(Maike Hickson, Life Site News – October 1, 2019) A German cardinal is warning Catholics in his country that proceeding down a so-called synodal path — one that aims at questioning the Church’s teaching on celibacy, an all-male priesthood, homosexuality, etc. — could lead to a “national church” without “nearly any ties to Rome,” stating that this would be “certainly be the surest path into the final decline.”
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller – the former President of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences and one of the two remaining dubia cardinals – made this comment in a statement in light of the developments in Germany where the German bishops have decided to enter into the controversial “synodal path.” He published his statement today on the Austrian Catholic news website Kath.net. LifeSiteNews has published an English translation of it (read full statement below).
“It cannot be overlooked anymore: the phantom of a German national church shows itself more and more,” writes the Cardinal, adding that “national isolation of the remnant of German Catholicism into a national church without nearly any ties to Rome would certainly be the surest path into the final decline.”
Cardinal Brandmüller noted that Jesus “speaks of His Church in the singular” and called it “absurd” for the Catholic Church in Germany to be pursuing a “self-destructive, national particularism.”
The Cardinal’s warning is similar to that of Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, who earlier this month warned of a “schism within the Church in Germany” that would lead to a “German national church.”
Cardinal Brandmüller in his statement today traced the history of German ideas of a “national church” and of anti-Roman resentments. The anti-Roman resentments have come to a fuller development in the second half of the 20th century, when the German bishops increasingly disobeyed decisions from Rome.
Cardinal Brandmüller explained: “One is tempted to think that, with the announcement of the Council, John XXIII opened the German ‘Pandora’s Box.’ What had continued to smoulder under the blanket since the unresolved Modernism crisis [in the early 20th century], now broke out visibly, loudly, with new vehemence.”
As an example, Cardinal Brandmüller mentioned that the German bishops “relativized” Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae‘s ban on artificial contraception and that they never revised their position.
“Thus it came to the ‘Königstein Declaration,’ which left it up to the decision of conscience of the spouses whether they use contraceptive means or practices, or not. None of the subsequent Popes succeeded with their demand that the decisions of the time would be revised,” he wrote. Piercingly, he added that “the German episcopacy remained in resistance against the Papal Magisterium.”
The cardinal mentioned the 1971-75 German Synod of Würzburg, which, he noted, has some similarities to today’s “synodal path.” For example, he pointed out, this earlier synod “clearly broke with the synodal tradition of the Church, both with its statutes and with its agenda, because it gave equal voting rights to lay people who had the same number of members at the synod as the bishops and priests.” This same problem exists now also with regard to the “synodal path.”
Furthermore, showing the intensity of the conflict at the time, Brandmüller explained that “Professor Joseph Ratzinger [the later Pope Benedict XVI] and Prelate Karl Forster – who at the time was the secretary of the Bishops’ Conference – left the synod under protest.” Today, it is Professor Marianne Schlosser – a member of the synodal path’s discussion forum on women – who announced that she has left the discussion forum, and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has announced that he might at some point leave the synodal path altogether.
Cardinal Brandmüller, in his historical overview, also touched upon the German bishops’ resistance against Pope John Paul II.
“John Paul II received an even stronger resistance when he forbade the Church’s counseling centers for pregnant women from giving out the ‘counseling certificate’ which was by law a precondition for a legal abortion, which was de facto a death sentence of the unborn children,” he wrote. Here, again “there arose such strong and insistent resistance on the part of most of the German bishops, especially of Cardinal Lehmann and Bishop Kamphaus,” he added.
The Cardinal’s history lesson sheds light on why the German bishops are once again trying to go their own way in what appears to be an attempt to form their own “national church” that is separate from Rome. Brandmüller also points out that the German bishops seemingly have taken it upon themselves to be the “school masters” of the Universal Church as they export their ideas to other nations. The Cardinal noted how the German Bishop’s attempt at “influencing” the Universal Church is supported by the fact that “the abundant money” now “flows from German Church tax desks into poorer regions,” thus strengthening German influence in the world. The German influence on the Amazon Synod, for instance, has been well established.
But in light of the fact that the numbers of Catholics in Germany decrease in dramatic numbers, Cardinal Brandmüller mentioned what he called an “embarrassing arrogance” in the German Bishops’ Conference. Here, he quoted the well-known question as to whether “the world may not once be healed by the German being?” The German Cardinal noted that there is a resemblance to this idea in the recent letter from Cardinal Reinhard Marx to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops: “One may compare the answering letter of the President of the German Bishops’ Conference to Cardinal Ouellet from 12 September 2019,” Brandmüller stated.
According to a CNA report, Cardinal Marx had written to Cardinal Ouellet that he hoped the German synodal path will also be of benefit for the Universal Church: “We hope that the results of forming an opinion [on these matters] in our country will also be helpful for the guidance of the universal Church and for other episcopal conferences on a case-by-case basis. In any case, I cannot see why questions about which the magisterium has made determinations should be withdrawn from any debate, as your writings suggest.”
In conclusion, Brandmüller warned the German Catholics not to go the way of building their own church.
Statement by Cardinal Walter Cardinal Brandmüller on the Catholic Church in Germany
October 1, 2019
“Without Judah, without Rome, we shall build Germany’s Dome [Cathedral]”
“Without Judah, without Rome, we shall build Germany’s Dome [Cathedral]” – this slogan from Hitler’s early inspirer, Georg von Schönerer (1842-1921), gives expression to a German resentment, which – ultimately – had its expression in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The defeat of Rome in that 9 AD “Hermann Battle” [the Arminius Battle] has been at least for the last two hundred years an essential part of the “Teutonic” culture of remembrance.
It is then no surprise that from thence there falls a strange light upon the relationship of the German Catholics to “Rome” – from the “Gravamina Nationis Germanicae” against the “Rome” of the early 16th century up until today.
If we follow this aspect, we shall find traces of it at the turn of the 19th century. Some people accused Rome of having been guilty for the decline of the “Imperial Church” because it did not move at all in order to save the old prince-bishoprics and imperial abbeys when the Holy Roman Empire collapsed – a stab-in-the-back myth avant le mot [before the word was created].
In this very context – the Congress of Vienna was in full swing – the diocesan administrator Ignaz Henrich von Wessenberg (Constance) developed the idea of a German National Church. A rebuilding out of the rubble then was meant also to overcome the confessional split and to achieve peace between State and Church.
Upon this foundation, then, the political unity of the nation was also to be built. It was, of course, very far away from reality when he [von Wessenberg] thought that such a national church would still be Catholic. In any event, he demanded a concordat with the Holy See – Napoleon’s example might have inspired him here. Wassenberg’s idea was that a German primate would thereby head a German church with loose connections with the Roman center… However, these ideas remained as mere ideas.
Admittedly, these ideas still occupied the minds, when they were revived during the emergence of a new German sense of nationality around the revolutionary year of 1848 when the Frankfurt National Assembly took place [“Paulskirchenjahr”].
It was Professor Ignaz von Döllinger – who was already highly respected at the age of 50 – who, with a tinge of awareness of the problem – said: “The largest part of the Catholics who, in their appreciation of German nationality, have wished for a national church, did not enter into any contradiction to the Catholic Church.” However, this Church historian from Munich overlooked here the meteor-like phenomenon of “German Catholicism” – or perhaps he intentionally ignored it? – which at the time troubled the religious landscape.
There were two chaplains – Ronge and Gersky – who were separated in matters of faith and with regard to celibacy and who went ahead and founded, in protest against the “Holy Shroud Pilgrimage” in Trier in the year 1844, their “German-Catholic church.” It found considerable approval in the north and in the west of the Empire.
“Ha! I am trembling in that we are already so close! But now it is over. The great success has come, the progress of this century has been secured. The genius of Germany is already reaching for the laurel wreath, and Rome has to fall!” Thus spoke Johannes Ronge.
Well, it was not Rome that fell. Around 1860, no one spoke of him anymore. That he indeed had some success with his ideas was not only due to the continued influence of the Enlightenment. It was the national sentiment that was emerging in the Romantic Era and with its admiration of the Middles Ages, which also highlighted the broken religious unity in Germany. To regain that unity seemed then to be a worthy goal: one German nation, one German national church.
These were ideas which remained alive here and there, until Bismarck’s Kulturkampf created a completely new situation. The state according to Hegel’s understanding could not incorporate the “alien element, the Catholic Church” and therefore it made use of force. In this situation that was life-threatening for German Catholicism – bishops were imprisoned or expelled, hundreds of priests were removed from their offices and also imprisoned – the German Catholics rallied unanimously around Rome, around the Pope – those Catholics who were too loyal to the state soon found their “church” to be in the [schismatic] Old Catholic Church.
Now Ultramontanism – whose forerunners always stressed the universality of the Church and her loyalty toward the state, while at the same time clearly rejecting every form of nationalism, and especially the Prussian militarism – bore its fruits: an impressive revival of popular piety, a loyalty toward the Catholic Faith, to the bishops, and to the much-cherished Pope – it was Pius IX.
To put it briefly: the consciousness of being part of the Church of Jesus Christ that spanned the whole world did not give any scope for national-ecclesial thinking.
However, there took place one relapse – with serious consequences for German theology – that can be seen in the conduct of some German bishops and Catholic intellectuals in the Modernism crisis at the turn to the 20th century. The philosophy of German Idealism – which is fixed on human consciousness – and its connection with evolutionary thought had led to the result that one regarded religion as a product of the depth of the human soul which develops from one stage to the next higher one in the course of evolution and that religion therefore is subject to change. From today’s perspective, one might consider some of the actions on the part of “Rome” in those years to have been rigid, but one cannot put into doubt the danger of these ideas – which one since then summarizes with the name of “Modernism” – which were indeed undermining the foundations of the Faith
That Pius X here pulled the emergency brake in this situation by demanding from theology teachers that they make the Oath Against Modernism, one should not demean or ridicule it as an expression of “Roman alarmism.” It can, instead, astonish us that, of all people, the German theology professors were excluded from fulfilling this demand. They feared for their freedom in teaching and research, whose loss would have exposed them to some disdain in the academic world.
Well, it is a German Sonderweg [separate path]. It was in a large part due to the outbreak of the First World War and, in its wake, due to the “Third Reich” and the victory of National Socialism that a fundamental debate about Modernism within German theology never took place. After the catastrophe and the recovery of Germany, and in the run-up to the Second Vatican Council, however, the Modernism problem re-emerged with a new intensity.
One is tempted to think that, with the announcement of the Council, John XXIII opened the German “Pandora’s Box.” What had continued to smoulder under the blanket since the unresolved Modernism crisis, now broke out visibly, loudly, and with new vehemence. The German Catholic Convention of the consequential year of 1968 became the stage for angry, vulgar protests against Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, whose prophetic character is more and more being recognized today.
In the same year, the German Bishops’ Conference tried to calm the waves by relativizing the encyclical’s ban on artificial contraception. This had some superficial success; Cardinal Döpfner, the President of the West-German Bishops’ Conference, did not pass on to the addressees – and thus misappropriated – some letters from Cardinal Bengsch who, in the name of the bishops of the GDR [German Democratic Republic, Eastern Germany], called for support of the encyclical. An unbelievable event!
Thus it came to the “Königstein Declaration,” which left it up to the decision of conscience of the spouses whether they use contraceptive means or practices, or not. None of the subsequent Popes succeeded with their demand that the decisions [of the German bishops] of the time would be corrected. The German episcopacy remained in resistance against the Papal Magisterium.
In this anti-Roman atmosphere, soon there emerged the “Common Synod of the German Dioceses” in the years 1971-1975. It clearly broke with the synodal tradition of the Church, both with its statutes and with its agenda, because it gave equal voting rights to lay people who had the same number of members at the synod as the bishops and priests. With this decision, conflicts became unavoidable. Here, we may recall only the debates concerning the lay homily. Professor Joseph Ratzinger and Prelate Karl Forster – who was at the time the secretary of the Bishops’ Conference – left the synod under protest.
Finally, we might also recall the Cologne Declaration of the year 1989, “Against the Deprivation of the Right to Decide [“Entmündigung] – for an open Catholicity,” which was signed by 200 theologians. First, it was a protest against the appointment of Cardinal Meisner as archbishop of Cologne, but then it turned against “Rome’s” Magisterium as such.
John Paul II received an even stronger resistance when he forbade the Church’s counseling centers for pregnant women from giving out the “counseling certificate” which was by law a precondition for a legal abortion, which was de facto a death sentence for the unborn children.
One cannot anymore understand today that there arose such strong and insistent resistance on the part of most of the German bishops, especially of Cardinal Lehmann and Bishop Kamphaus. Only from the year 2000 on, one decided to obey the Pope. Nevertheless, there was still resistance which led to the creation of the association Donum Vitae – a truly cynical name – which continued to give out the counseling certificates.
If one then adds the Church Referendum and the formation of protest groups such as We Are Church, as well as the degeneration of the formerly loyal Catholic organizations – not to forget the Marxist infiltration of the Association of the German Catholic Youth – then one can see the extent of the centrifugal dynamic, with the help of which the “National Catholicism” (what a “contradictio in terminis”) has distanced itself after World War II from the Rome of Pius XII. That Rome was in 1945 the only international authority that had reached out its hand to the destroyed Germany when it re-entered the community of free nations.
Today, however, the “German Church” – the German Bishops’ Conference – tries to influence the Universal Church. Are not Emanuel Geibel’s stanzas of the poem “Germany’s Vocation” (from the year 1861) once more here of interest: “… then the fisher from Rome in vain casts out his nets … and the world may not once be healed by the German being?” One may compare the answering letter of the President of the German Bishops’ Conference to Cardinal Ouellet from 12 September 2019.
Such a claim of course has for a long time not been any more justified by special achievements of German theology. There are lacking today – except for a few remarkable exceptions – great names, as they existed around the time of the Second Vatican Council and they then were the foundation for the international reputation of German theology. Much less is German Catholicism characterized today by religious aliveness, since the Church statistics show a constant decline what pertains to Church attendance, use of the Sacraments, priestly vocations and so on.
In the meantime, it is rather the abundant money that flows from German Church tax desks into poorer regions of the Universal Church which lays the foundation for the German influence. That makes the arrogance even more embarrassing, with which the representatives of German Catholicism present themselves as school masters to the Universal Church.
It cannot be overlooked anymore: the phantom of a German national church shows itself more and more. Already in the middle of the 19th century, some people dreamed of a national council, which – that was already then the thought – would establish the unity of the nation on the religious level. But even if such ideas remained mere dreams: national isolation of the remnant of German Catholicism into a national church without nearly any ties to Rome would certainly be the surest path into the final decline.
One may only ask what, then, is left at all of “church,” where the nation, the state, is the true element of structuring, and the point of reference for the church.
In Scandinavia now, there are state churches which have abandoned for a long time the Apostolic Creed. In the Church of England, the Queen is the head of the church and the “Prime Minister” names the bishops. One cultivates a highly aesthetic ritual, and everybody believes whatever he wants. A similarly close connection with the state can be seen in the “autocephalous” churches in the areas of the Byzantine culture.
However, in light of these or similar models of “churches,” one has to present the simple fact that Jesus Christ speaks of His Church in the singular. His Apostle Paul, who calls the Church the – of course unique – Body of Christ, did the same.
It is therefore nearly absurd when, at a time where the whole world speaks of globalism, there takes place within the Church a self-destructive, national particularism. The attempt to have a German Sonderweg has now also to be seen in light of such reflections.