German Church’s ‘Synodal Way’ Chugging Along as Planned

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 21, 2020   

Theologians assert door remains open for liberal agenda

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BERLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - A German theologian says the push for changing Church teaching must continue.

Theologian Erich Garhammer argued in an article Monday that the door still remains open for the German bishops' "synodal way," even in the wake of Pope Francis' recent document on the Amazon, Querida Amazonia.

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Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation

Francis' apostolic exhortation, published earlier this month, did not address the idea of allowing married clergy for remote regions of the Amazon. It did push back against the idea of female ordination, but many feel the condemnation could have been stronger.

The synodal way is a two-year plan for "reforming" the Church, currently underway in Germany.

In the lead-up to the synodal way, faithful Catholics repeatedly sounded the alarm over talk of overturning Catholic tradition and violating Church teaching.

Garhammer opined that the synodal process underway in Germany is in accordance with language in Querida Amazonia related to inculturation. For example, the papal document states, "Everything that the Church has to offer must become incarnate in a distinctive way in each part of the world."

According to Garhammer, the idea of the Church being different in different local cultures paves the way for something like the German synodal way. In reference to the German bishops and the synodal way, Garhammer wrote, "The pope has not taken this route away from them."

In Catholic theology, there is a well-known Latin expression, "Roma locuta, causa finita," which essentially means "Rome has spoken, case closed." Garhammer titled his piece "Roma locuta, causa non finita" — suggesting the case is not closed on undermining the Faith in Germany since the Bishop of Rome has not forcefully declared the Church's official position.

Another German theologian, Thomas Söding, is in agreement with Garhammer's observation. Speaking on German radio recently, Söding remarked that Pope Francis "didn't just say from above 'that's how we do it,' and 'that's not how we do it.'"

Garhammer's comments come in the wake of the first synodal way assembly, which took place at the end of January.

The Pope has not taken this route away from them.

During the assembly, a "non-binary," "non-heterosexual" youth gave a presentation slamming the bishops over the sex abuse crisis. The German bishops' official website, Katholische.de, recognized her as non-binary, putting an asterisk next to her pronouns. (The German language has strict requirements for the grammatical gender of nouns and pronouns; instead of inventing new pronouns like gender ideologues do in English, one of their workarounds in German is writing an asterisk after the pronoun.)

Philipp Gessler, former religion editor at Deutschlandfunk, gave comments to the theologically dissident National Catholic Reporter about the first synodal path assembly, which took place in Frankfurt last month. Gessler claimed that orthodox prelates' proposals for changing synodal procedures were repeatedly voted down by 80–90% of the assembly.

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Gessler said of conservative clergy at the assembly, "It showed them how little power they have when they are confronted by representatives of all Catholics, not just the ones that think the way they do."

In related news, Abp. Stephan Burger of the archdiocese of Freiburg said of the first synodal way assembly, "There was a tough and, at times, fierce struggle to come to a common understanding and to seek a way of making the Church viable for the future, which was not at all easy."

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Abp. Stephan Burger in 2014

"But struggling to find the best way forward is part of the synodal procedure," he added.

Despite the heated disputes, Abp. Burger remains a strong backer of the synodal way.

At the same time, the archbishop insists the synodal way must be in accord with the universal Church and not turn into a Sonderweg or "separate way."

Burger, like others, has seen the synodal path as a chance for Church officials to potentially regain people's trust in the wake of clerical sex abuse scandals.

Some suspect Abp. Burger is a likely candidate to succeed Cdl. Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops' conference. Cardinal Marx announced earlier this month he would not run for re-election as the conference president. The vote for the next president will take place in early March.

The conference's next president, whoever he will be, is likely to play a big role in shaping the synodal way and overseeing its fallout.

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