Is the German Church heading for a schism? Three cardinals speak

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register has consulted the opinion of three German cardinals.

Cardinal Woelki
Cardinal Woelki

Newsdesk (October 21, 2020, Gaudium Press) Edward Pentin, of the National Catholic Register, has conferred the view of three German cardinals on the possibility of a large part of the Church in Germany going into schism. The perception comes from the desire of several German bishops to share communion with Protestants and reopen the debate on women’s ordination.  They discussed some of the issues in what is called the Synodal Way, a two-year encounter involving bishops, priests and laypeople of the German Church.

Last September: Possible ‘schism’ topic suggested by Cardinal Woelki 

This fear of schism was also flagged last September by Cardinal Rainer Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne. He warned that “the worst outcome would be if the Synodal Way leads to schism” and that “the worst thing” would be if a “German national church were to be created there.”

In declarations to the Register, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, affirmed that the prevailing thought in the Church of Germany (and a good part of its bishops) is more characteristic of modernism than of Protestantism. “They want to correct the Word of God. They want to overcome it, to be superior to the Word of God. They want to teach Rome,” said the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Cardinal Muller notes that what pollutes the German Church is a “political thought, a worldly thought.”

However, the Cardinal believes that this process will continue over time. It is unlikely that the German bishops will reject any censorship from the Vatican. They will produce some “theater,” and unofficially continue on their way if priests and parishes adopt new positions contrary to Church teaching. “Officially they [the bishops] will say no to such changes, but in reality they will adopt them,” the Cardinal predicted.

If the German Church’s schism were to be declared, it would “lose all influence in the Catholic Church,” so the bishops would not risk it, Cardinal Muller stated.

Cardinal Cordes speaks

For his part, Cardinal Paul Cordes, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, also said that a schism in the German Church seems “rather unlikely.” It would imply a formal refusal over “subordination to the Pope.”

However, he did not fail to note that he sees the German Church too open to the “spirit of the times,” including the “theological virus” of secularism.  According to Cordes, it “infects the Truth of the faith,” in statements similar to Cardinal Muller.

Cardinal Cordes expressed that God “does not give new theological messages to the Church through historical events or earthly needs.” And he added: “each observation of the ‘signs of the times,'” must be interpreted “in the light of the eternal Word of God.” And not the other way around.

The Register also spoke with Cardinal Woelki on the issue. He reaffirmed that he is “greatly concerned that some of the ideas being promoted in the framework of the so-called Synodal Way compromise” the “bond of unity” with the Pope and the universal Church.

He considers the Church of Germany as still united to Rome. Still, he warns that “whoever promises the ordination of women or demands an ‘open’ debate about women priests or deacons, for example, is only deepening the divisions among Catholics in Germany as well as deepening the divisions between us and Catholics around the world.”

The “Chilean Option”

Pentin reveals that some Vatican officials have ventilated the possibility of studying the applicability of the so called “Chilean option” to solve the root of the issue.  He alluded to the offer of massive resignations of this country’s bishops after the scandals of sexual abuse of members of the clergy that shook Chilean society in 2018.

The suggestion is that the German bishops offer their massive resignation to the Pope as their private and public conformity to the Church’s magisterium undergoes a period of examination. 

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