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Cardinal Reinhard Marx warmly greets Pope Francis during the German bishops' November 2022 ad limina visitVatican News/screenshot


VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — It is becoming increasingly clear that Pope Francis is not only permitting but encouraging dissident bishops to continue promoting non-Catholic actions, a fact which is rapidly accentuating the risk of a formal schism within the Catholic Church.

The past few weeks have seen various ad limina visits made by bishops’ conferences to Rome, with bishops from the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium visiting in successive weeks. With good reason, however, the chief focus has been on the German and Belgian bishops, who both arrived at the Vatican having made headlines for their public assault on the immemorial and unchanging teachings of the Catholic Church. 

As the dust falls with all the bishops now returned to their respective homelands, they are not returning with heads hanging in shame, admonished for their very public resistance to Catholicism. Rather, the Catholic bishops from Germany and Belgium have been supported in their heterodoxy by Pope Francis himself, both in his private meetings and in the ineffective statements made by his Dicasterial heads.

Germany Synodal Way proceeds with Pope’s support

From November 14 through 19 the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) visited Rome, amid heightened speculation of a showdown between the bishops and the Vatican over Germany’s controversial Synodal Way. The Synodal Way, launched in December 2019, promotes a number of contraventions of Catholic teaching on topics such as homosexuality, female deacons, and contraception.

The Synodal Way, set to last into 2023, has been criticized by numerous prelates including Cardinal George Pell, and looks to “change” Catholic teaching on many areas of sexuality. It hopes to open the door to approving “practiced homosexuality” and female deacons, and advocates masturbation and contraception.

However, this did not phase Pope Francis from lending his support to the German bishops driving this heterodoxy.

READ: German Synodal Way proceeds after bishops ‘encouraged’ by meeting with Pope Francis

Meeting with Francis on November 17 “encouraged us,” stated DBK president Bishop Georg Bätzing. Bätzing added that when speaking with the Pope, the “different positions within our Bishops’ Conference were presented.”

In response, Pope Francis reportedly stated that “tension is necessary,” and compared the German bishops’ experience to his own in the Vatican:

He [Francis] also spoke of the tension he experiences and the fact that courage and patience are needed to find a solution. Our discussions in Rome were tough but civil and we sensed that dialogue can – and indeed did – succeed in this way. 

As the liberal, German Catholic news outlet Herder Korrespondenz wrote: “Pope Francis expressed no objections to completing it [Synodal Way] as planned.”

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Pope skips meetings and Vatican commits to ‘dialogue’

In what Bätzing described as a classic “clever Jesuit” tactic, Francis did not appear at the joint meeting on November 18 between himself, the German bishops and the Curial heads. Instead, Cardinals Ladaria Ferrer, Pietro Parolin, and Marc Ouellet – prefects of the CDF, the Secretariat of State, and of the Dicastery for Bishops respectively – went face to face with the German episcopacy. 

READ: German Synodal Way approves text calling homosexual acts ‘not sinful’ and ‘not intrinsically evil’ 

Ladaria and Ouellet both delivered lengthy speeches to the DBK, referring chiefly to the Synodal Way. Ladaria raised and expanded on “five concrete concerns” about the Synodal Way, yet closed by seemingly pardoning the German bishops of any fault in their Synodal Way’s proposals, saying: 

And in truth, this is exactly what your sincere and heartfelt desire demands, to be more and more a Church in which all can feel at home, in which all can feel part of one family, a Church in which God reveals his face to all as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ouellet likewise initially criticized the bishops in his speech. The Canadian cardinal warned the Synodal Way risked “changing the church” which “violates the Church community because it sows doubts and confusion among the people of God.”

Ouellet also proposed a “moratorium” on the Synodal Way – something which the German bishops directly refused. 

READ: Pope calls for an end to ‘intransigent defense of tradition’

With the relevant statements made, both by Bätzing and the relevant Curial officials, the ad limina drew to a close, and hours later a joint statement from the Vatican and the DBK was released. It ended with the words:

It was agreed that mutual listening and dialogue should continue in the coming months, so that they may contribute to the enrichment of the German Synodal Way and the universal Synod of the Church.

All the lengthy eloquence used by the Roman Curial cardinals, simultaneously criticizing and supporting the German episcopacy, proved almost pointless. Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen highlighted this fact a few days later, saying that “an authoritative ‘stop’ can no longer be prescribed here” regarding the Synodal Way, since the Church was now a “hearing Church.”

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In the space of a few days, the much anticipated German visit was over. The Roman Curia had been proven ineffective in preventing the Synodal Way from proceeding, arguably relinquishing much of its own authority in the process, as seen in the joint statement and commitment to “listening and dialogue.” 

Moreover, Pope Francis had sent a clear message not only to the DBK, but also to the Curia. By encouraging the Germans and aligning their struggles in pushing the Synodal Way with his own “tension” in the Vatican, Francis afforded the German episcopate n unexpected, but invaluable, trump card. 

READ: German bishops adopt new labor law allowing Church employees to live in same-sex relationships

Indeed, only days after leaving Rome, the DBK signaled its renewed boldness as it adopted new employment legislation allowing lay Church employees to live openly in same-sex or “re-married” relationships.

That same week, Bätzing also reiterated the DBK’s resolve to reject Catholic teaching, saying that he would not “accept an irrevocable ‘No’ from the Vatican” on the possibility of female ordination.

Clearly, Bätzing’s was making good on his statement to journalists in Rome when he declared that “we are Catholic and we will remain Catholic,” adding the clarification that “we want to be Catholic differently.” The former part of his declaration appears to be increasingly in doubt.

Scenes repeated with Belgian’s pro-homosexual episcopate

With the amassed prelates of the DBK having departed Rome on November 19, November 21 then saw the start of the Belgian bishops’ ad limina visit. Once again, Rome was host to a group of bishops actively promoting policies directly against the Catholic Church.

This time, the subject of contention was the issue of same-sex blessings, since only weeks ago the Dutch speaking bishops in Belgium took an unprecedented step and published a text for the “blessing” of same-sex couples, in violation of Catholic teaching.

READ: Catholic bishops in Belgium publish blessing ceremony for homosexual couples 

Yet Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, president of the bishops conference and Archbishop of Brussels, stated that this topic had not placed them on an ill footing with the Pope. Rather, De Kesel said that “the reception was invariably warm” from Francis. Such an atmosphere of welcome “was noticeable everywhere” said De Kesel.

Pope Francis meeting with the Belgian bishops, November 2022.

In fact, De Kesel stated that they talked with the Pope “about homosexual couples … about viri probati, we talked about the possibility of women’s diaconate.”

While the CDF ruled against same-sex “blessings” in 2021, De Kesel said that “in Rome we were able to talk about it [same-sex blessings] and we felt listened to.” A similarly positive account of the bishops’ meeting with the Pope is found. The official report on the bishops’ conference website describes the papal meeting as “a souvenir for life if possible.”

Upon leaving the meeting, the report states that the bishops are “Grateful for this Pope. Grateful for such a meeting.” Additional reports document the bishops describing their meeting with Francis as “unforgettable,” “impressive,” saying “what an experience!” and “what a pope we have!”

Belgians received even more warmly than Germans

Notably, while Ladaria and Ouellet’s speeches to the DBK were released by Vatican News days after the German visit concluded –perhaps in an attempt to save face after being thoroughly undermined by the German episcopate – there was no such publication of the Curial addresses to the Belgian bishops. 

Certainly, the Belgian bishops’ publication of a document advocating same-sex blessings necessitated explicit action from the CDF, whose 2021 responsum was thus directly rejected. Yet no such action appears to have been taken. 

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Cdl. De Kesel meeting Pope Francis, November 2022. Credit: Screenshot/Vatican News Facebook.

Could it be that the Roman Curia was already aware of Francis’ only partially-hidden support for the Belgian bishops? Indeed, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp claimed in September that he had spoken with Pope Francis and learned that their document proposing same-sex blessings met with the approval of the Pontiff. Such a factor could have played a role in the even more welcoming approach from the Curia. 

READ: Belgian bishop claims Pope Francis approves of blessing ceremony for homosexual couples

Another factor could have been the meeting Francis held on November 21 – the day the Belgian ad limina started – with the Dicasterial Heads of the Roman Curia. If he had been unimpressed with the Curial heads during the German bishops’ visit, Francis thus had the perfect opportunity to iron out any wrinkles before meeting the Belgian episcopate.

Regardless of the hidden politics doubtless involved in the machinations of the German and Belgian ad limina visits, one thing is clear: the confusion, error, and sin of the proposals advocated by both sets of bishops’ conferences has been firmly supported by Pope Francis in the past two weeks. 

Under Francis’ Pontificate, the Roman Curia appears to have surrendered its power and authority – or had them stolen – reserving penalties only for those Catholics faithful to the Tradition of the Church, not for those undermining the Catholic faith.