‘This is not Catholic’
Confirming the Vatican’s warnings, the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, said in no uncertain terms that the German push for a synodal council was unacceptable, CNA Deutsch reported.
“If this is to be the way the Church in Germany is to be governed in the future,” he said, “I have already told the bishops very clearly [during the ad limina visit in November]: This is not Catholic.”
Speaking to the Spanish magazine Omnes, Ouellet said a synodal council “may be the practice of other churches, but it is not ours.”
Such a German council would “not correspond to Catholic ecclesiology and the unique role of bishops, which derives from the charism of consecration and which implies that they must have the freedom to teach and to decide.”
Regarding attempts to bring German bishops to “renounce” voluntarily their authority to a new council or other overseeing body, Ouellet said: “The truth is that this is not possible; it would be a renunciation of the episcopal office.”
On Jan. 30 the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted Ouellet’s resignation at the age of 78, more than three years past the usual retirement age for bishops. He will be succeeded by Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, 67, effective April 12. How Prevost will handle the German controversy remains to be seen. The American prelate has served as a bishop of the Diocese of Chiclayo in Peru since 2015. As prefect he will lead the Vatican office responsible for evaluating new members of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
‘The brink of schism’
Cardinal Walter Kasper also warned the German bishops that they could not sidestep “the authority of the pope and ultimately the Second Vatican Council” or be undermined by “tricky reinterpretation.”
A bishop cannot “subsequently renounce, in whole or in part, the authority conferred sacramentally in the succession of the apostles” by binding himself to a synodal council “without violating the responsibility conferred on him personally,” Kasper emphasized, according to CNA Deutsch.
“Resistance to the letter from Rome, or attempts to slyly reinterpret and avoid it, despite all well-intentioned protestations, inevitably lead to the brink of schism and thus plunge the people of God in Germany into an even deeper crisis.”
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According to Ouellet, it was now important for the Holy See to continue the dialogue with the German bishops.
“We will see how the dialogue will continue,” the cardinal said, adding it was now the obligation of Bätzing to respond to the letter approved by Pope Francis.
“Then we will see how to continue the dialogue, because it is obvious that we must continue it, also to help them remain in the Catholic channel,” Ouellet stressed.
AC Wimmer is founding Editor-in-Chief of CNA Deutsch. A former senior executive with public broadcaster SBS and graduate of the University of Melbourne and Monash University (Australia), he has worked as a journalist across the globe. Before joining EWTN News, the Australian with Bavarian roots was Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Munich.