"If we come to [the point where] the Holy Father [is] saying 'stop, do not begin the synod,' they will reply 'we already began – now we must finish!'"
Any official account of this week's meeting between Marx and Ouellet is highly unlikely – the Congregation for Bishops has a long track record of declining to comment on its work, even on the most internationally pressing issues. Whatever account Marx offers will likely be his own impression, and may not be shared by the congregation.
The first tangible indication of whether an understanding has actually been reached will likely come next week, when the German bishops are scheduled to vote on the draft statues for the Synodal Assembly.
If the bishops pass an unaltered text from the one adopted by their executive committee last month, it will indicate either that the Vatican has acquiesced to the German plans, or that Ouellet's letter has been "put aside," as was the pope's in June.
If the German bishops proceed with their plans over Vatican objections, the pope could be expected to address the matter during the upcoming Amazon synod.
Thus far, the language of Rome to Germany has been couched in terms of "concern" and "guidance." But should the Germans ignore a further, perhaps even explicit, instruction by Francis to halt the synodal plans, it will raise serious questions – first about the legitimacy of the entire enterprise, and then about the relationship of the Church in Germany to the Apostolic See.
Sources close to the German bishops' conference have told CNA that Marx sees the German synodal plans as the means of reshaping the global Church. "The cardinal believes it is the German Church's duty to lead on the path for others to follow on these matters," one senior German Church official said.
"There is no question of wishing to break the communion with the universal Church, but to remake it for a more modern Church."
Some officials in Rome have told CNA they suspect that Marx simply does not believe the pope is willing to act decisively to halt the German plans.
"They [the German bishops] do not ask permission to begin, or listen to the instructions given. They just continue, continue, and then – what?" one senior official at the Pontifical Commission or Legislative Texts told CNA.
"In the end, the idea of schism is unthinkable for everyone. But if no one thinks it can happen, you can do anything you like - the Holy Father says no, but a cardinal can say yes."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
The official at the Congregation for Bishops agreed, telling CNA that the German bishops' continued action appeared calculated.
"Dialogue in communion means you listen to what the pope says," he said. "If you don't listen, there is no communion."