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WITTENBERG, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - The German Catholic Synodal Way risks replicating the mistakes of the "Protestant Synodal Path during the Third Reich," which contaminated "the entire church with the Nazi demon," the pastor of Martin Luther's church is warning.
In an exclusive interview with Church Militant (see below), Rev. Dr. Alexander Garth of St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg (Stadtkirche) said he hoped faithful "German Catholics will not make the mistake of sinking into a shrinking, schismatic German provincial church."
"I consider the Synodal Way to be a mistaken way since it forces the Protestantization of the Catholic Church," Luther's successor wrote in an Easter letter to German monthly Vatican Magazin.
"I observe with concern the efforts at Protestantization in our Catholic sister Church, efforts that express themselves in Maria 2.0 and the Synodal Way," Garth lamented, referring to himself as "a Protestant with a Catholic heart and pastor in the pulpit of Martin Luther."
Garth reminded the Synodal Way "reformers" that "the democratization of the Protestant church in Germany with its synods during the Third Reich resulted in the Nazi majority in the synods contaminating, perverting and, finally, spiritually paralyzing the entire church."
Thus, according to Garth, "the Protestant church in the Third Reich was one unbroken story of betraying the Faith," with "luminous exceptions" like Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood against Hitler and was hanged by Himmler's order at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945.
Garth urged Catholic liberals to "become Protestant" since, in the German Protestant church, "you will find everything you are fighting for: woman priests, a synodal constitution, married pastors, feminism."
But "the spiritual and physical state of the Protestant church is much worse, and the repercussions of secularization still more devastating than in the Catholic Church," he noted.
"I would consider the Protestantization of the Catholic Church to be a great misfortune, for this world needs the Catholic profile of Catholic spirituality, with loyalty to the Pope, Marian devotion and the example of the saints of the Church," Garth stressed.
The author of the forthcoming book Untergehen Oder Umkehren: Warum der Christliche Glaube Seine Beste Zeit Noch vor Sich Hat (Going Down or Turning Back: Why Christianity Has Its Best Time Still to Come) said that "the Christian world needs Catholic identity" and "it would be a great loss for Christendom if the Catholic color of the Faith lost its intensity."
St. Mary's Church in Wittenberg (Stadtkirche) is regarded as the "mother church of the Protestant Reformation," renowned for its pulpit whence Luther and fellow Protestant Johannes Bugenhagen preached for many years.
It is also famous for the altarpiece painted by Renaissance father-and-son duo Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger.
The German Synodal Way (also known as the Synodal Path) has been demanding a democratic Church with license to bless homosexual unions and ordain women as deacons and priests.
The full interview follows:
Church Militant: Why do you think the German Synodal Path is taking a dangerous path?
Alexander Garth: The Catholic Church in Germany and Europe as well as the Protestant national churches have their roots in a State church, in which every citizen — with notable exceptions — automatically belonged to the State church without being asked.
Since Christianity became the state religion in A.D. 380, Jesus-shaped Christianity fell into a minority situation. A minimal and nominal Christianity became the standard form of the Faith.
This means that if matters of faith and practice of the Church are formed according to the will of the majority, an adapted minimal Christianity will always prevail and determine the path of the Church. Most people adapt their Christian faith to the culture — causing the Church to lose its profile and missionary vigor.
CM: What problems do you already see in the Catholic Church in Germany?
AG: The Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany have a common main problem: They function in a model of the Church that stems from a closed, monarchical society.
Today, when we live in an open, liberal society in which people freely choose their religion, the churches have to learn something that they have not needed to learn for centuries and, therefore, cannot learn: They have to embark on a mission into today's world with apostolic authority. This is the new challenge which overwhelms a Church in the Constantinian mode.
This means, first, the Church must make conversion its main theme in teaching and practice. Second, the Church must rediscover the fascination of Jesus Christ. Third, the consequence of the rediscovering Jesus Christ as Savior of the world is a rediscovery of the Holy Spirit as the engine of mission. Fourth, a Church on the move must learn to enculturate the gospel in today's world and translate it into practice.
CM: Why do you think most German Catholic clergy take the path of compromising with the zeitgeist? Is it political correctness, or do they really believe that if you surrender to culture, the Church will grow?
AG: People feel that the Church lives and operates in a strange bubble. They think that the Church simply must work in a more contemporary and adaptive way to the social-cultural mainstream. That is a tragic mistake.
The Church must proclaim the old, valuable, saving and life-transforming gospel so that people can understand and accept it, but without diluting and ideologically alienating the nature of the Church and its mission.
The gift of discerning spirits is of great relevance here. The Church must pursue a double strategy: First, it must preserve the nature and mission of the Church according to the gospel and according to Church Tradition; and second, it must translate its old and yet highly topical message into the culture and world of understanding of our generation.
CM: Do you think that the German Catholic Church is heading for a schism with Rome?
AG: As part of a world Church, German Catholicism is a marginal phenomenon that is increasingly losing its importance. Faithful German Catholics will not make the mistake of sinking into a shrinking, schismatic German provincial church.
CM: What do you think of the current leadership of Pope Francis in relation to the current Synodal Way?
AG: Pope Francis is a popular figure and a pragmatist who repeatedly unsettles traditionalists with some of his spontaneous actions, but — at least that's how I see it — does a good "job" in his Church because he has understood the signs of the times.
For example, he opens up access to the Church for homosexuals or divorced people but without changing Church teaching [as seen in the latest Vatican ruling against blessing homosexual unions].
This is wise, generous and compassionate, but it upsets the guardians of Tradition and pure doctrine. This gracious tightrope walk between two opposing positions corresponds most closely to the spirit of Jesus as seen in the story of Jesus and the adulteress in John 8.
CM: What would Martin Luther do if he were alive today?
AG: This question is not easy to answer because, on the one hand, there is the early Luther, who burned for the reformation of his Catholic Church and for rekindling the darkened center of the gospel again.
This Luther would be a zealous, Christ-centered reformer today, who would inspire the Church in Germany to radically turn to the missionary mandate of the Church in this period of secularism and call people to salvation in an understandable language and culture.
It is difficult to say what the late Luther, disappointed in the Pope, Rome and princes, would do today. At least I believe, he wouldn't establish a separate Protestant church.