COLOGNE, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Two prelates are warning that a series of meetings are moving German Catholicism closer to a "national church."
Cardinal Rainer Woelki, archbishop of Cologne, and Cdl. Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are sounding alarm over the "reform" movement known as the Synodal Way and German bishops' steady drift toward schism.
In an interview with German news agency Katholische Nachrichten-Agentur on Thursday, Woelki commented on the regional conferences of the Synodal Way.
"The worst result [of the regional conferences] would be if the Synodal Way leads into a split and thus out of the Church, out of communion with the universal Church," Woelki said. He went on to suggest that there is a danger of "something like a German national church" emerging.
Launched in Germany in 2019, the Synodal Way was commissioned to reconsider Church teaching on priestly ordination, the role of women in the Church and sexual morality.
In an interview, Cdl. Müller called the series of meetings a way to "score points in the public opinion of the Western world." Specifically, with regard to ordination, Müller said the Church is being led toward a "professional system of well-paid functionaries."
Church Militant's resident theologian, Bradley Eli, expressed the sentiment of many traditional Catholics and clerics.
"As Germany's prelates push to overthrow universal Church teaching on sexual ethics, the priesthood and Holy Communion for all, it's becoming increasingly clear that these bishops lack supernatural faith," Eli noted.
A 2019 Washington Post article on the Synodal Way reported on the changing landscape at German church chanceries. It mentioned that Franz-Josef Bode, bishop of Osnabrück, Germany's largest diocese, recently placed a woman in charge of the diocese's management. "A priest still holds Sunday Mass, but only as a 'quarter-time job,'" the newspaper reported.
The pattern is gaining acceptance in the United States, where diocesan "chancellors" are sometimes women with considerable power. A good example is the archdiocese of St. Louis, where Nancy Werner serves as chancellor.
The Church in Germany consistently has been losing membership, but owing to the nation's state-backed Church tax, it has retained its global influence, especially with the Vatican.
When the German bishops first proposed their idea for the reform meetings, Pope Francis was encouraging, but warned the bishops not to try and resolve these issues alone.
Now, Pope Francis is in the awkward position of having to rein in a process he encouraged to take place and with which he is essentially in agreement.
While Woelki has concerns about the Synodal Way, he also believes the process has potential for "real reform."
"In my opinion, this would have to be a reform that corrects all the appearances and realities that have led away from the essence of the Church and helps us to recognize the essence of the Church in a deeper way," he noted. He emphasized that we have a duty to recognize that "the Church is not a purely sociological entity, but that it is the work of God, that it is the body of Christ and that one can never see the Church without Christ."