Speaking to the press on Monday, Cdl. Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising recounted his meeting in Rome last week with Pope Francis and Cdl. Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregations for Bishops. He described the visit as "a constructive encounter" characterized by "positive and encouraging" dialogue about the synod.
According to the cardinal, Pope Francis did not object to the German project.
"There is no stop sign," he said. "I cannot see that the synodal path now somehow would be endangered."
The meeting was prompted by Vatican concerns over the plan to set up a "binding" synodal assembly to re-examine issues of morality and discipline.
In a Sept. 4 letter to the German episcopal conference, Cdl. Ouellet warned that the "Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany," as the initiative is called, is "not ecclesiologically valid" in its current design.
Headed by Marx, the two-year, 200-member synod would include bishops and laity, including 70 representatives from the leftist Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a leading advocate of women's ordination and "modernization" of Church teaching on homosexuality.
According to its draft statutes, the synod aims to address four key themes: "authority and separation of powers," "sexual morality," "the priestly mode of life" and "women at the service of ecclesiastical offices."
Echoing Cdl. Ouellet was Abp. Filippo Iannone, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
In his legal assessment of the statutes, Iannone said Germany's bishops are not creating a national synod — a consultative caucus lacking policy-making authority. Instead, they are constructing a national or "particular" council — a body with power to establish laws for the Church in individual countries or regions, when authorized by the pope.
Noting that the German bishops, in collaboration with the ZdK, are proposing a binding, sweeping revamp of critical moral and disciplinary teachings, Iannone asked: "How can a particular Church deliberate in a binding way if the topics dealt with affect the whole Church? The episcopal conference cannot give legal effect to resolutions [on these teachings], this is beyond its competence."
In an effort to sidestep such objections, Marx insists that Germany's bishops are creating a "synodal path" — not an official synod, and not a particular council.
Faithful observers are growing increasingly alarmed at the process unfolding in Germany, as Marx appears intent on diffusing it across the Catholic world.
During his press conference, the cardinal suggested that the "synodal path" is a first step, a "discussion" which, once concluded in Germany, would be forwarded to the Vatican for consideration.
"This then is also not the end of the synod," he said, as "the synodal path goes on to Rome."
In a Sept. 12 letter to Cdl. Ouellet, Marx suggested that the "synodal path" 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."
He echoed this vision on Monday, asserting that like their German brethren, Catholics across the world are yearning for change: "I see that on the level of the Universal Church, there is much movement. That is to say, we also make contributions for the Universal Church."
Insisting that German bishops "want to stay in communion with the Church," and that they "cannot make laws that override Church law," Marx appeared to suggest that their "synodal path" could eventually give rise to a Third Vatican Council to address what is now being debated in Germany.
Working to "change the Church's law," is acceptable, he told reporters. "If nothing would change, we would not have had a [Second Vatican] council. It is even legitimate to speak of a next council, that is not forbidden."