On Sept. 4, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, wrote to Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops' conference, presenting a four-page legal assessment of the German plans, which concluded that the German synodal themes involved universal Church discipline and settled doctrinal teaching and were beyond the proper scope for the bishops of a single country to consider.
Underscoring his commitment to continuing with the synodal process despite his own reservations, Voderholzer said that he would "not be accused of denying the dialogue to which Pope Francis expressly encouraged us."
"But," he said, "I do not expect much, because I cannot see how the conditions for a true 'dialogue' have been provided for."
The statutes create an assembly in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the leaders of which have openly insisted on an end to clerical celibacy, the immediate ordination of women to the diaconate and eventually to the priesthood, and the blessing of same sex unions in churches.
"In my opinion," Voderholzer said, "there is a lack of a theological hermeneutics and an affirmation of the principles of the Catholic foundation of faith recognized by all those involved - one which makes a reference to Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium and Councils etc. as the strongest arguments."
The ZdK have previously made clear that their participation in the synodal process is predicated on the assembly's ability to pass "binding" resolutions. It is unclear if the statutes as approved retain articles granting the body "deliberative" power.
The German bishops have been meeting in Fulda since Monday to discuss a range of topics of concern to the Catholic Church in Germany. Media attention before and during the session was focused on plans for the "binding synodal process" announced by conference president Cardinal Reinhard Marx earlier this year.
Bishop Voderholzer concluded his statement by noting that as a bishop and theologian, he had sworn to proclaim and defend the Catholic faith, "I feel bound to it, but I see this promise as being particularly challenged at the moment.
"As far as the synodal process is concerned," he said, "I reserve the right, if necessary, to quit altogether after the initial experience. The criterion is the observance of the 'guard rails' urged by Pope Francis and recorded in the preamble of the statute: primacy of evangelization, sensus ecclesiae, consideration of unity with the universal Church -- and thus fidelity to the doctrine of the Church."
"I hope and pray that the Synodal Process, despite what I believe to be the wrong course, will help to bring about a true renewal of the Church."