, and today’s mass media and rapid communications mean that “what is happening in Germany” inevitably and quickly ends up blown in Denver, Nairobi, Calcutta and everywhere else on the continent. planet with internet connection. Luther had the printing press. Today he would have the World Wide Web.
What Aquila’s letter, with admirable filial discretion, does not address is perhaps the most obvious and delicate question of all: to what extent the good intentions of the present Holy Father, and ambiguity embedded in its meaning of “synodality”, have they fed the agitation of his papacy now in Germany?
This drama, for better or for worse, will unfold around the world over the next two years in the run-up to the “Synod on Synodality”.
Francis X. Maier is Senior Researcher in Catholic Studies at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy and Senior Research Associate in Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
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