The German synodal plans include the formation of working groups, called synodal fora, which are considering the themes of increasing women's participation in Church ministries and offices, reforming Church teaching on sexual morality, and revising discipline in priestly life.
Several of these groups, formed in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics, have already begun work and are expected to advance proposals at odds with universal Church teaching, something Woelki said would go against the pope's clear instructions.
"Pope Francis reminds us that the faith of the particular Churches is always located in the faith of the whole Church and must be found there," he said. "In the long run, there cannot and should not be different ways of dealing with fundamental issues of faith and morality that would not only jeopardize, but possibly violate, the high good of unity that we profess in the Creed as an attribute of the Church."
"The stipulations of the faith, which belong to the unchangeable existence of doctrine of the Church, cannot and therefore must not be put up for debate in the Synodal Way. The impression must not be conveyed that there would be a quasi-parliamentary vote on the faith," Woelki insisted.
Vatican criticism of the German plans, put forward in a Sept. 4 letter to Cardinal Reinhard Marx from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, raised a number of concerns. Foremost of these is the plan to invest the Synodal Assembly with "deliberative power" to pass resolutions on issues touching Church teaching and governance.
Woelki also said that listening to the pope's instructions does not mean halting the synodal process.
"The Pope's letter emphasizes that this does not mean 'not going forward, not changing anything, and perhaps even not debating or arguing.' But this must be done with the consciousness, as the pope says, 'that we are essentially part of a larger body that claims us, that waits for us and needs us, and that we claim, expect and need.'"
He concluded by urging the other German bishops to make necessary changes to the synodal structures and topics for consideration, pointing to the alternative version he presented in August, which made explicit that the synodal body had a strictly consultative role and suggested alternative topics for consideration, centered on the evangelization.
"Together with the Holy Father, I again warn against taking a substantial and formal path that would take us out of the worldwide body of Christ. Our involvement in the faith of the universal Church, whose integrity we serve not least in the episcopal ministry, excludes any negotiation or a vote on matters of faith. This also applies to ecclesiastical discipline, insofar as it is embedded in the overall church context."
"Let's take the pope really seriously," Woelki concluded. "We do not need agitated activism, but the serenity of all who are fully committed to Christ."
"It is crucial that the Church in Germany shows with words and deeds how beautiful it is to live in the presence of the Lord, to know that He accompanies and surrounds us: For the joy of the Lord is our strength."
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