A former apostolic nuncio to Germany,, stated that he is “alarmed” at the German bishops’ “synodal path,” which seeks to “reinvent” the Church rather than effect a genuine renewal.
“Without any consideration for the genuine sources of faith and revelation, namely Scripture and Tradition, the Church is supposed to reinvent itself, so to speak. I have read the drafts for the four forums of the ‘synodal path’ and am alarmed at the direction that the discussion seems to be taking,” he wrote in a contribution to German Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagespost.
The archbishop said, commenting on the bishops’ plan: “It is not God and the Church that have distanced themselves from man. On the contrary — just as in the Old Covenant, people have distanced themselves from the Church and God and steadily become more alienated from Him.”
His remarks, reproduced below in full, came in the context of the discussion of the synodal path currently underway in Germany that dissents from Catholic teaching on celibacy, clerical authority, the ban on female ordination, contraception, cohabitation, homosexuality, and gender theory. He characterized the preparatory documents for the Synodal Path as giving the appearance “that Scripture and Tradition have been ousted and their place taken by so-called ‘modern’ theology and the human sciences.”
“The draft for the ‘Forum on Sexuality’ reminds me of the statement from a senior representative of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who expressed words to the effect of: Rome should keep quiet for a period of time, then we will be able to produce an acceptable moral teaching on sexual matters,” he added.
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The goal of the synodal path, he wrote, “cannot simply be to listen to what people hope for or demand from the Church, but first and foremost to examine and to recognize what God expects from us, the Church, and mankind.”
“Predominantly structural changes in the life of the Church,” as they are proposed by the synodal path, “will hardly be sufficient to motivate and encourage anyone to rediscover his faith and love for God in the Church and to live it anew,” Ender said.
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Full article by Archbishop Erwin Josef Ender, originally published by Die Tagespost:
In the readings of the Old Testament, we often come across the lament, “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 13:1). We also encounter the prophets’ reactions to this. They denounced evil and vehemently called for repentance and conversion. To my knowledge, there is not a single prophet who blamed God for the chasm between divine standards and human behaviour, as if God had fallen out of step with the moving times and the desires of men. Nowadays, this would appear to be a prevailing trend, when the obvious incompatibility between the way of life, desires and demands of “modern” people and the moral teachings of the Church is pointed out.
I note with amazement that amidst the heated discussions surrounding the “Synodal Way” in Germany, hardly anyone is proposing a different, more plausible explanation for the disaffection between people today and the Church. For it is not God and the Church that have distanced themselves from man. On the contrary – just as in the Old Covenant – people have distanced themselves from the Church and God and steadily become more alienated from Him. They are turning their backs on the Church in droves and running from it. More and more people live as if God does not exist. For this reason, God’s call in Paradise to man who had fallen into sin and was fleeing is as relevant today as it was in the beginning: “Adam, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
Who still speaks nowadays of conversion?
On that first Easter morning, Christ instructed His Apostles, and thereby all their future successors, with the words: “As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you!” (John 20:21). And His Father sent Him, as He Himself expressly declares, “to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). Therefore, the first and foremost role of our shepherds is to make themselves heard and noticed, in both the Church and the world today, when calling on and seeking those who flee and stray. They are tasked with going after those who are fleeing, not in order to affirm the false path that they have taken, but to encourage them to repent and return to the flock. Is it not then astounding, that today this call for conversion is hardly heard, if at all? “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” Thus declared the Lord the aim of His mission at the beginning of His public ministry.
It is with joy that I am currently reading anew the most important documents of the last Council. These writings establish and summarise that which the Church has authoritatively proclaimed about herself and the world over her two-thousand-year history, in Holy Scripture, her Saints, teachers and Councils, and which she seeks to make fruitful for our present day. Not even sixty years have passed since these authentic and authoritative statements of the Church about herself and her mission in the world today were made. And yet, these statements from the Council are hardly even acknowledged anymore.
If one were to believe some media reports, then a Reformation-like “revolution” is imminent. Without any consideration for the genuine sources of faith and revelation, namely Scripture and Tradition, Church is supposed to reinvent itself, so to speak. I have read the drafts for the four forums of the “Synodal Way” and am alarmed at the direction that the discussion seems to be taking. It would appear that Scripture and Tradition have been ousted and their place taken by so-called “modern” theology and the human sciences. This bears no similarity at all to the perspective of faith of the Council texts. It is a bit like looking at a church’s stained-glass window from the outside instead of from the inside; as a result, what is depicted and its meaning can hardly be understood. The draft for the “Forum on Sexuality” reminds me of the statement from a senior representative of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who expressed words to the effect of: Rome should keep quiet for a period of time, then we will be able to produce an acceptable moral teaching on sexual matters.
The Apostle’s warning and the German student movement of 1968
Saint Paul issues a warning in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). If the Word of God still means something to us, this should be the primary objective of any renewal process – not to adjust oneself to the world, but firstly to renew oneself, one’s way of thinking and acting in the spirit of Jesus Christ. It cannot simply be to listen to what people hope for or demand from the Church, but first and foremost to examine and to recognise what God expects from us, the Church and mankind. God’s will, and not what the “world” and the people in it find pleasing and desirable, is the “gold standard” for renewal – that which is “good and acceptable and perfect” in the eyes of God!
However, I have the impression that in the meantime the “spirit of 1968” has found its way into the ranks of the Church and is now claiming settlement rights here. Everything must be questioned, then reformulated and adjusted as one sees fit. In statements and news coverage about the Church in Germany, one has to search high and low in order to find someone who has the courage to openly confront, with a level-headed and critical approach, the widespread trend of “severe criticism of the Church”, which unfortunately often finds appreciative applause with many. It was a layman, unknown to me, who once gave this good advice in a KNA [official Catholic news agency in Germany] article: one should not say something negative about the Church without also saying something positive.
The face of the Church has been disfigured by the cases of abuse which have rightfully been deplored and are to be condemned. However, I am convinced that many of those who gleefully join in and applaud the now widely-accepted criticism of the Church are partly to blame for its poor image in our day: their ranks include some theologians, priests and even bishops.
Just recently, a “Church publication” drew its readers’ attention – under the prominently-displayed, suggestive headline “Severe criticism of the Church”, accompanied by a portrait of the author – to a newly-released book by one of its own priests. The article did not neglect to inform the readers of where exactly the book could be bought, as well as what it costs. The more “severely” one criticises the Church, the larger the platform one finds in the media, even in some Church-run outlets. And whilst every available opportunity is used to report in detail on the “Maria 2.0” movement’s demands and campaigns, the “Maria 1.0” movement is deemed as hardly worth a brief comment. Even during Masses, sermons that pour derision and malice on the so-called ecclesial “authorities” are met with praise and applause; in contrast to some homilies which really deserve such support.
The courage to acknowledge the Man of Sorrows
Through such behaviour, we are most of all harming ourselves and the Church. We should therefore not be surprised when more and more people turn their backs on the Church, which, since being founded, has always inevitably been made up of holiness and sinfulness at the same time (“casta mereterix”). In her, the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest. Nowadays, the impression is left that we ourselves are not convinced by “our” Church and are unwilling to stand by her. This reminds me of Christ, standing before Pilate. Even His own friends had deserted Him (indeed, some of the ones who carried more responsibility). They no longer recognise the hidden King underneath the scourging wounds and the crown of thorns. They lack the courage to profess faith in Him and to stand up for Him, even as a humiliated and disfigured Man of Sorrows. And even Pilate’s scornful question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) is often uttered by many today.
Structural matters do not inspire joy in faith
Even well-meant “structural reforms” will not be able to heal this disparaging and destructive treatment of the Church, if reform efforts do not start from the very basics of the faith. That is why I consider the alternative draft for the “Synodal Way” proposed by the bishops from Cologne and Regensburg to be more honest and promising. This proposal had been put forward as a new and therefore “alternative” pathway, but unfortunately it was rejected by a majority of the bishops.
Only those who find Christ in the Church and encounter God there can also live with the Church, love her and take part in forming her. Therefore, the main priority of every true renewal has to be discovering and witnessing to, with a new, joyful faith, the presence of Christ in His Church. Before complaining about those who have decided to stop paying their church tax, thereby terminating their membership of the Church, all attention should be focused on those whose faith has lapsed and who have neither attended Mass for a considerable amount of time (90 per cent), nor taken part in the general life of the Church, because they have become estranged from her.
If Christ no longer means anything to a person, they will quite simply avoid anything to do with the Church and go their own way. Predominantly structural changes in the life of the Church will hardly be sufficient to motivate and encourage anyone to rediscover their faith and love for God in the Church and to live it anew. Faith comes from listening and not from debating, criticising and writing agendas. That is why the proclamation of the Good News, a tangible, active witness of faith, and a convincing evangelisation in word and deed, is the only proven way into the hearts of people.
In an historical act, Pope Francis has appealed in a letter to all Catholics in Germany. The reason for his letter, which was published on 29th June 2019, was the “Synodal Way” of the Catholic Church. In light of the “erosion” and the “deterioration of the faith” in Germany, the Pope has emphatically called for conversion and evangelisation and at the same time, urged unity with the universal Church. The Holy Father stated in the letter that the proclamation of the faith is the first and intrinsic role of the Church, and this must also be the aim of the “Synodal Way”.
Instead of focusing on structural issues, the Pope calls for evangelisation to be given the highest priority in the life of the Church. Like Benedict XVI, Francis also warns of the danger of secularisation in the Church. “Without new life and an authentic spirit inspired by the Gospel”, and without “fidelity of the Church to her own vocation”, every structural reform would quickly be ruined, the Pontiff said.
The Pope’s letter provoked mixed reactions from the Catholic Church in Germany. For example, as a result of the letter, there were demands for a restart of the “Synodal Way”. The course had been set in the wrong direction, complained Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg. However, the heads of the Bishops’ Conference and the ZdK felt encouraged by the Pope’s letter to proceed further on the “Synodal Way”. Ultimately, the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki, and Bishop Voderholzer of Regensburg presented an alternative draft to the articles of the “Synodal Way”.
The alternative draft emphasised the primacy of the new evangelisation, the observance of the “sensus ecclesiae” and the consideration of unity with the universal Church, in order to meet the demands of the Pope’s letter. At a meeting of the Permanent Council in August, the German bishops voted on the alternative draft. 21 voted against, three bishops voted in favour and three others abstained.
[The article first appeared in Die Tagespost. It was translated by LifeSiteNews staff and is published by themwith permission.]