The Synodal Path to a German National Church (10): First Working Document

January 17, 2020

The German Episcopal Conference (DBK) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) began a “synodal path” on Sunday December 1, 2019. After the description of the formation process and the presentation of the Roman interventions, the discovery of the Synodal Statutes has confirmed the revolutionary intent which animates the DBK supported by the ZdK. It remains to present the working documents which reveal the full extent of this intention.

The meetings of the Synodal Assembly, which will concretely create the synodal path, will use an instrumentum laboris, which brings together several working documents. These texts, which should serve as a basis for discussion, have been developed in forums brought together for this purpose.

Preparatory Forums

These forums were put together in May 2019, and their composition was divided between the DBK and the ZdK. They included 10 to 20 members, including 3 to 4 bishops. The presidency of each was entrusted to a bishop, but the votes of the members were strictly egalitarian.

Each of these four forums: “Power, participation, and separation of powers,” “Sexual morals,” “Form of priestly life,” and “Women in the services and offices of the Church,” produced a working document for the synodal path. The whole spirit of this event is concentrated in these documents. Their study is necessary to understand what is brewing, which strongly risks formalizing what is contained there or what already exists.

Driving Force Behind The Movement

One of the two declared opponents of the synodal path among the German bishops, Msgr. Rudolf Voderholzer, Bishop of Regensburg, took advantage of his traditional end-of-year sermon to revisit the synod process and criticize it strongly. He threw out this dynamic expression: “Indignation at abuse is the fire over which the soup of the Synodal Way must be cooked.”

It is too bad that this bishop has shown himself to be a resolute adversary of Tradition in his regular protests against the ordinations celebrated at the Society of Saint Pius X seminary in Zaitzkofen, in his diocese, as his expression very well describes the background of the four working documents produced by the preparatory forums of the synodal path.

Indeed, the mention of the abuses returns unceasingly under the pens of these writers: almost 40 times in all the documents and around 30 times in the first. By abuse, they mean the sins committed against minors by members of the German clergy, but also, in a generalized way, the abuse of power by the clergy.

The First Forum Document

This 17-page text is undoubtedly the most important, both in terms of length and content. Although the second forum document is extremely pernicious, since it concerns the morals or the action of the Church, the first is more radical because it attacks the very being of the Church in her divine constitution. If the Church is disfigured in her very substance, then everything is allowed, including debauchery.

Without nuance or reservation, the text accepts all the conclusions of the MHG report. The considerations of independent “experts,” including many academics who ignore the nature of the Church, her tradition, and her theology, are ratified and taken up in a discourse which seeks to justify them and promote them through an ultra-modernist theology.

The experts appointed by the German bishops consider the problem of the Church to be structural and say that it would be necessary to change the way she functions. The working document continues: “The MHG study shows that...the abuse of sacred power, the concealment of actions, and the protection of perpetrators of violence have systemic causes.” It even claims that “the concealment of these crimes” was systematic.

The MHG study specifically attacks the power of [holy] orders: “The transformation of clerical structures of power requires a fundamental reflection on the sacred ministry of the priest and on how he sees his role…the fundamental problem is that of clerical power.” Consequently, this power is the main target of the document.

Violent Criticism of Sacred Power

Sacred power is targeted from various angles. The text targets the “ordained ministry” as “holy power (sacra potestas), integrated into a hierarchy in which the faithful are considered unilaterally as dependent on priests.” This sacred power has become absolute; this is the great danger: “The fact of having covered up the sexual violence committed by the clergy is linked to a form of sacralization of ecclesiastical power which is absolutized in many respects.”

It is absolutized in the sense that it evades all control: “Power is an abuse when it is declared a ministry, but is exercised as a form of spiritual domination (sacra potestas) which becomes absolute. At that time it seems to be spiritually without power, but in reality it was given the means to self-immunize against criticism and control.” This leads to a brutal assertion: “The sacramental authority inherent in the ministerial priesthood establishes no social superorder, no privilege of status, no reserve of power.”

Priestly power is even rejected as nontraditional, as if it were a recent invention: “It is by no means the expression of a centuries-old and proven tradition, but rather, to a large extent, of a new invention after the Age of Enlightenment. The concentration of sacramental, legislative, executive, administrative, and legal powers was only a development of the 19th century.”

The document asserts that it is only “since the 19th century, [that] the Catholic Church has been organized on the model of a monarchy” (sic). The conception of the power of orders as exclusively linked to the clergy and constituting a privilege would also be the consequence of “a misinterpretation of the Gospels” (sic). In fact, all Jesus’ disciples shared the same mission: “Jesus does not want to forge an elite which is distinguished from others by its vocation, its mission, or its power.” And finally this pearl: “The thought of a clerical state plays no role in the New Testament.”

The Church Must Be Restructured

It is therefore necessary to reshape power in the Church, “to think of the Church differently.” To do this, it is necessary to draw from our times: “The crisis… results from tensions between the doctrines and practices of the Church, but also between the way in which power is exercised in the Church and the norms of a society in a democratic state governed by the rule of law, which many Catholics also expect to apply to their Church.”

Moreover, the document continues, “these normative requirements, which prevail in modern democratic constitutional states, correspond in their origin to Christian values.” This concerns first and foremost “the process of the separation of powers as a control of power has proven itself in modern democracies.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

Practical Applications

In order to justify their revolutionary perspective, the members of the forum set out their recommended principles for the renewal of the Church.

The supreme criterion is that of evangelization: “Evangelization is the culmination of our process of renewal.” Certainly, but because of its very general nature, this criterion calls for an orientation in a certain direction ... Its application reveals what it is about: “The structures and the ratio of power in the Church must be examined and corrected on the basis of the Gospel. We want to understand and exercise power and the separation of powers in the Church in order to rediscover and spread the Gospel.” The organ of this evangelization is none other than the “People of God,” an expression which appears 18 times in the document.

The Preamble states, “All those who follow Jesus share the mission and the capacity to proclaim the Gospel.” No doubt, but the ensuing principles, drawn from the Second Vatican Council, are dreadfully biased and erroneous. The document has the merit of unfolding before our eyes the ruthlessly logical consequences drawn from false principles.

The first root is the radical equality between the members of the People of God: “The theological foundation of a renewal which regulates the power and the separation of powers to guarantee the participation and the contribution of all to the mission of the Church consists in the fundamental equality of all the members of the Church, sacramentally sealed in baptism and confirmation and expressed in the common priesthood of all believers.”

The second root as regards the capacity for evangelization relates to the “common priesthood”: “The participation of all believers, through baptism and confirmation, in the triple ministry of Christ the King, Priest, and Prophet (Lumen gentium, 31) is fundamental for understanding, differentiation, and power sharing.”

The third root is the “sense of the faith (sensus fidei fidelium) of the People of God [which] provides a fundamental theological quality.” This sensus fidei, in the eyes of the editors, allows the laity to participate in the triple power of Christ through the expression of the vote: “the right to vote is not only delegated by clerics to ‘laity,’ but it is original; it must not be sanctioned by the teaching power.” 

Finally, we must not believe that things cannot evolve because “the living tradition, is not fixed, but continues to be written in the era in which we live. We want to take the impulses of the Second Vatican Council … We rely on the instinct of the People of God to find the path of faith in liberty.”

Power in the Church Must Be Reevaluated

The key of the proposed reform is the separation and control of power: “Today, it is important to share, justify, and control power, as well as to promote and make participation mandatory.” For this “effective procedures in a clear separation of powers should be introduced for all forms of the exercise of power by the Church… Specifically, this means that the direction, legislation, and jurisdiction of the Church not be solely in the hands of the bishop… All the People of God must be involved in legislation.”

Therefore, it is necessary to establish, during the synodal way “a framework in which the rights and duties of the faithful, be they lay or ordained, can be exercised on the occasion of consultations and decisions of the Catholic Church, everything from the appointment of bishops and pastors up to the responsibility of office holders, through control and decision-making in matters of financial strategy, personnel, and pastoral care.”

This implies that “for all leadership positions, the selection process should be introduced in the form of elections and deliberations with the participation of the whole People of God, adequately represented by those elected. All leaders must be controlled and held accountable, both to democratically elected bodies and an independent judiciary.”

As for the power of orders, “the question of the conditions of admission to ministries and ecclesiastical offices will be examined according to the criteria of gender justice[1], based on the theology of baptism, so that the Church can better fulfill her task of proclaiming the Gospel.” In this context “access to ecclesial ministries must also be clarified, including access to the ordained ministry. In the synodal path, the access of married priests and women to these ministries, including the ordained ministry, must be openly debated.”

The Church in Germany Is Already in Schism

The first preparatory document of the synodal path manifests an already schismatic, even heretical, state of mind. This is where the ecclesiological revolution, the seeds of which were sown in the texts of the Second Vatican Council, in particular Lumen gentium, on the constitution on the Church, has led.

The allegations in the document that classical ecclesiology was a nineteenth-century invention are absurd and impious. The constant affirmation of a triple power—sacramental, jurisdictional, and magisterial—reserved for the clergy, from the tonsure to the episcopacy which has the fullness of the powers of orders, is a definite element of faith which was not invented yesterday.

In addition, if Baptism confers on everyone the title of member of the Church—provided that it is conferred in the Catholic Faith and in submission to the hierarchy—there is, however, a hierarchy when it comes to power and its exercise. The existence and the degrees of this hierarchy are part of the deposit of the Faith.

In addition, the “common” priesthood of the faithful differs essentially from the priesthood conferred by holy ordination; it can only be exercised passively, that is, under the direction of and submission to the priesthood conferred by the sacrament of orders. From this point of view, there is no equality. It is also a teaching of Catholic faith.

As for the sensus fidei, contrary to what is stated in the preparatory document, and contrary to what Pope Francis teaches in Evangelii gaudium (no. 119), it is not a means to discover new truths, nor even a kind of intuition intended to be then formulated by theology. This sensus fidei depends essentially on the teaching of the Magisterium, without omitting the anointing of the Holy Ghost.

Otherwise, it would be to fall into the concept of a Church become a sort of charismatic community participating in the formulation of a dogma of equality with the divinely instituted hierarchy.

Pope Pius VI condemned, in his brief Super Soliditate Petrae against Febronianism (1786), the following proposition: “Christ wanted the Church to be administered in the manner of a republic.” Indeed, the powers in the Church are ordinarily united, by the will of her divine Founder, in the person of the bishop, and especially that of the pope, as well as, in a subordinate manner, in the priest. There can therefore be no question of habitually separating them.

Finally, it is defined by divine faith that the priesthood can only be conferred on men, to the exclusion of women.

One can only surmise under how many anathemas this text can fall.