(Maike Hickson, Life Site News – February 5, 2020) Dissident German prelates have expressed outrage over the Vatican’s former head of doctrine comparing the German bishops’ controversial “synodal path” to Hitler’s seizure of power to become a dictator. Progressive bishops and clergymen have strongly criticized German cardinal Gerhard Müller for the comparison. His comments have received much media coverage in Germany.
Two days ago, LifeSiteNews published comments by Müller on last weekend’s first synodal assembly of the “synodal path” in Germany which is organized by the German Bishops’ Conference and a major Catholic lay organization and which aims at questioning the Church’s sacramental and moral teaching.
Since the 230 members of the synodal assembly decided to allow also those proposals of the four smaller discussion forums that contradict the Church’s teaching to be presented to the general assembly, the German cardinal and former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith compared this event with the Enabling Act of Adolf Hitler which legally repealed the Weimar Constitution and gave plenary powers to Hitler, thus legally establishing his dictatorship.
Müller said: “This is like the situation when the Weimar Constitution was repealed by the Enabling Act. A self-appointed assembly, which is not authorized by God nor by the people it is supposed to represent, rescinds the Constitution of the Church of Divine Right, which is based on the Word of God (in Scripture and Tradition).”
A spiritual adviser of the members of the synodal path, a key organizer of the synodal path, and several bishops have now made statements, specifically rejecting Cardinal Müller’s comments. All of them are representative of the progressive wing of the Catholic Church in Germany that is about to overhaul the Church’s sacramental, hierarchical, and moral structure of the Catholic Faith and teaching.
First, Father Bernd Hagenkord, S.J., who just recently left his leading position at Vatican News in Rome in order to return to Germany and to become the spiritual advisor of the members of the German synodal path, sharply criticizes Müller’s words as “poisonous.”
“He who makes such a comparison,” he states on his blog, “either has no historical knowledge or intentionally acts in order to poison any debate.” Müller’s comments, he continues, are “inhuman.” “This is not a critique anymore,” the Jesuit explains, adding that these are “unacceptable methods.” “This is not the Church anymore,” he writes. Cardinal Müller, in Hagenkord’s view, is the “limit” of acceptable criticism. “There is much to criticize,” writes the German priest. “The synodal path needs criticism, from within and without. Even if it does not suit everyone, what Bishops Woelki and Oster, for example, contribute, they are important voices which belong to it. But the whole thing has limits. One limit is called Gerhard Ludwig Müller.” Thus, Hagenkord declares that Cardinal Müller is excluded from the acceptable discourse.
In his post, Hagenkord also mentions in a critical way Bishop Athanasius Schneider, whose name he refuses even to mention (“a completely unknown auxiliary bishop in Astana, Kazakhstan – check it out where it is to be found”). He explicitly says he would not even provide a link to Bishop Schneider’s words about Cardinal Marx’ “heresies.” Bishop Schneider’s strong critique of the German synodal path can be found here.
Returning to the critics of Cardinal Müller, a second voice is Professor Thomas Sternberg, the President of the German Committee of Lay Catholics (ZdK), who, together with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, leads the synodal path. Sternberg and Marx have been accused of steering and manipulating the synodal path in such a way that it does not represent the German Catholics at large, but, rather the organized, politicized form of German Catholicism. (One example is that an internet survey among 5,000 Catholics in Germany showed that hardly anyone asked for female ordination; yet this is one of the key points on the agenda of the synodal path.) It is exactly this way of operating that has caused many observers to think of a sort of political take-over of the Catholic Church that is taking place in Germany right now. This is what Cardinal Müller described with the words: “This political conversion of the Church is the turning away from her religious mission.”
Sternberg comments on Cardinal Müller with the words: “There is a sort of criticism that judges itself. This is so far away from reality that it cannot be taken seriously.” The German professor adds that Cardinal Müller opposes “the great agreement of Catholic faithful and the great majority of the episcopal fellow brothers.”
The General Vicar of Essen, Klaus Pfeffer, called Cardinal Müller’s remarks “destructive,” saying he was “stunned” by them.
Bishop Franz Jung (Würzburg) adds his critical voice, saying that the comparison made by the German cardinal is “misplaced.” Such comparisons are not helpful, according to this bishop, adding that the synodal path is “based on votes,” and one has “to stand by them.”
The problem with the bishop’s words, however, is that strong evidence shows that the synodal path is exactly not representative. The small leadership cadre of the synod has determined beforehand that there will be four discussion forums dealing with “power,” “women in leadership roles,” “sexuality,” and “priestly life.” They also already picked groups of experts who wrote preparatory documents, thus channeling and steering the discussion even before the synodal path even started.
As LifeSiteNews reported, one of these preparatory documents questions the Church’s teachings on cohabitation, homosexuality, contraception, gender theory, and masturbation.
Another preparatory document proposes to discuss female ordination. This document proposes to admit women to all leadership positions in the Church and also to sacramental ordination. With regard to this topic, the document asks: “Is there at all a possibility to gain, with human power of knowledge, certainty about the Will of God in this matter?” Even though Pope John Paul II had, in a definitive manner, ruled out in 1994 the priestly ordination of women, the German experts of the synodal path still question this matter.
Dorothea Schmidt – a representative of the conservative group “Maria 1.0” – participated at the January 30 – February 1 first assembly of the synodal path in Frankfurt and then published a diary of the three-day event, describing how much the entire event was steered and managed by the synodal path leadership. Seeing these political machinations, she called out: “That is not Church, that is politics!” In further comments to the German newspaper Die Tagespost, Schmidt speaks of “manipulation.”
As in politics, Schmidt explains in her diary, “there is a rough tone.” During the second day of the synodal meeting which mainly discussed procedural aspects of the synodal path that is to take place during the period of the next two years, “the impression grew in me that everything had already been arranged, discussed and planned in advance.”
She describes the atmosphere of the synodal discussions and how the minority of “preservers” were treated: “We who are committed to the spiritual renewal of the Church are kept small, our right to speak is restricted, and we have been presented with a fait accompli. While those calling for reform were listened to and speaking time was extended, the preservers are asked to leave the microphone immediately. All that was left to do was to turn off the tap, i.e. turn off the microphone, because I did not let myself be shot down.”
Another excerpt of this diary from a Catholic woman further strengthens the impression that there are, indeed, parallels to some undemocratic events in history: “For I also missed justice and democratic action: the 30 to 35 participants in the four synodal forums were not announced until the last minute. About 30 members of the General Assembly were not chosen as forum participants. Instead, 15 of the preparatory forums were automatically included in the new group. Only five people could be elected to each forum – all others had already been pre-selected. Is this what the much-praised participation looks like? Everything was supposed to start from scratch, as if the preparation had not existed. And even the texts that were written at the end of the preparatory forums were given to us in advance. Should they now, after all, form the basis for further considerations? I am afraid that is how it will be.”
According to Professor Ulrich Lehner, a German theologian and professor at Notre Dame University, it is obvious that the results of this synodal path which will take place for the next two years are already prepared. He commented on Twitter on this first synod assembly in Frankfurt, saying: “One could save a lot of time and energy and money if Cardinal Marx would just publish the ‘outcome’ of the #SynodalWay – after all, it’s already written and in his drawer. China could not have organized a synod better.”
Finally, one may also ask why those promoters of the synodal path do not have a similar strong indignation when it comes to the questioning of the Church’s Permanent Magisterium on sacramental, hierarchical, and moral matters. After all, they are all called, before God and by virtue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, to preserve the Catholic Faith whole and entire and to pass it on to the faithful, for the sake of their salvation. Much is at stake.