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BONN, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, head of the German Bishops' Conference, is pushing forward with plans for a binding "Synodal Assembly" in spite of objections from the Holy See.
In a Sept. 12 letter to Cdl. Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Marx insisted that the national synod — designed to re-examine Catholic teaching on clerical authority, sexual morality and the role of women in the Church — must proceed.
"Countless believers in Germany consider [these issues] to be in need of discussion," he wrote.
Marx suggested that the process will ultimately benefit the entire Church: "We hope that the results of forming an opinion [on these issues] in our country will also be helpful for the guidance of the Universal Church and for other episcopal conferences on a case-by-case basis."
Marx's letter came in response to Cdl. Ouellet's Sept. 4 warning to Germany's bishops that the synod was "not ecclesiologically valid," owing to its design. Accompanying Ouellet's message was an assessment of the synod's draft statutes, authored by Abp. Filippo Iannone, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
Iannone noted that the German bishops are not setting up a national synod, but rather a "particular" council. Whereas a synod is merely a consultative body lacking policy-making capacity, a council — when authorized by a pope — has power to establish laws for the Church in particular countries or regions.
Though branding their project a "synod," Iannone observed, German prelates are in fact constructing a particular council, unauthorized by Rome — one that aims to redefine fundamental Church teaching on morality and discipline.
Marx appeared to reject Iannone's assessment, insisting that he and his brother bishops will "conduct a consultation of our own kind that is not covered by canon law."
"The Synodal Way is a sui generis process," he added. "The draft statutes should therefore by no means be read and interpreted through the lens of canonical instruments such as a plenary council. It is not a Particular Council!"
Marx seemed rankled by the Vatican intervention, telling Ouellet: "I cannot see why questions about which the Magisterium has made determinations should be withdrawn from any debate, as your writings suggest."
"Perhaps a conversation before sending these documents would have been helpful," he added.
Ostensibly, the synod is being crafted as the German answer to the sex abuse crisis — the solution to the "massive crisis of credibility of the Church after the discovery of numerous cases of sexual abuse."
But many Church-watchers suspect that the assembly is being designed as a vehicle for a radical break with Catholic teaching.
They note that the synod's lay contingent will be represented by the dissident "Central Committee of German Catholics" (ZdK) — a radical leftist group campaigning for women's ordination and an "updating" of Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
In the face of Germany's clerical sex abuse crisis, ZdK leaders insist that the predator priest phenomenon will be solved only when "ecclesiastical tabooing and pathologizing" of homosexuality is ended.
Reflecting on the synod's potential impact, observers note that as Pope Francis muses on the specter of schism in the U.S. Church, in Germany, the threat is becoming real.