This Week: German Bishops Rush In, Where Americans Fear to Tread, by Phil Lawler

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Pope Francis, wearing a scarf which was presented to him by a bishop, arrives for the morning session of the Synod of bishops at the Vatican, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

By Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, Sept. 27, 2019

Pope Francis asked them not to do it. Two top Vatican officials told them they would be violating canon law if they did it. But this week the German bishops decided to do it anyway. And some people say that the threat of schism comes from America?

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the president of the German bishops’ conference, told his colleagues that the Pope had not given him any “stop sign” last week, when they met to discuss the German plans for a “binding synodal assembly.” But if there was no red light, there were plenty of flashing amber signals. Cardinal Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, had warned the German hierarchy that their plan was “not ecclesiologically valid.” Cardinal Ouellet had relied on a detailed analysis by Archbishop Filippo Iannone, the Vatican’s top canon lawyer. When the German bishops gathered to vote on the plan for their assembly, the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Nicola Eterovic, urged them to take another look at the letter Pope Francis had written in June, cautioning against the plan. That letter, the papal representative said, “deserves special attention,” bearing in mind that reflects a rare level of concern; it is the first papal letter addressed specifically to the German hierarchy since before World War II.

A dozen German bishops voted against the assembly plan, which will have them taking “binding” votes on controversial Church teachings. (Fifty-one bishops voted to approve the plan.) A few members of the minority were outspoken in their opposition. Cardinal Rainier Woelki of Cologne, having failed to convince his colleagues to heed the Pope’s “fatherly advice,” made a pointed reference to the steady exodus of German Catholics, suggesting that rather than proposing changes in the teachings of the universal Church, the German Church should concentrate on “re-evangelizing itself.” Archbishop Rudolph Voderholzer of Regensburg announced that he had voted against the plan, and although he would reluctantly attend the assembly, which begins with Advent, he reserves the right “to quit altogether after the initial experience.” But again, he is in the minority; most German bishops ignored the clear messages from the Vatican. ….