Conflict, Controversy & the Church

News: World News
by Samuel McCarthy  •  •  February 13, 2023   

Europe's synodal assembly draws to a close

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PRAGUE ( - The European synodal assembly has drawn to a close in the Czech Republic but not without its fair share of controversy and conflict.

Abp. Jan Graubner

The assembly began, appropriately, with Holy Mass, celebrated Sunday evening by the Prague's archbishop, Jan Graubner, who warned against heterodoxy and urged his brother bishops to keep their eyes on Christ.

"Stop thinking in worldly terms and embrace God's way of thinking," Graubner exhorted. "Do not impose your vision, but accept the vision of God."

He also noted that, when measured against the teachings of the Church, the results of synodal listening sessions don't reveal the "sensus fidei of the believers" but the failures of the bishops to lead their flocks. "It turns out that many people who are active in the Church do not know either the Bible or the teachings of the Church," he said. "This is not the best testimony for our work."

The European synodal assembly brought together delegates from across the continent; each country is represented by the president of its bishops' conference along with three additional delegates. Some 200 delegates gathered in Prague for the first half of the assembly, and nearly 400 bishops from 39 different countries participated online in the assembly's second half.

Let us listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, not the world.

The first half of the assembly produced a draft document of "recommendations" based on the results of synodal listening sessions, presentations from various representatives and spirited debate between delegates. Ten hand-picked representatives from each of the 39 participating nations, led by the presidents of their respective bishops' conferences, then examined and debated the document, which concluded Sunday. A final list of recommendations will reportedly be published later this year.

Internal Affairs

The assembly seemingly featured three factions that could be loosely categorized as those attempting to limit the decentralizing potential of the synodal process, those capitalizing on the decentralizing potential of the synodal process to promote heterodox ideas and the wary few on the sidelines of the dispute.

Graubner, belonging to the first group, urged his episcopal brethren and fellow Catholics to resist the ideological movements of the world. The Polish delegates also aligned themselves with this way of thinking.

Abp. Stanisław Gądecki and Professor Aleksander Bańka

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznan, head of the Polish Bishops' Conference, echoed Graubner's sentiments, saying, "Let us listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, not the world. ... I expect the Church to really listen to the Holy Spirit, more than it listens to its own voices and the voices of this world."

Another Polish delegate, lay theologian and professor Aleksander Bańka, explicated the theme, demanding subservience to the Chair of St. Peter despite the outside world's clamoring: "The goal of the discussion at the first synodal assembly ... should not be to succumb to the temptation to build some other church, but to seek answers to the question of how to realize the spirituality of synodality within the one Church of Christ, with its hierarchical structure."

He further addressed progressive proposals which contradict Church teaching, condemning "the deceptive charm of superficial solutions, such as the idea of women's ordination."

On the opposite end of the spectrum, German delegates promoted heterodox goals from their own dissident Synodal Way, which has openly endorsed sodomy and female ordinations to the priesthood.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German Bishops' Conference, claimed that LGBT "issues" and the question of female ordinations weren't unique to Germany but were issues faced by the Church globally. He also called openly for the redefinition of "sin" and the normalization of sodomy, directly contradicting the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Christian faith is a religion of freedom and salvation — not the fixation of sin. ... This is not my faith, not my image of Christ and the Church. We must hear people of the Church who prove themselves faithful and faithful in life situations who have so far been evaluated morally as "disordered." ... [T]hey are not sinners, but [are] approved by God and, by Christ, through the power of his love, [are] free and equal members of the Church.

Bätzing's Synodal Way copresident, Irme Stetter-Karp (president of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics), called for women to be ordained to the priesthood, or at least to the diaconate, saying, "The stubborn insistence on dual anthropology and the lashing of women to space outside the ordained offices drives women (even also young women) out of the Church."

Bp. Felix Gmür of Basel

The president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, Bp. Felix Gmür of Basel, backed the Germans in not only calling for female ordinations but a decentralized, democratic approach to the issue. He asked his fellow delegates, "Could women's access to ordained ministries be decided at the regional level? Or on a continental level?"

Ireland's delegates also aligned themselves with the progressive Germans and Swiss. Delegates Julieann Moran and Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon jointly called on the Church to adjust its longstanding customs and perennial teachings on female ordinations and promotion of homosexuality:

Many women communicated their pain at being denied their agency in the life of the Church and spoke of feelings of exclusion and discrimination. Women play a critical role in the life of the Church but so many men and women have spoken of the Church "excluding" the fullness of the gifts of women. Many submissions during the Diocesan phase called for women to be admitted to the diaconate and priesthood. Those who are in loving relationships that don't accord with Church teaching, including people identifying as LGBTQI+, and those in second unions, also spoke of their hurt, particularly around harmful and offensive language used in Church circles and documents.

A delegate from the U.K., who self-identifies LGBT, noted that "the assembly was [a] clear demonstration that while Catholic culture is strong on unity ... we are not good at celebrating difference or knowing how to disagree well."

Abp. Éric de Moulins and Cdl. Marc Ouellet

Although the French delegates managed for the most part to stay out of the ideological fray, Abp. Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, the president of the French Bishops' Conference, did caution against female ordinations, insisting they aren't a solution to any problem. He said, "If you just add women, did you answer that question? No."

However, the French bishop of Troyes, Alexandre Joly, disagreed with de Moulins-Beaufort and insisted that the question of female ordinations must be examined, adding, "God also speaks to us through the signs of the times."

The retiring prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cdl. Marc Ouellet, also took issue with the German-led promotion of homosexuality. In a homily Tuesday, a day after the German delegates promoted their dissident ideology, Ouellet preached on marriage and heterosexuality, correctly defining homosexual relationships as sinful:

If it is true that the spiritual dimension of man and woman includes a resemblance to God, it should be noted that the human being is created by God as male and female, for a spiritual and corporal relationship of love between man and woman that makes them one flesh ... The human being created male and female, man and woman, was created in view of Christ and the Church, in view of the sacrament of marriage which blesses the couple to the point of making it sacramental, that is to say, a bearer of a greater love, that of Christ for his Bride the Church. ... Are we not sometimes tempted to interpret the Word of God in a way that is contrary to what it really says? May the Holy Spirit accompany us and guide us in our exchanges and discernments.

Ouellet's homily was seen by some as an attack on a homily delivered by the synod's relator general, Cdl. Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, who focused his remarks on "inclusion."

Amidst the ideological turmoil, Cdl. Mario Grech, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, tried to assuage concerns raised by conservative-minded Catholics in a homily he delivered on Wednesday. "The synod is not there to destroy distinctions, to destroy the Catholic identity. It is not there to raze distinctions. Rather, it is there to uphold distinctions, to understand the Gospel and what makes the Catholic Church truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic."

Synodal Suggestions

According to the official news site for the Polish Bishops' Conference, the assembly's draft list of recommendations includes a call to better define "synodality" and to deepen the understanding of the theology behind it: "searching for forms of synodal exercise of power" and determining at what level (universal or local) synodal decisions are to be made and "renewing a lively sense of mission, overcoming the gap between faith and culture, to bring the Gospel to people," among other items.

Some of those other items include the continued "courageous" examination of the "role of women in the Church," which doesn't rule out female ordinations, and the "inclusion" of the LGBT community.

Although the draft document — reportedly some 20 pages or more in length — has not yet been published, assembly officials did release a series of "final remarks," calling the synodal assembly "a profoundly spiritual experience," "more than a methodology" and "a way of life of our Church, of communal discernment and of discernment of the signs of the times." 

The lay delegate from Luxembourg, Jean-Louis Zeien, expressed disappointment that more of the German delegates' radical dissidence didn't find its way into the draft document. "I wish we had gone further," he lamented. "I do not find the audacious proposals that Pope Francis invited us to formulate on the occasion of this synod... ."

News Report: Warnings Unheeded

Bishop Bätzing also expressed disappointment that the document didn't go further, but he stated he will take his heterodox ideas all the way to Rome. "[A]ll the topics that are important to us are explicitly included in the text," he noted. "Topics such as women's rights or LGBTQ exclusion were also mentioned by the delegations from Luxembourg, Switzerland, Ireland, etc. And from this you can see that our topics are not special topics, but are present in the universal Church."

Others seemed pleased, though, with Hollerich even suggesting the possibility of lay "voting rights" at future synodal assemblies.

Abp. Gintaras Grušas and Abp. André-Joseph Léonard

The next step for the Synod on Synodality takes place in Rome. Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania, reminded delegates of the pope's authority, saying, "This session is not intended to offer final solutions to all the issues raised. The document produced is not programmatic, it is a question of bringing our concerns back to Rome."

"Prague was exhausting — and Rome will be even more exhausting," Bätzing quipped.

Although he's not a delegate, retired Abp. André-Joseph Léonard, formerly of the Brussels–Mechelen diocese in Belgium, shared his fear that doctrinal tenets of the Church will be attacked and possibly diluted through the synodal process. "Alas," he said, "I fear that many of the requests expressed in the 'Synod on Synodality' — what an abstruse wording! — will seek to undermine or relativize these vital realities."

But Bätzing seemed moderately contented with the assembly's outcome, quipping, "One thing is clear from this: The future of the Church will be synodal."

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