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Cardinal Gerhard Müller

February 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In comments to LifeSiteNews, Cardinal Gerhard Müller strongly criticizes the first official assembly of the German bishops’ “synodal path,” comparing it with the Enabling Act of the German National Socialists in 1933 and saying that it “rescinds the Constitution of the Church of Divine Right,” thereby turning away from the Church's “religious mission.”

The German synodal path has established four discussion forums which aim at questioning the Church's teaching and discipline regarding important matters such as female “ordination,” celibacy, homosexuality, and contraception. The first assembly gathered in Frankfurt from January 30 to February 1, with 230 synodal members present. On the second day of their meeting, the synodal assembly approved of its standing order which gives much weight to lay people and women (every vote has to be approved by a majority of the female members). 

These standing orders have now been approved by more than 90% of the synodal members. They now request that a proposal can pass when two-thirds of the bishops and the synodal assembly approve of it, next to the approval of the majority of female members.

One of the key decisions of that meeting was that the members rejected a proposal of some five conservative bishops – among them Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer – who asked on Friday that decisions which are contrary to the Church’s teaching not be passed on to the synodal assembly for a final vote.

According to the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, the five bishops had requested that the discussion forums ought to have a unanimous consent on a vote, instead of a simple majority (51%) as first foreseen by the synodal rules. The bishops wrote as such about the proposed unanimous consent:

“This is given when all agree to the text or at most three persons of the members present vote against it. It is not given if at least four persons are against it or if there is a contradiction between the text and the teaching of the Church. If the vote is negative three times, the original text cannot be used further in the Synodal Path.”

It is obvious that these German bishops had tried to assure that the synodal path only vote on matters that are in line with the Church's permanent and definitive teachings.

In the subsequent debate on the five bishops’ proposal, other members insisted that all the proposals should be presented to the synodal assembly for a definitive and final vote and “should not be eliminated ahead of time.” But, this proposal thus was rejected by 87% (181 members) of the synodal assembly. Only 12% voted in favor of this minority proposal.

As different sources close to the situation have told LifeSiteNews, it seems that about 10 to 15% of the members of the synodal assembly – only about 30 out of 230 – are faithful to the Church's Magisterium and try to defend it at the meetings. 

The first assembly of the German synodal path took place from January 30 to February 1, 2020

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sees the gravity of the fundamental decisions made during the first synodal meeting when he comments to LifeSiteNews: “In a suicidal process, the majority decided that their decisions are valid even if they contradict Catholic doctrine.” 

He goes on to compare this decisions of the synodal assembly with the time of German history when Adolf Hitler, with the Enabling Act of 1933, overrode the Weimar Constitution and gave himself plenary powers, thus legally establishing his dictatorship. 

Comments Cardinal Müller: “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).”  

Cardinal Müller also comments on the fact that this German synodal assembly now actually allows lay people to have more voting members (52%) than bishops (who only represent 30% of the synodal members) and other clergymen together, thus overriding the bishops' own sacramentally given authority and mission to teach, sanctify, and govern. 

He states: “The basis of episcopal authority is no longer the ‘Apostles’ teaching' (Acts 2:42) and the ‘Apostolic authority to govern, teach, and sanctify the Church of God in the name of Christ’ (Lumen gentium 18- 27), but its administrative and disciplinary power over money and personnel, which they generously wish to share with lay functionaries.”

With piercing tones, the German cardinal describes this development as an abandonment of the Church's mission when he concludes: “This political conversion of the Church is the turning away from her religious mission. So: Forwards back to the past! The reactionary principle is: cuius pecunia eius ecclesia [‘he who has the money runs the Church’].”

As it turns out, there was much criticism during the first synodal assembly that the small leadership of this synod – Cardinal Reinhard Marx for the German bishops and lay Professor Thomas Sternberg for the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), together with their vice presidents  – actually had chosen most of the members of the discussion forums which are to come up with themes and proposals to be voted on by the general assembly. Cardinal Marx heads the German Bishops' Conference, and Sternberg represents an organization that is mainly composed of professed Catholics stemming from Catholic institutions such as diocesan councils, thus not specifically representing the Catholic people, but, rather, a corporate Catholicism.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx at the first assembly of the German synodal path

Rudolf Gehrig, a journalist working for CNA Deutsch who was present at the first synodal meeting in Frankfurt, published some strong criticisms of the German synodal path. He comments on the “autocratic style of discussion” when he says: “From the initiators from the spectrum of committee Catholicism a ‘democratization’ of the Church is demanded. Thomas Sternberg's ‘basta!’ policy and the partly autocratic discussion style is surprising and contradicts the self-conception of the 'Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken' (ZdK).” 

Gehrig also observes a certain “emotionality” in response to those who criticize and question the 2018 sex abuse study that is used by the German bishops as the reason for the synodal path. “The desire for a scientific second opinion [on the sex abuse crisis of the Church] has been rejected with emotional outrage and without factual arguments,” he writes. 

For Gehrig, “the suspicion that the abuse scandal is instrumentalized in order to push through the ‘reform plans’ that have long been cherished under the alleged motive of ‘prevention’ could not yet be refuted.” He also points out that an Internet survey among Catholics showed very little interest in female “ordination.” 

Professor Sternberg at the first assembly of the German synodal path

Comments the journalist: “The impression that the ordination of women [sic] is not dealt with theologically but is reduced to a purely power-political question remains an annoyance.” He also notices a “more or less open polemics against ‘conservative’ positions. Platitudes and insinuations against ‘the official church’ are repeated.” 

“A crisis of faith,” he continues, “is not or hardly ever being considered as a possible cause for the whole mess. However, obvious catechetical deficits, even among many of the participants in the discussion, substantiate this suspicion.” He concludes by saying that there is “mainly” talk about “the Church,” “but hardly about Jesus Christ.”

One German source who is close to the situation comments to LifeSite in an ironic tone: “For many, VV1 [the first general assembly] was a celebration. Greatest and brightest hopes are connected with it. Finally we can build a human church. Finally we are being praised in the Süddeutsche and the ZDF [German public-service television broadcaster]. Even the chairman of the Merkel Union [party of Chancellor Angela Merkel] joined the chorus of approval.” 

But he then adds some piercing remarks, comparing this synodal event in Germany with the building of the Tower of Babel: “When the Tower of Babel was built, during the building of the first 40 floors, there was also such determined enthusiasm when they pressed the bricks, they mixed the mortar and they hammered together the framework.”
“One must understand that,” concluded the German source. “So many people have waited for decades to finally trim the Church to the standards of our time.”

For 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 synodal 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.”

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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,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.