The Church needs to be reformed
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.
One must distinguish between true and false reform – an implicit quote from the title of Fr. Congar’s book True and False Reform in the Church (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 said: “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 its relationship to 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 become a permanent institution. Church tradition 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 Way in which the proposal for a permanent synod has been made, but with the very thought of the reigning Pontiff who wants to put the Church in a state of synod, to give a synodal style.
The cardinal adds that a political scientist described this assertion well: “Such a synodal council would be a Supreme Soviet”, Soviet moreover originally meaning “council”. It’s a fair comment.
This point aims at the heart of the Synodal Way. He recalls that theology is inspired by sources – loci, sources, according to accepted terminology. The Dominican Melchior Cano (1509-1560) systematically organized the reflection on the subject and described ten sources. Seven of them are “proper” to divine revelation: Sacred 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 places are “foreign” to revelation: natural reason, philosophy and history. Walter Kasper then very rightly notes that the Synodal Way has put the former and the latter on an equal footing, and he adds: “It is aberrant and completely wrong 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 renounce it. He then attacks the “voluntary commitment” of the German bishops. This is a point of the Statutes of the Synodal Way 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 commitment – which binds each bishop only individually – to implement the decisions of the German synod. Initially, the Zdk only agreed to participate if the votes were “binding”, but after Roman’s comments, the mention could not be maintained. It is compensated by this commitment 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 a commitment 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 this 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 its source. It was 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 Way 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 having followed its own path with partly different criteria.
This letter from the pope certainly criticizes aspects of the process then in its infancy, but its criticism turns into encouragement on other points, and the German bishops do 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 laity are sounding the alarm with increasing insistence, what has Francis done? He publishes Traditionis custodes.
While the situation has become so serious that it is now clear that a good part of the Church of Germany is in schism and that the disillusionment will be commensurate with the magnitude of the work of the Synod Assembly, that does Francis? He attacks the most traditional or conservative, such as 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 “blessed” homosexual couples twice 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 Martin Luther’s preaching, what does Francis do? He launches a World Synod on synodality, the first results of which in the dioceses show the manifest influence of the avant-garde already very active across the Rhine.
The one who is behind the Synodal Way is Francis and essentially him. He will bear the responsibility before God and before the Church.