Maike Hickson

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Cardinal Rainer Woelki

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German cardinal warns about country entering into ‘schism,’ becoming ‘German national church’

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September 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, describes in a new interview his recent visit to the United States, his impressions, and his many conversations with Catholics during his trip. Speaking to the local diocesan newspaper, Kirchenzeitung Köln, Woelki says that he feels “encouraged” by his visit in the U.S., but that also many people showed their concern about the developments in Germany.

 “Everywhere I was confronted with concern about the current developments in Germany,” he explains. “In many encounters, the concern was palpable that the 'synodal path' leads us onto a German separate path [“Sonderweg”], that we, at worst, even put at risk the communion with the Universal Church and become a German national church.” “Nobody can want this,” Woelki adds, “and so we should take seriously this warning.”

Many of those with whom he spoke in the U.S. “shook their heads” when seeing “that we in Germany seem to be ready willfully to change the deposit of the Faith as it has been entrusted to us, because we demand it so loudly,” the German prelate stated. 

Cardinal Woelki's interlocutors in the U.S. spoke “openly” about the “fear that thereby, it could come to a schism within the Universal Church or even to a schism within the Church in Germany.”

While Cardinal Woelki is aware that there are challenges in the U.S., as well, he noticed that “there, answers are being given based on the Faith of the Universal Church, and not in form of a unilateral path or of a theological overestimation of one's own abilities.”

Asked as to what these comments on the part of his U.S. interlocutors mean for him, Cardinal Woelki stated that “I feel strengthened in my attitude. I believe that the path as it is currently being taken in Germany bears great dangers – especially in light of a schism within the Church in Germany.”  Here, the prelate referred back to a recent letter written by Pope Francis which is addressed to the German Catholics and in which the Pope calls upon the Germans to preserve the Church's sense of the Faith.

Cardinal Woelki described in his interview how impressed he was by the Catholics in the U.S. and how there takes place a “new evangelization.” He noticed during his trip to Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City “how natural it is there to live as a Christian and Catholic. To be Catholic is nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, for many people whom I met it is a true joy to live their Catholicicity with a natural normality.” Woelki said.

Additionally, the German cardinal noticed how the flourishing parishes and religious orders that he visited had a “deep sacramental life.” 

“Eucharistic adoration, the Sunday Mass and the Holy Masses during the week are essentials in the parishes, the schools, and universities. Part of it is also the access to the Sacrament of Penance,” Woelki explained. The “sacramental is placed at the center of the pastoral care.” Such a spiritual life centered upon Christ Himself, Woelki later added, “leads to an attitude which encourages us also to stand against the mainstream.”

Cardinal Woelki, who visited at different places the Sisters of the Poor, the Sisters of Life, and the Franciscans of the Renewal, noticed that these religious communities are “young, dynamic communities” with a “life connected with the Eucharist.”

“I return home encouraged and I have concretely felt what it means to belong to the Catholic Universal Church,” Woelki concludes. “To have this connection surpassing all national borders is very precious, especially for us Germans. We should hold on to it.”

Cardinal Woelki is one of the few German bishops who have publicly expressed their resistance to the plans of the German Bishops’ Conference of a “synodal path” questioning the Church's teaching on celibacy, sexuality, and the role of women in the Church's ministries. In March of 2019, he stated that German preachers have “failed” when laity now calls for a change of the Church's teaching on sexuality. He then challenged his fellow Catholics, saying “To put it in a pointed way, the alternative before us is: either the de-secularization of the Church or the de-Christianization of the world, at least in that part of the world where we Germans live.”

Moreover, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, of Regensburg, has also made public his opposition to the German reform plans which well might include an impending Church blessing for homosexual couples, a new form of a female diaconate, as well as a widening of intercommunion. Voderholzer said in May of 2019 that this “synodal path” in Germany might very well turn out to be a “path of destruction.” 

“A synodal process,” he then explained, “which aims at inventing a new Church is a path of destruction," said Bishop Voderholzer while speaking at the Austrian monastery Heiligenkreuz on May 11. “It splits Christians apart, it cuts the Church into pieces and finally also damages our society and is a burden also for the Protestant communities.”

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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.