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DRESDEN, Germany (ChurchMilitant.com) - Amid controversy and dissidence, a Vatican official is calling on Germany's bishops to uphold Catholic teaching.
On Monday, Germany's papal nuncio, Abp. Nikola Eterović, addressed those present at the plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference in Dresden. In no uncertain terms, he reiterated Vatican directives and the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
Addressing the rampant heterodoxy roiling in Germany at present, the Vatican diplomat lamented, "I think that all too often we have failed in our catechesis."
In a manner German Catholic paper Die Tagespost called "undiplomatically clear," Eterović forcibly reiterated the Vatican's ban issued in January on Germany's proposed formation of a lay-dominated "synodal council" to replace bishops as the leaders of the Church in Germany. He also spoke against the ordination of women to the priesthood, which has been a prominent theme in Germany's increasingly dissident Synodal Way.
Eterović unequivocally shut down any notion of ordaining women to the priesthood. But in keeping with his call not to fail in catechesis, he explained to Germany's bishops the theology behind the all-male priesthood.
Building on statements made by Pope Francis, Eterović spoke first of the Petrine principle, which "stands for the dimension of the ordained ministry," but also of the complementary Marian principle, which "is that of the nuptial Church, the Church as bride, the Church as woman." Again relying on the Pope's theology, he clarified that the role of women in the Church corresponds to the role of the Blessed Virgin.
"[W]hy can't a woman enter the ordained ministry?" he asked. "Because the Petrine principle leaves no room for it. ... The woman is more, she is more like the Church, which is woman and mother. ... In this sense, the fact that women do not enter the life of ministries is not a defect: no. Your place is a much more important place."
Germany's Synodal Way has long been pushing for female ordinations to the priesthood. While most so-called listening sessions during the national phase of the global Synod on Synodality listed the role of women in the Church as a concern to be addressed, German delegates at the European synodal assembly called outright for female ordinations.
In 2020, Bp. Georg Bätzing, the current head of the German Bishops' Conference and copresident of the Synodal Way, endorsed female ordinations, saying, "I must honestly say that I am also aware that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that there are well-developed arguments in theology in favor of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well."
Last year, a group of German laity, priests and even bishops published a book calling for female ordinations. Less than two months later, the German diocese of Essen permitted women to perform baptisms, citing a scarcity of priests.
Eterović also reiterated the Vatican's ban on the formation of a lay-led synodal council, which would supersede the bishops in administrative matters:
[S]ynodality in the Church is more a question of spirit and style than of structure. Instead of founding new institutions at the risk of further increasing bureaucracy, it is imperative to enliven in the synodal spirit the already existing diocesan bodies, such as the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Pastoral Council or the Council for Economic Affairs, etc.
In January, top curial cardinals wrote a letter to Germany's bishops and the Synodal Way, unambiguously demanding a halt to the proposed synodal council. The letter was approved by Pope Francis in forma specifica, meaning he invested the directive with his own personal authority as pope.
Eterović continued, "I have therefore been asked ex officio to specify that, according to a correct interpretation of the content of this letter, not even a diocesan bishop can set up a synodal council at diocesan or parish level."
Eminences, Excellencies, dear confreres, We are living through dramatic times in human history ... . In this difficult historical context, the unity of the Catholic Church appears all the more as the great treasure, not least for peace in the world and the unity of humanity. So we do not want to strengthen the centrifugal forces, but unity among the bishops ... and with the Pope in Rome ... . This unity in love is rooted in Jesus Christ ... .
On Monday, however, Bp. Bätzing signaled that he was prepared to defy the Vatican's orders. He told his fellow German bishops that he had written a letter to the pope in response to the Vatican directive banning the synodal council. According to Bätzing, he could dismiss the Vatican's mandate because it was prompted by the concerns of five conservative-leaning bishops — concerns not shared by the other 230 members of the Synodal Way.
The fifth and final meeting of the Synodal Way will take place in Frankfurt next week, when the synodal council is expected to be established.
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