Germany: The Roman Curia Strongly Warns Bishops

Source: FSSPX News

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State

After several warnings from Rome concerning the establishment of a Synodal Council--national in particular--including bishops and laity, who would thus have decision-making ability with the episcopate, the Curia has just issued a severe warning to the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) against any attempt to continue in this direction.

A Brief History of the Issue

In a document titled “Sustainable strengthening of Synodality: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany,” adopted on September 10, 2022, during the Fourth Assembly of the Synodal Path, it was decided to create a “Synodal Council.”

The latter is described as “an advisory and decision-making body” which “shall advise on major developments in the Church and in society, and shall take fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, future perspectives and budgetary issues of the Church that are not decided at the level of the dioceses.”

Such a Council has already been rejected several times by Rome: by the Curia, during an ad limina visit of German bishops in November 2022; then in a letter from three cardinals on January 16, 2023, addressed to the German episcopate, by the Apostolic Nuncio of Germany, on the occasion of the meeting of the German episcopate at Fulda, in early September 2023; and by a letter--a private one--from Francis himself, last November.

The body responsible for establishing this Council is the Synodal Committee provided for by the Synodal Path’s texts to implement synodal decisions. Despite some vicissitudes linked to the refusal of four bishops to finance it, this Committee is in the process of coming into existence and its Statutes were to be discussed during the spring meeting of the German bishops, which should be held from February 19 to 22.

The Cardinals’ Letter

In a letter addressed to the German bishops dated February 16, 2024, Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State; Manuel Fernández, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Robert Prevost, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops; warn the German episcopate and ask that the Statutes of the Synodal Committee not be voted on during this meeting.

It is not uninteresting to examine the considerations of this letter. The cardinals first highlight “a dialogue already begun” before to be continued in the near future. Then they note that the Statutes of the Committee “expect as its first task the establishment of a Synodal Council.”

However, “such an organ was not provided for by applicable canon law and a decision of the DBK on this subject would be invalid--with the resulting legal consequences.” Furthermore, the DBK does not have the authority to approve these Statutes: “neither can. 455 CIC nor article 8 of the statutes of the DBK provide a basis in this sense, and no mandate was given by the Holy See--on the contrary.”

Finally, “as the DBK cannot act in a legal capacity in the secular domain, it could at most assume this responsibility for the Synodal Committee by means of the Association of German Dioceses (VDD). Nevertheless, the necessary unanimous decision concerning the Synodal Committee was not taken,” due to the refusal of the four bishops mentioned above.

The text recalls the discussions of the ad limina visit and the letter of January 16, 2023, which expressly requested “not to pursue the establishment of such a council.” The approval of the Statutes would be in contradiction “with the instructions” of the Holy See. And a meeting was organized for last October to “deepen the ecclesiological questions addressed by the Synodal Path.”

The three cardinals conclude: “If the Statutes of the Synodal Committee were to be adopted before this meeting, the question would arise of the meaning of this meeting and, more generally, of the ongoing dialogue process,” the letter indicates.

Reactions in Germany

On the side of the German bishops, for the moment, there has not been an official response. Nevertheless, the vote on the Statutes of the Synodal Committee was removed from the agenda of the plenary assembly of bishops at Augsburg. This is what was confirmed Saturday evening by the spokesperson for the episcopal conference, Matthias Kopp, questioned by KNA.

On the side of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), it is time for indignation and revolt. It’s important to remember that the ZdK is a stakeholder in the Synodal Path, of which it was the driving force with the DBK. They ask the bishops to continue the project of reform of the Synodal Path, even despite all the signals to stop sent by Rome.

“The Catholic Church in Germany will not have a second chance if she now stops the Synodal Path,” warned the president of the ZdK, Irme Stetter-Karp, on Sunday. She is irritated by the fact that Rome asked the German episcopal conference “almost by express mail” not to vote on the Statutes of the Synodal Committee and to wait first for discussions in Rome.

It is contradictory that Rome encourages the synodal process--for example, by means of the world Synod--but then brings the German path of reform to “a sudden stop,” added the vice president of the ZdK, Thomas Söding:

“I work on the assumption that the German bishops reliably maintain their own decisions. We expect a rapid decision, the ratification of Statutes and the constructive pursuit of work on the Synodal Path. In their dialogue with Rome, the German bishops must make understood the urgency of continuing the work.”

The ZdK highlighted that these are the bishops who, in 2019, facing the crisis of confidence in the Church, asked the laypeople to launch the Synodal Path with them. Furthermore, the bishops approved the creation of a Synodal Committee with the necessary two thirds majority.

“We expect Rome not to undermine the good collaboration between the German bishops and the representation of laypeople, but to value it and perceive it as a resource,” added Stetter-Karp.

The ZdK is not wrong on one point: the clear and firm prohibition of Rome comes too late--too late?--and the damage will be significant. Stopping a speeding train will cause a derailment--with what consequences for the Church in Germany?