Similarly, under the Marx plan, "resolutions that concern issues reserved for control by the Universal Church will be further transmitted to the Apostolic See," but will neither request Roman approval or wait for a response before considering the resolutions approved for application in Germany.
In his June letter, Pope Francis warned that the German synodal process must avoid the temptation of "a new Pelagianism" which seeks "to tidy up and tune the life of the Church, adapting it to the present logic." The result, Francis said, would be a "well organized and even 'modernized' ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty."
The pope specifically warned the Church in Germany against pursuing any course which aimed at "simply adapting to the spirit of times" and urged them to preserve the sensus ecclesiae of the whole Church on the faith.
"The universal Church lives in and of the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and flourish in and of the universal Church, and if they are separated from the whole ecclesial body, they weaken, wither and die. Hence the need to always keep alive and effective communion with the whole body of the Church," Francis wrote.
In its original text, obtained by CNA, the Woelki-Voderholzer proposal suggested seven topics for synodal consideration: sexual abuse; delegating laity to serve in evangelization; youth ministry and catechesis; marriage ministry and family counselling; vocations ministry; theology and religious instruction at the service of evangelization; and spirituality and evangelization.
The plan also emphasized that magisterially clarified topics such as the ordination of women, which Pope Francis has consistently rejected in line with perennial Church teaching, would remain outside the synodal discussions.
Sources close to the German bishops' conference told CNA that there was concern among several bishops that creating a venue to vote against Church teaching could create "unrealistic expectations" for change, and even "sow the seeds of dissent between the particular and universal Church."
But despite the warning from the pope and the proposal of a Francis-inspired synodal response, the draft plan approved by the German bishops, expected to be published soon, listed four key areas for the Synodal Fora to consider and propose resolutions on: "authority and separation of powers" in the Church; teaching on "sexual morality"; clerical discipline and "the priestly mode of life"; and "women at the service of ecclesiastical offices" in the Church.
The ZdK, whose members make up a significant portion of the proposed Assembly, have already published the names of participants in each of the fora and their work began even before the Aug. 19 meeting. In each case, the ZdK members have a public record opposing settled Church teaching and discipline, including "demanding" women's ordination, and calling for a "radical break" with the Church's teaching on sexual morality to incorporate new clinical and academic conclusions.
Public statements from the ZdK leadership underscored that the participation of the group in the synodal process was conditional on "the openness of the deliberations and the bindingness of the resolutions" being "guaranteed" by the German bishops, and the constitution of the Synodal Assembly in the Marx plan has raised concerns that the group's deliberations could trigger a break with universal Church teaching, despite the pope's warnings.
In a homily delivered Sept. 7, Cardinal Woelki spoke about the dangers of reforming efforts which are not grounded in the pope's vision of the sensus ecclesiae.
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"A Church that adapts itself to the world in its faith is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but that of our human spirit," he said in his homily on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He also warned against the temptation for the Church to behave "like a parliament," leaning on "the social and human sciences to negotiate about the faith and doctrine of the Church."
The aim of bringing about "so-called reform of the Church," the cardinal said, often proposes nothing more than "an adaptation to the thinking of the world."