Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke for the umpteenth time on the German Synodal Path, as part of an online day of study organized by the “New Start” initiative – in German, Neuer Anfang – which takes a critical look at this process. There are positive and interesting points in this conference by the prelate who will be 90 years old this year.
The Church Needs Reform
In a development in five points, the former bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart first recalls the well-known adage Ecclesia semper reformanda, “the Church is always in need of reform and renewal.” But the question is how.
It is necessary to distinguish between true and false reform – an implicit quotation from the title of Fr. Congar’s book Vraie et faux reform dans l’Eglise (True and False Reform in the Church). Thus: “it is important to specify that the renewal is not a novelty. To renew does not mean to invent a new Church.”
The precision is welcome but clashes with an earlier passage which stated: “Vatican II was a renewal. With the reform of the liturgy, the rediscovery of the importance of the word of God, a renewed vision of the Church and her relationship with the modern world. With the yes to freedom of religion, to ecumenical renewal, to reconciliation with the Jewish people.”
But let's keep the original formula. The President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity applies it to the synod – by which he means the diocesan synod. He then asserts that:
“Synods cannot be made a permanent institution. The tradition of the Church does not recognize a synodal government of the Church. A synodal supreme council, as it is envisaged today, has no basis in constitutional history. It would not be a revival, but an unprecedented innovation.”
It should be noted that this affirmation clashes not only with the recent developments of the Synodal Path in which the proposal for a permanent synod was made, but with the very thought of the reigning Pontiff who wants to put the Church in a state of synod, give a synodal style.
The cardinal adds that a political scientist described this claim well: “Such a synodal council would be a Supreme Soviet,” Soviet moreover originally meant “council.” That’s a fair comment.
Criteria for Reform
This point aims at the heart of the Synodal Path. He recalls that theology is inspired by sources – by loci, sources, according to the received terminology. The Dominican Melchior Cano (1509-1560) organized in a systematic way the reflection on the subject and he described ten sources. Seven of them are “proper” to divine revelation: Holy Scripture, tradition, the authority of the Church, the ecumenical councils, the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, the doctrine of the Fathers of the Church and that of theologians.
Three other locis are “alien” to revelation: natural reason, philosophy, and history. Walter Kasper then very rightly notes that the Synodal Path has put the former and the latter on an equal footing, and he adds: “It is aberrant and completely false to put human points of view on an equal footing with the Gospel.” And he points out that the recent criticisms focus specifically on this point.
The cardinal then explains that a synod has a head – the diocesan bishop – and a body, the diocese. The bishop must therefore exercise his authority, and he cannot relinquish it. He then attacked the “voluntary engagement” of the German bishops. This is a point of the Synodal Path Statutes and of the agreement between the bishops and the ZdK, the Central Committee of German Catholics.
It consists of this: there is a collective moral engagement – which only obliges each bishop individually – to apply the decisions of the German Synod. Initially, the Zdk only agreed to participate if the votes were “binding,” but after Roman comments, the mention could not be maintained. It is compensated by this engagement of the bishops.
The Cardinal calls it trickery, and even “rotten” trickery. Firstly because a bishop can only commit for himself and not for his successors. And above all: “Such an engagement would amount to a collective resignation of the bishops. From the point of view of constitutional law, this could only be qualified as a coup, that is, an attempted coup.”
On the last point, Cardinal Kasper rightly recalls that in crisis situations, the synods, although very useful, have contributed to renewal, but very often have not been the source of it. This has been found in men raised up by God. It is a constant in the history of the Church.
A Capital Mistake
However, in his analysis, the high prelate makes a capital error. He considers that “the original sin of the Synodal Path is to have, from the beginning, more or less set aside the Pope's letter and his proposal to start from the Gospel and from the fundamental mission of evangelization, and to have taken its own path with partially different criteria.”
This letter from the pope certainly criticizes aspects of the process which was then in its infancy, but his criticism turns into encouragement on other points, and the German bishops did not fail to notice this.
And above all, this criticism hides the primary and total responsibility of the pope in the current situation. As entire episcopates, cardinals, dozens of bishops, priests, and lay people are sounding the alarm with increasing insistence, what did Francis do? He published Traditionis custodes.
While the situation has become so serious that it is now obvious that a good part of the Church of Germany is in schism and that the disillusionment will be commensurate with the extent of the work of the Assembly Synod, what does Francis do? He strikes out at the most traditional or conservative, like the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon.
While dozens of priests, even a bishop, with the encouragement of a large part of the German episcopate, have already twice “blessed” homosexual couples against the express advice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, what does Francis do? He congratulates Fr. James Martin and all those who plead to obtain a marriage – civil – for these “unions.”
While this Synodal Path risks leaving Germany in a worse situation than after the preaching of Martin Luther, what does Francis do? He launches a world Synod on Synodality, the first results of which in the dioceses show the clear influence of the avant-garde already very much launched across the Rhine.
The one behind the Synodal Path is Francis and essentially him. He will bear the responsibility before God and before the Church.