To understand what is going to happen at the upcoming Synod on the Amazon, it helps to know what the Germans mean by what they call the “synodal path,” where bishops and laity are supposed to dialogue “democratically and transparently,” on equal footing, regarding all the burning questions: Why cannot women be ordained deacons or priests? Is compulsory celibacy the best way for a priest to live in the 21st century? How should the German Church respond to the abuse crisis? etc.
In the July 26, 2019 issue of the German newspaper Die Tagespost, under the title “About the synodal process in Germany and the Synod for the Amazon,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, denounced this approach which, parallel to the synod, seeks to redefine the Church and the Catholic priesthood according to progressive and worldly criteria.
The German prelate writes: “The so-called synodal path of the Church’s establishment in Germany, however, aims at further secularization of the Church. Instead of a renewal in the spirit of the Gospel, with the help of catechesis, mission, pastoral care, mystagogy [a mystical explanation] of the Sacraments, one now relies on – and this has already been going on for a half a century now – other topics, hoping thereby to receive public approval of the western world and to please that way of thinking that holds a materialistic image of man.”
“In its essence, the synodal path is about:
1. The change of the Sacrament of Holy Orders into a professional system of well-paid functionaries;
2. The passing of a politically perceived “power” from the bishops and priests on to a leadership of laymen, with the added clause that, if the qualifications are the same, women are themselves to be preferred.
3. What is bothersome to them is that Christian morality as it stems from the new life in Christ, which is now demeaned for its being “against the body” and, purportedly, not compatible with the standards of modern sexual science.
4. The stumbling block since the Protestant Reformation and since the naturalism of the Enlightenment is, of course, priestly celibacy; as well as the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience) of the vowed consecrated life. In a Church which – as a mere human institution with purely secular goals – has abandoned her identity as the mediator of salvation in Christ, and who has lost all transcendental and eschatological reference to the Coming Lord, the freely chosen celibacy ‘for the sake of the kingdom’ (Mt. 19:12), or, in order to be able ‘to concern himself with the Lord's work’ (1 Cor. 7:37) is perceived now as an embarrassment – like an alien element or a residual waste from which one has to be freed as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. At best, this celibacy might be granted to some exotic people as a masochistic form of an extremely autonomous self-determination.”
A Secularization Process
Then Cardinal Müller shows that the German synodal path and the Synod for the Amazon are two sides of the same reality: “The synodal process in the realm of the German Bishops’ Conference is now being linked with the Synod for the Amazon, and this is done for ecclesial-political reasons and as a leverage for the restructuring of the Universal Church. Additionally, at both events the protagonists are nearly identical, and they are even financially and organizationally connected by way of the relief agencies of the German Bishops’ Conference. It will not be easy to control this wrecking ball. Afterwards, nothing is to be anymore as it was before, and it has been said that one will not even recognize the Church afterwards. Thus spoke one of the protagonists thereby revealing the true aim.”
Further on, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith writes: “As a supposed way out of the crisis of the Church, the Instrumentum Laboris and the synodal process in Germany both rely on a further secularization of the Church. When, in the entire hermeneutics of Christianity, one fails to start with God’s historical self-revelation in Christ; when one starts with incorporating the Church and her liturgy into a mythological view of the entire world; or turns the Church into part of an ecological program for the rescue of our planet, then the sacramentality – and especially the ordained office of bishops and priests in the Apostolic Succession – are up in the air. Who would actually want to build a whole life requiring total dedication upon such a shaky foundation?”
The German prelate stresses a way of doing things common to both the Instrumentum and the synodal path: “It is striking that both the Instrumentum Laboris for the Amazon Synod and the German synodal path do not start with biblical foundations and then orient themselves according to the developing teaching of the Church in Tradition and the definitive doctrinal decisions of the Councils and the Pope. Instead, they draw their norms and rules from the putative sociological necessities of the globalized world or from the Amazonian tribes’ traditional forms of organization.”
On the issue of the ordination of married men, Cardinal Müller shows that from the Amazon to Germany the step will be quickly made: “If one ordains there in the Amazon respected men in professedly stable partnerships (whether in a canonically valid marriage or not?) to the priesthood, in order to provide the community with the Sacraments – even without a theological formation (IL 129,2) – why should this then not also be the leverage finally to introduce the viri probati in Germany, where celibacy has no acceptance anymore in society and where many married theologians would be available in order to fill, as priests, the holes within the celibate clergy?”
In conclusion the German prelate wishes to recall: “The Magisterium of the Pope and of the bishops has no authority over the substance of the Sacraments (Trent, Decree on Communion under both species, DH 1728; Sacrosanctum Concilium 21). Therefore, no synod – with or without the Pope – nor any ecumenical council, nor the pope alone, even if he spoke ex cathedra, could make possible the ordination of women as bishop, priest, or deacon. They would be in contradiction with the clearly defined doctrine of the Church. That would be invalid.”
The day after the publication of Cardinal Müller’s article, on July 27, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller granted the same newspaper, Die Tagespost, an interview in which he unreservedly supported the criticisms of the former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. He declared: “If one considers the statements of several bishops, then one can well say that this ‘synodal path’ leads to a catastrophe.”
Die Tagespost: The Bishop of Essen, Franz-Josef Overbeck, who, as President of the Adveniat Commission, supported the preparation of the Synod on the Amazon and also participated in various preparatory meetings, spoke about the point of rupture which would represent the episcopal assembly of Rome, but also evokes in this context the “synodal path.” What kind of rupture could it be?
Cardinal Brandmüller: “In any event, something that is not anymore the Catholic Church.” Because rupture is a category that is completely contrary to the notion of organism, to organic development. A rupture which would have as its result that nothing afterwards would be as it was before, would mean the end of the Church. The essence of the Church, is the transmission of the deposit of the Faith from the time of the Apostles until the return of Our Lord – but not a continuous evolution, during which the essence of the Church changes.”
Die Tagespost: In the preparation of the Synod on the Amazon as well as that of the “synodal path,” there is the question of the promotion of the laity and of women in particular. Would this be equivalent to the end of the clerical Church?
Cardinal Brandmüller: Rather than speaking of a clerical Church, let us speak of the Church where priestly consecration existed from the beginning. Seen in this light, the end of the clerical Church would probably mean that the Church imagined by Martin Luther– as described by him in his pamphlets of the year 1520 –would be realized. And it would no longer be the Catholic Church. For Luther, all the baptized were already pope, bishop, and priest. In the Catholic Church, on the other hand, the priest who stands before the altar acts by virtue of the sacramental imposition of hands during the consecration in persona Christi, which is why he also shares the way of life of his Lord, namely celibacy. That’s for celibacy, which is probably also on the agenda of the “synodal path” and Synod on the Amazon.
On August 13, journalist Patrick Coffin conducted an audio interview with Cardinal Burke, available on You Tube, in which the US prelate states that the Instrumentum laboris is more than heretical: “The document is an apostasy. This cannot become the teaching of the Church.” And to clarify: “Heresy is the denial, the knowing and willing denial of a truth of the faith, e.g., the priest Arius who denied the two natures and one person of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, heresy is pointed towards a particular truth that someone denies, whereas apostasy is a general defection from the faith, a going away from Christ in a general way, and the many truths of the faith.”
Cardinal Burke added: “The Apostolic Tradition, the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, taken from the New Testament and taught by the Magisterium of the popes and councils, constitute the sole criterion in doctrinal and practical matters. Amazon or not, in every place on the earth, the Church cannot allow confusion, much less a contrary teaching, to damage the Apostolic Tradition.”
And the prelate reaffirmed that the primary function of the pope is “to safeguard the doctrine of the Faith and the discipline of the Church so as to be the principle and the foundation of unity in the Church.” “If you told me,” he told Patrick Coffin, “that the pope is a revolutionary, I would be very worried because that has nothing to do with the papacy.”
On the LifeSiteNews website, Martin Barillas commented on Cardinal Burke’s interview, incidentally recalling the satisfaction of the liberation theologian, Leonardo Boff, with the announcement of Cardinal Bergoglio’s election as pope, seen by him as a “springtime for the Catholic Church.” In an interview with Deutsche Welt, quoted by Martin Barillas, Leonardo Boff “credited the pontiff with starting a ‘revolution’ in the Church.”
Already in an interview given on July 23, 2013 in El País, Boff, the now-married ex-priest, declared that Pope Francis was part of “the legacy of liberation theology,” born of “listening to the cry of the oppressed.” “The new pope’s manner of acting favors this doctrine, but it is better that he not mention it, because it could create controversy,” he advised tactically.