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S.A. McCarthy


NextImg:German Bishops’ Schism Averted — For Now

Germany’s Catholic bishops have abandoned their plans to form a forbidden Synodal Council to replace the authority of bishops with a democratic body of clergy and laity. On the eve of their annual plenary assembly, the German bishops were given a letter from the Vatican reinforcing Rome’s ban on the creation of such a council and warning that, if the bishops approved the council against Pope Francis’ express instructions, Rome would be forced to respond “with the corresponding legal consequences.”

READ MORE from S.A. McCarthy: Germany’s Bishops Are Approaching Schism

The letter — signed by Vatican Secretariat of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF); Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández; and the new prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Cardinal Robert Prevost and delivered at the behest of Pope Francis — reiterates that the German Bishops’ Conference does not have the legal authority or standing under Catholic Canon Law to establish, govern, or participate in the Synodal Council as it is described. The curia cardinals warned that any decision the German bishops made in favor of the council “would be invalid.”

The cardinals further warned that communications with the Vatican may become hostile and would certainly be strained if the German Bishops’ Conference attempted to approve the creation of the Synodal Council. “It should be noted,” the cardinals wrote, “that the issue was already presented during the last Ad Limina visit” to Rome in late 2022, after which the council’s inception was explicitly banned by the Vatican, in a letter approved by the Pontiff himself.

The Vatican had agreed last year, as the global Synod on Synodality was concluding, to continue meeting with Germany’s bishops to discuss their vision and craft a plan for the future that is in line with Catholic Canon Law and theology. “If the Statute of the Synodal Committee is adopted before this meeting,” the cardinals wrote, “the question arises as to the meaning of this meeting and, more generally, of the ongoing dialogue process.”

The German Bishops’ Conference was slated to vote on whether to approve the Synodal Council’s creation during the conference’s plenary assembly this week but seemingly acquiesced to the Vatican’s orders and removed voting on the council from their agenda. However, Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, lashed out at Rome on Monday for delaying meeting with the German bishops. “We could already be further along,” he said.

While this avoids schism in Germany for the moment, the German Bishops’ Conference will meet again this summer and this fall. Depending on how talks go with the Vatican scheduled for June, the Bishops’ Conference may still choose to animate its Frankenstein’s monster of a council.