The ZdK claimed in their statement that "with this message, [Francis] encourages us in our Church in Germany to continue the synodal path that we started very successfully."
Their inference is difficult to square with the pope's previous characterization of the German process as a "well organized and even 'modernized' ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty."
In his own response to the pope's exhortation, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, noted that two-thirds of the Amazon synod's participants had voted for exceptions to clerical celibacy and "further reflection" on some kind of women clergy.
"Against the background of the reform proposals discussed in Germany, these issues were particularly well received by the Church and public," Marx called the pope's magisterial document a "framework for reflection," while noting that he had given no "concrete decisions" on the matter.
"This discussion will continue," Marx concluded.
Following the German reaction to Querida Amazonia, it is not clear what, if anything, could bring their synodal discussions to an end, even if they have been now revealed as considerably out of step with the pope's own plans for the Church.
Last month, the secretary of the German bishops' conference gave an interview in which he said it is "unacceptable" for Rome continue to have full discretion over universal teaching and discipline.
Fr. Father Hans Langendörfer, SJ, called for other regions of the Catholic Church to follow the German example, and effectively force through a new federal model on the Church.
Roman pushback against the German synodal plans has largely been left to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. It was Ouellet who sent Marx the Vatican's blunt legal assessment of the German synodal plans, which concluded they were "ecclesiologically invalid." It was also Ouellet who Roman opposition to the German-led campaign against clerical celibacy at the Amazon synod last October, publishing a book on the subject just as the sessions began.
Oullet turned 75 in June last year, the legal age of retirement for curial positions, and many in Rome have predicted that Francis will replace him in 2020. The unexpected decision of Cardinal Marx this week to step back from leading the German bishops could signal his hope – or expectation – that Ouellet's job is his for the asking.
If Marx were to move to Rome, he would likely be able to influence more directly the final draft of the forthcoming apostolic constitution to reform the Roman curia, and with it Rome's relationship with national bishops' conferences. That document is already seen by some in Rome as the German bishops' ultimate hope for rebalancing the exercise of authority in the Church, weighting it more firmly in favor of national and regional decision making.
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Whether Marx is destined for a curial promotion or not, for the moment he is right in one thing: his discussion, the German discussion, will continue, regardless of what Pope Francis wants.
Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and worked as Catholic News Agency's Washington DC editor until December 2020.