Spanish theologian warns German Synodal Way poses great danger to the Church

Thomas Sternberg and Bishop Georg Bätzing at the Synodal Way’s second Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 30, 2021 Thomas Sternberg and Bishop Georg Bätzing at the Synodal Way’s second Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 30, 2021. | Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner.

Spanish theologian Fr. José Antonio Fortea has warned of what he calls the serious danger to the Catholic Church posed by the synodal path in Germany.

In a blogpost titled “Where is the German Church Going”, the priest said that “if we look at the history of the Church, we will see that the synodal path is something God wants, but the results of the councils weren’t always the right fruit.”

"Today we call conciliabules (illegitimate councils) the assemblies that have ‘gone astray,’ but in their day they were considered by those who attended them to be such true councils as those that gave definitions that have passed into the magisterium of the Church," he pointed out.

The theologian warned that "a synod, a council, any ecclesiastical meeting, can go off in an excessive and illegitimate direction, there can be pressures."

"And to that we must add that a regional council or a provincial synod does not necessarily have to be an expression of the faith of the Church," he added.

The synodal path in Germany is a process in which bishops and lay people from this country participate in order to address issues such as the exercise of power, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the Church.

This process began Dec. 1, 2019 and is scheduled to end in 2023.

In October its plenary session ended abruptly following votes in favor of a text endorsing same-sex blessings and a discussion of whether the priesthood is necessary.

Various Catholics have expressed concern about the direction that the German synodal path has followed and have warned of the risk of a schism with the Catholic Church.

Fr. Fortea noted in his article that "a regional synod is assured of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, but it is not assured that the final result will be an unquestionable expression of the faith of the Church."

“In a conclave, for example, the assistance of the Holy Spirit is guaranteed, but that does not mean that the cardinals listen to the voice of God. The election of a supreme pontiff is not necessarily the expression of what God wanted.”

For the priest, this shows that “listening to the Spirit is absolutely necessary. Whether or not the result is an expression of the Will of God will depend on that listening.”

“I am sorry to shatter a certain vision about synods as something absolute, but the history of the Church is clear: only universal councils in union with the Roman Pontiff are guaranteed infallibility. That has been the constant tradition of the Church,” he said.

Therefore, he continued, "the participants of the German synod must be made aware of their own fallibility, both personal and collective."

"They can’t separate themselves from the structure of truth that is what we could call the 'universal synod.'"

Fr. Fortea said  that “since we will not agree on what is or is not within the faith, we must at least accept the ecclesial structure to safeguard the faith established in the Church by Jesus Christ himself while he was on earth.”

"If that 'universal ecclesial order' is not accepted, the synod begins its deliberations from an off-center starting point. What would be deliberated is not this or that moral or biblical question, but the very being of the Church, the ability of the Church to safeguard the faith given to us by Christ,” he said.

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Fr. Fortea said that “theology must advance within a homogeneous evolution of dogma.”

"My positions are progressive, but a progressivism that believes in a depositum fidei, the deposit of faith," he said.

“But if progressivism involves revolution, that is to say, the demolition of the pillars that support our connection with an unalterable truth from the past; then don't count on me in that 'conflagration,'” he said.

The priest pointed out that “I’m Spanish, and the truth is the same in Germany and in Spain. The German synod cannot determine what is the truth for Spaniards. And, obviously, the truth is not one thing in northern Europe and another thing in the south.”

"Nor is what was true in the seventh century no longer true in the eighteenth century," he stressed.

"The German synod, however very democratic it may be, cannot oblige me," he remarked.

Fr. Fortea pointed out that “all the members of the synod must accept that they are part of a family and that a certain number of votes can’t force the Church on the five continents to believe a thing or not; because the questions debated in that German meeting directly affect what is the truth in the Church: has the Church made a mistake in universally teaching this or that thing?”

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The theologian pointed out that "it would be naive not to realize that the moral issues that have been raised fully affect the concept of the magisterium in the Catholic Church."

"Either it is accepted that any decision holds for the 'universal family,' or it is accepted that there are 'pastors of pastors' with a specific charge from Christ."

Otherwise, he warned, "many Germans would be falling into the same ecclesial error as the Coptic Church in the fifth century (when it broke  communion) or the Armenian Church (when it broke away in the seventh century) or the Old Catholics (in the 19th century)."

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