Maike Hickson

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Two German bishops announce they didn’t vote for controversial ‘synodal path’ statutes

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September 26, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Today, the German Bishops' Conference approved of the statutes and preamble of the synodal path as it is to be started in Advent of this year. The statutes had been heavily criticized by the Vatican, especially because the topics of the synodal path question matters that belong to the Universal Church, such as female ordination, celibacy, and sexual morality. Rome also cautioned that lay involvement in decision-making processes may be a violation of canon law.

However, after Cardinal Reinhard Marx spoke with Pope Francis in person, he received permission to continue the work of his project, especially after he convinced Rome that – in spite of earlier insistence that the synodal path was to be “binding” – the German bishops merely wish to prepare some reform proposals to present to Rome, for a continuation of the German synodal path on a Roman level. There is even talk about a new council.

Two German bishops – Cardinal Rainer Woelki and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer – have been prominently opposing the content and the structure of the German synodal path. They speak of a possible “path of destruction” (Voderholzer) and of “schism” (Woelki). 

Today, at the end of the German bishops' fall assembly in Fulda, they approved of the controversial statutes – most probably with slight changes – and of a new preamble which will have references to the importance of evangelization, as Pope Francis and the Vatican had requested. But the plan to establish four discussion forums questioning the Church's doctrines on celibacy, female ordination, and homosexuality, among others, will remain the same.

The statutes were approved by the majority of the 65 bishops, with 12 counter votes and one abstention.

The two above-mentioned resisting bishops, Woelki and Voderholzer, had recently proposed an alternative plan and statutes which would not have been open to questioning the Church's teaching, but, rather, which would have dwelt on the topic of evangelization. The German bishops rejected their plan. Woelki and Voderholzer have made it public that they voted against the controversial statutes of the synodal path today. 

Cardinal Woelki wrote on twitter: “I could not support the statutes in this form, but I do not wish to refuse the dialogue. Let us try to renew the Church together. But this has to be a renewal in the Faith, a renewal of our relationship with Christ!”

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer published a statement in which he also makes it clear that he voted against the statutes. 

Moreover, Voderholzer explains that he wishes to remain loyal to his oath and promises, as given two times in his life – once as a professor in Trier, and once in 2013, at his episcopal ordination. He then had promised “to present and defend the Catholic faith in an unabridged manner,” as he writes. “I feel bound to it [the promise] and I see that this promise is currently being especially challenged.”

With regard to the synodal path, Bishop Voderholzer says that he maintains as an option, “to exit it altogether, after some initial experiences.” But for now, he, like Woelki, does not wish to refuse to dialogue.

In his view, the focus of the current four discussion forums of the synodal path “seem to miss the reality of the crisis of faith in our country.” The “primacy of evangelization,” as the Vatican also said, should be at the center of the debates. “I can only regret that this alternative plan [as proposed by Voderholzer and Woelki] has not received the support of a majority of my fellow bishops.”

Furthermore, Bishop Voderholzer wishes to give witness to the public “that there exists at least a minority of bishops (and from a historical point of view, which one day will look upon the fact that at least there ‘existed’ a minority), which was filled with the concern that the true problems are not being addressed and that even more frustration is created by inviting certain expectations and hopes.”

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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.