Maike Hickson

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Cardinals Schönborn and Marx converse in the Synod Hall. The latter is German. Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

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Canon lawyer: Vatican should, after a warning, punish German bishops, ‘excommunication’ possible

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October 2, 2019 update: US canon Lawyer Edward Peters has stated on his Oct. 1 blog that he finds Weishaupt's assertion that prelates should receive a canonical warning who propose ordination of women "quite soundly argued." He stated: "In particular, I agree with Weishaupt that the exclusion of women from priestly ordination was declared infallibly by Pope St. John Paul II in Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), that such a ruling must be definitively held by all the faithful as a 'secondary object of infallibility' (1983 CIC 750 § 2), and that opposition to this ruling makes one liable to sanction under Canon 1371 n. 1. A canonical warning to the German bishops on this point is therefore canonically, and pastorally (bishops have souls, too), in order."

September 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Father Gero P. Weishaupt, a German priest with a doctorate in canon law, just wrote a commentary in light of the recent fall assembly of the German bishops. At this assembly, they decided to start a “synodal path” questioning the Church's teaching on celibacy, the all-male priesthood, and homosexuality, among others.

Two German prelates – Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer – strongly oppose this controversial choice of topics for the “synodal path,” and Voderholzer announced already that he might at some point leave this event.

Dr. Weishaupt entitled his own commentary on the problem of the “synodal path” To Take Seriously the Penal Law, which already indicates the theme of his text.

Weishaupt received his doctorate from the Gregoriana in Rome and since then has served as judge at diocesan tribunals, as a curial secretary in Rome, as a Latin expert for Radio Vatikan (the German section of Vatican Radio), as a professor at the Benedict XVI University Heiligenkreuz (Austria), and as the editor of the Catholic website Kathnews.

Right at the beginning of his article, Weishaupt makes it clear that the discussion about the possibility of “ordaining” female “priests” is a “questioning of a definitive, infallible and unchangeable doctrine of the Church.” The “unending” discussion in Germany on this matter is therefore “a criminal offense.”

“The Apostolic See would now have to admonish the majority of the German Bishops’ Conference and the members of the Central Committee of German Catholics [ZdK, a lay organization that takes a leading role in the ‘synodal path’] and, should there be no revocation, then to sanction them with a penalty.”

Weishaupt makes it clear that, “he who wishes to discuss a topic, puts the object of the discussion into question, otherwise, a discussion would be superfluous.”

After some detailed explanations of a 1998 document by Pope John Paul II as to the nature of different infallible doctrines (those that are part of the deposit of the faith as revealed by God and those which are infallible without the Church saying that they “have been revealed by God”), Dr. Weishaupt explains that Pope John Paul II, for the “protection of these definitive doctrines of the faith which are most intimately connected with the revealed deposit of the faith, in a historical and logical manner,” had also established penal norms.

Those Catholics who reject a doctrine and don’t recant that rejection should be punished. (can. 1371 § 1) Accordingly, can. 750 § 2 explains that everything has to be held “that has been presented by the Magisterium of the Church concerning faith and morals as being definitive.” He who rejects these teachings finds himself in “resistance to the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Dr. Weishaupt then presents to his readers Pope John Paul II's 1994 document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which the Pope writes, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

Since the German bishops and some members of the ZdK have already declared that they wish to discuss the matter of female “priests,” Weishaupt continues, this decision is “an act of disobedience toward the Pope and the Church's Magisterium,” to include a “rejection of an infallible, definite doctrine.”

 “Therefore,” he explains, “the criminal offense according to can. 1371 § 1 is fulfilled.”

“It would now be the duty of the Apostolic See first to admonish those bishops of the German Bishops' Conference who wish to discuss this doctrine, as well as the members of the Zdk, according to the precepts of can. 1371 § 1,” Weishaupt states.

“If, on the part of the majority of the German bishops and of the ZdK, there does not follow a recantation,” the canon lawyer continues, “there should be imposed upon them a ‘just penalty,’ which does not exclude the excommunication of the concerned bishops and of the members of the ZdK, as well as, in reference to bishops, the removal from the episcopal office as the highest form and ultima ratio of ecclesial penalties.”

Weishaupt explains that, since the outbreak of the sex abuse crisis in the Church, the Church's penal law has been “rediscovered,” “after it had been gravely neglected in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.” 

“The abuse crisis,” the canon law expert continues, “led to a deepened insight that penalties are necessary.”

He also draws a connection to the German “synodal path” and its questioning of dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church, saying that such questioning also “damages the Church.”

“It will be seen,” Dr. Weishaupt concludes, “whether the Church will apply in a resolute manner the penal law with regard to the ‘synodal’ discussion of the definitively settled doctrine that the priestly ordination can only be conferred on men.”

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.