Cardinal Walter Kasper has repeatedly expressed concern about the multi-year process bringing German bishops and lay people together to discuss how power is exercised in the Church, sexual morality, the priesthood and the role of women.
An influential Catholic theologian said that the “original sin” of the German Synodal Way sidelined Pope Francis’ call to focus on evangelism.
Cardinal Walter Kasper has repeatedly expressed his concern about the multi-year process bring together bishops and lay people from Germany to discuss how power is exercised in the Church, sexual morality, the priesthood and the role of women.
Former President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity renewed his criticism on November 7 at an online conference study day organized by the Arbeitskreis Christliche Anthropologie (Working Group on Christian Anthropology), reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-speaking information partner.
In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 19 page letter to German Catholics urging them to focus on evangelism in the face of “increasing erosion and deterioration of the faith”.
“It was the original sin of the Synodal Path: that it set aside the invitation of Pope Francis from the fundamental mission of evangelization and, thus, in fact, brought to the fore subordinate criteria”, Kasper said in his broadcast live speak.
“In purely formal terms, he did not abandon the episcopate, but emptied it in its essence. Overall, according to the synod text, the bishop is not much different from a chairman of a supervisory board who is elected for a fixed term and can be removed at any time.
In his speech, the 88-year-old German cardinal reflected on the role of the bishop in the Catholic tradition, exploring the responsibilities that a bishop can delegate.
Cardinal Kasper asked if the Synodal Way text on “Power and the separation of powers in the Church” made the mistake of bringing to the fore secondary subjects such as “sociology, political science and the humanities”.
He noted that “today’s bishops are not new apostles; they exercise an apostolic ministry as successors. The bishop’s mission to witness and faithfully transmit the gospel is not a temporary vocation, he said.
He suggested that the Synodal Way was attempting to establish some kind of democratic control of power in the Church. He said that the Church could indeed learn from the democratic order, but only to the extent that her own order allowed it.
Cardinal Kasper noted that the early Church contained synod elements. In the Acts of the Apostles, he observes, Christians come together to discern God’s will for the community.
But a synod should not be confused with a parliament where decisions are adopted by majority, he said. Instead, he should seek consensus, which is understood as a sign of the Holy Spirit.
“A synod should therefore not vote against and bring down a minority without a serious exchange of arguments, as happened at the last meeting of the Synodal Way,” he commented.
“In doing so, the Synodal Way made a synod farce for itself.”
The most recent Synodal Way gathering took place in Frankfurt, southwestern Germany, from September 30 to October 30. 2.
The event was the second meeting of the Synod Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Path.
The assembly consists German bishops, 69 members of the powerful Secular Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), and representatives of other parts of the German Church.
The meeting ended abruptly following votes for text endorsing gay blessings and a discussion of the need for the priesthood.
Cardinal Kasper said in June that he was “very worried” about the direction of the Synodal Path, which is not a synod in the traditional sense but, rather, “a sui generis [unique] process ”, according to German Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
“I have not yet given up hope that the prayers of many faithful Catholics will help orient the Synodal Path in Germany on Catholic paths,” Cardinal Kasper said.
In September, he welcomed a text presenting an alternative to the document devoted to the exercise of power in the Church endorsed by members of the Synodal Path.
In his address at the online study day, Cardinal Kasper said that the root meaning of the word “hierarchy” refers to the reign of the Holy Spirit rather than that of the hierarchs.
“Power does not emanate from the people, and the bishop is not the master of the synod,” he said.
Christian leadership is not about commanding others, he added. Rather, leaders are called to “inspire, motivate, exemplify the spirit of the gospel.”
“At the diocesan level, the establishment of synodal structures is already possible today. In some dioceses, there have been good approaches to this subject for a long time, without a Roman rooster ever crowing, ”he concluded.
“The Synodal Way should therefore focus on what is already possible and also necessary in Germany today, instead of dealing with projects which can only generate new frustrations.