In the golden age of the Catholic episcopate – in the days of great Church Fathers like Cyprian of Carthage and Augustine of Hippo in the early and middle of the first millennium – bishops were not seldom in contact with each other, encouraging, consulting and, if necessary, correcting. The practice of fraternal episcopal correction has weakened over time, especially in the decades following the Second Vatican Council. And it’s strange. For Vatican II taught that the bishops of the world form a body or “college” which, with and under the bishop of Rome, shares full authority within the Church. In a way, however, the practice of episcopal “collegiality” came to resemble the unwritten etiquette at Evelyn Waugh’s fictional London club Bellamy’s, where there was simply no criticism. another member, however disturbing, even bizarre, his behavior may be.
Whatever the multi-year “synodal path” of German Catholicism has accomplished so far, it has radically changed this dynamic.
Bishops in Poland and Scandinavia have recently sent letters of fraternal concern and correction to the German Episcopate, questioning the German Synodal Path’s deconstruction of established truths of Catholic faith and practice. Then, on Tuesday of Holy Week, a group of more than seventy English-speaking bishops from the United States, Canada and Africa publicly published “A fraternal open letter to our brother bishops in Germany.” Emphasizing that the seven issues they pointed out were not their only concerns regarding the work of the German Synodal Path to date, the letter from the English-speaking bishops nevertheless identified key points where the German Church seemed to be moving towards this which can only be called apostasy.
First, by “failing to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel”, the Synodal Way undermined the credibility of Scripture, the teaching authority of the Church (including that of Pope Francis) and the Catholic understanding of human person.
Second, the documents and discussions of the Synodal Path appear to be dominated by secular ideologies, including gender theory, rather than being framed by Scripture and Tradition – which, the English-speaking bishops reminded their German brothers, the Vatican He declared “one sacred deposit of the Word”. of God” which imposes itself on the Church over time, whatever the dominant public culture.
Third, the Synodal Path constantly reduces freedom to personal autonomy – the mindless freedom of “I did it my way” – and confuses conscience with personal preference. Yet, as the English-speaking bishops say, a true Christian conscience “remains subject to the truth about human nature and to the standards of righteous living revealed by God and taught by the Church of Christ.” There is no freedom without truth, they wrote, “and Jesus is the truth that sets us free”.
Fourth, the documents and discussions of the Synodal Way seem devoid of that joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis has emphasized as “essential to Christian life.” How can there be serious renewal and reformation of the Church, the English-speaking bishops asked, if the joy of new life in Christ is absent? Is it possible for a embittered, self-referential Church, obsessed with real and imagined failures, to evangelize?
Fifth, the English-speaking bishops noted that the synodal path has been an elitist exercise led by rooted and resolutely awakened Church bureaucrats. But how can the Church proclaim the new life in Christ if the vast German Catholic bureaucracy “shows more submission and obedience to the world and to ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour”?
Sixth, English-speaking bishops pointed to the fixation of the synodal path on ecclesiastical “power”, as if running an office in a chancery and telling others what to do had greater evangelical value than bringing others to the Christ, or to come back to Christ, through a personal testimony. to the Gospel.
And finally, the “Fraternal Open Letter” warns that a Catholic “synodality” which reduces Catholicism to another liberal Protestant sect is a distraction from “the necessary conversation of the Church on the fulfillment [its] mission to convert and sanctify the world. The English-speaking bishops know that the Christian mission today requires a profound Catholic reform. But reform does not mean deconstruction. The Church has a “form” given to it by Christ, and all true Catholic reform refers to this form.
It remains to be seen whether the fraternal Open Letter and the parallel letters from the Polish and Scandinavian episcopates slow down what seems to be, in Germany, a Gadarean rush on the cliff of apostasy. But the courageous bishops who signed this letter have identified key issues for the Church in the immediate future and for the next papal conclave.
And it is service to the Gospel and to the cause of Christ.
[The full text of the Fraternal Open Letter is available here. Bishops wishing to join this initiative may register their signatures by e-mail to [email protected]]
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