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Father Weinandy: ‘If the German Synodal Way is not heading for schism, it has fooled a lot of people’

The flag of Germany The flag of Germany./ Trine Juel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

A Catholic theologian has said it is “foolish” to deny that the German “Synodal Way” is seeking changes that would be schismatic.

Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap., made the comment after Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, insisted that the country’s Catholics were not “schismatics” seeking to “detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome.”

“Well, if the German Synodal Way is not heading for schism, it has fooled a lot of people,” said Weinandy, a former member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

“It is obvious that the German Synodal Way is proposing changes in the Church’s teaching that would be schismatic. It cannot be denied, and it is foolish to state otherwise.”

Bätzing argued in a May 6 interview that the Church in Germany remained close to Rome despite tensions over same-sex blessings, Communion for Protestants, and the Synodal Way.

The bishop was speaking ahead of a day of protest on May 10 in Germany against the Vatican’s recent “no” to blessings for same-sex couples.

The event, organized by Catholic pastoral workers, is known as “Segnungsgottesdiensten für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers.” Organizers hope that same-sex couples across Germany will take part in the event.

Bätzing, who has previously supported blessings of homosexual unions, said last month that the event was not a “helpful sign.”

The bishops’ conference chairman said in the interview that the issue of blessings was one of many topics to be addressed by the Synodal Way’s forum on sexual morality.

“Homosexual couples, and couples who cannot and do not want to marry in the church, but who nevertheless desire the blessing of the Church, are part of our society and the Church,” he said.

“In Germany and in other parts of the Universal Church there has long been a discussion about how to further develop the Magisterium with sound arguments -- on the basis of the fundamental truths of faith and morals, the progress of theological reflection, and in a spirit of openness to the latest results of the human sciences and the life situations of people today.”

Weinandy, who previously served as executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Doctrine, said that the bishop of Limburg’s words were contradictory.

“On the one hand, Bishop Bätzing states that he wishes to develop the Magisterium with sound arguments. Yet, on the other hand, what he proposes as the basis for sound developmental arguments are theologically and magisterially inconsistent and contradictory,” he said.

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Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap. / Courtesy photo.
Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M. Cap. / Courtesy photo.

“The fundamental truths of the faith and morals are not compatible with what the German Synodal Way proposes, for example, with the blessing of homosexual union. Any theological reflection that would propose otherwise would be erroneous.”

The Capuchin Franciscan priest added that “the latest results of the human sciences,” referred to by Bätzing, were “often merely attempting to sanction the zeitgeist of the age.”

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He also suggested that the phrase “life situations of people today” was meaningless.

“There have always been people who commit fornication, or who live in adulterous situations, or who engage in homosexual acts. The difference is that many today, including bishops like Bishop Bätzing, wish to bless such sexual activity as if such acts are no longer sinful, but they are and always will be sinful,” the Capuchin Franciscan priest told CNA May 8.

“Thus, while Bishop Bätzing employs phrases that give the appearance of great wisdom and erudition, they are merely empty, and often deceitful, ‘sound bites.’”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The CDF answered, “Negative,” outlining its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

In the May 6 interview, the 60-year-old German bishop said that there were “no easy answers” on the topic of same-sex unions. He made a similar comment in March in response to the Vatican’s rejection of blessings for same-sex couples.

Weinandy said: “While Bishop Bätzing notes that there are no easy answers, yet we already know what answers that he and the German Synodal Way are proposing. So, to say that there are no easy answers is disingenuous.”

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Bätzing said in last week’s interview that he supported the establishment of a female diaconate.

He commented: “It is important to me to honestly mention the Church’s arguments as to why only men can enter sacramental ministry. I also realize that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that arguments have been developed in theology in favor of opening the sacramental ministry to women as well. This is why I often mention the female diaconate, because I see possibilities there.”

Weinandy suggested that if past theological arguments were becoming less convincing, this indicated the need for greater evangelization.

He said: “That people find the arguments hard to accept is one thing, that the arguments are not valid is another issue. That our secular culture does not accept the arguments in no way invalidates the truth of the Church’s teaching or the arguments put forth on its behalf.”

“It often seems to me that the first people in Germany who need to be evangelized are some of its bishops. They need to make an act of faith in what the Church believes and teaches, and in doing so, seeing it as the Good News that it is.”

“Unbelieving priests and bishops are not the solution to the present secularism that permeates todays’ Western culture, they are the problem.”

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He added: “The German Synodal Way is attempting to legitimize the failure of the German Church to evangelize its fellow citizens. This failure manifests that the German Church itself is in need of evangelization.”

In 2017, Weinandy resigned his position as a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, after publishing a letter to Pope Francis asking the pope to correct what he said was the “chronic confusion” of his pontificate.

He told CNA: “The German Synodal Way knows what it is doing, and it will have its will even if it results in schism. The present pontiff has himself fostered such an atmosphere wherein schisms could arise.”

“While he and the CDF have spoken of their unhappiness at what is taking place in the German Synodal Way, it is yet to be seen whether the pope will actually act decisively in this situation.”

“What the present pontiff does or does not do reveals his real mind, and not what he says.”