Editorial: Something not right in the state of Germany

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A booklet with the logo of the Synodal Way is displayed at the third Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt, Germany on 3 February 2022. Photo: CNS, Julia Steinbrecht, KNA

There’s something very wrong with key aspects of the German Synodal Path. It’s safe to say it openly now. Around the world, the shepherds of the Church in the modern world – the bishops – have done something almost unprecedented (in modern times, at least).

Catholics now have two open letters from bishops conferences and a third from a global gathering of bishops addressed to their German brethren warning them in no unclear terms about the serious dangers to the Church that have emerged through – and because of – the Synodal Path launched by the Germans.

Of course, the Church has never been free of doctrinal disputes. Its whole history is one – we might say – of wrangling over theological questions, often complicated and dragged down by the entaglement of faith with the secular and the profane, usually conventionality and power (think of Vigilius, the antipope who became pope). The first Christians, after all, fiercely debated whether circumcision for adult males was necessary to enter the Church.

“… the Synodal Path is attempting to change what cannot be reversed or undone, the deposit of faith and teaching of which the Church is the guardian and protector by virtue of the authority given to it by Christ.”

As the Acts of the Apostles records, the issues were so clear to Paul that at the Church’s very first Council (in Jerusalem, around 48AD) he “spoke to Peter’s face.” The two apostles engaged in what Sir Humphrey Appleby would no doubt have described as ‘a full and frank exchange of opinions’: in other words, they had it out.

Thankfully, the Vicar of Christ saw the essential correctness of Paul’s argument and, exercising what we would describe today as his unique prerogative – the papal magisterium given to him by Christ which he, and he alone, could exercise – conceded and declared that Paul was right.

The alarms raised by the world’s bishops underlie how serious the issues are: the Synodal Path is attempting to change what cannot be reversed or undone, the deposit of faith and teaching of which the Church is the guardian and protector by virtue of the authority given to it by Christ.

Unsurprisingly, the key issues in a clearly-orchestrated campaign include the Church’s magisterial teachings in moral issues (such as the proposal to bless or celebrate same-sex ‘marriages.’)

Auxiliary Bishop Karlheinz Diez of Fulda speaks Jan. 31, 2020, with synodal assembly participants in Frankfurt. (CNS photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA) See GERMANY-SYNODAL-ASSEMBLY-REACT Feb. 3, 2020.

These are often criticised by the world because the Church embraces Christ’s teachings rather than what pop culture desires. Yet an influential coalition of German bishops and powerful Church bureaucrats funded by the annual income of approximately 6 billion taxpayer euros courtesy of the official state Kirchensteuer (church tax) aims to reverse this state of affairs.

What they are aiming for is accommodation: a state of affairs such that the Church in Germany ejects certain essential teachings of Jesus and embraces as official Catholic teaching what contemporary German popular culture, its media and politics want in such matters. Literate Catholics know this is impossible: that the Church’s deposit of faith and teaching cannot be altered to suit fashion, the opinion polls, or the zeitgeist and that two millennia of faithful Catholics, from laity to popes have been willing, if necessary, to die for this principle.

Another troubling issue is the development of an all-encompassing and all-powerful lay bureaucracy which effectively renders the bishops as spectators on the sidelines of Church life. Something is rotten in Deutschland.

“another troubling issue is the development of an all-encompassing and all-powerful lay bureaucracy which effectively renders the bishops as spectators on the sidelines of church life…”

That the decay of the Church in Germany should have come to such a point may be dismaying – but it is not unexpected. This crisis has been taking shape for decades. And although the world’s bishops have pointed out that one issue is the way in which the Synodal Path is straying into undermining Pope Francis, the papacy and the Catholic faith, there is another elephant in the room which, so far, has not been commented on.

What is ignored by the Synodal Way are the laity. These make up 99 per cent of its body. In the faith of the Church the lay baptised are entitled by the sacrament of their baptism to the fullness of the Gospel and its entire two millennia of development in hermeneutical continuity with tradition.

They are also entitled to bishops and priests who will be faithful to that – and to them. No-one has the right to remove that. Instead, propositions central to the Synodal Way are an implicit betrayal by omission of the laity, their marriages, their children and their families when the faith of the Church becomes so confused that no-one in Germany can say what it is unless they run off and consult TikTok or Twitter.

In effect, some German bishops and their advisors in their sterile and remote theological laboratories are saying that the lay baptised count for little or nothing, that an ersatz faith is all they are worth. Perhaps they think they are being uber sophisticated. Yet the idea of bishops who effectively allow the wolves to run amok among the flock – to borrow a phrase – is one which can only be described as repulsive.