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March 18, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – English Catholic Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth is calling on Pope Francis to “intervene” in the German Bishops’ Synodal Way “before it’s too late.” The Synodal Way proposes pastoral solutions on matters pertaining to sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women that depart from perennial Catholic teaching.
“Rome should intervene in the German Synodal Way before it’s too late,” tweeted Egan on March 14. “It’s right to work through hot-button issues, but at the same time Rome should reassert the doctrinal parameters, insisting that German Catholics look outwards to service and mission.”
The Bishop told Catholic News Agency in a March 17 interview that he fears the “Synodal Way” will lead to the German bishops’ “de facto schism” from the Catholic Church.
“My worry is that we are very close to the point of no return with this Synodal Way – when bishops and people will be promoting positions at variance with the universal magisterium and the Church’s discipline e.g. the ordination of women, intercommunion, etc,” he said.
“This will lead to a de facto schism that will be very difficult (and theologically complex) to repair,” he added.
Asked by CNA if he was calling for the Vatican to stop the Synodal Way entirely, Egan responded, “The ultimate weapon of course would be for Rome to ask the German bishops to close it down. I am not sure they would heed this.”
“The pope himself needs to intervene by giving authoritative teaching: this is the role of the Petrine ministry. He should also summon the German bishops to Rome and lay down more clearly for them an appropriate methodology,” he added.
Catholic leaders in Germany, however, have already received direction from Pope Francis and appear to be largely ignoring it. In 2019, the Pope sent a 30-page letter to the German bishops regarding the Synodal Way in which he pointed out doctrinal landmarks to be taken into account during the process. According to sources familiar with the letter, the Pope urged the bishops to seek unity with the Universal Church and to not leave the Catholic path. That same year, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops warned the German bishops that their plans were “not ecclesiologically valid.”
Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, warned in 2019 that the Synodal path could lead to “schism within the Church in Germany” to the point of it becoming a “German national church.”
The German bishops have already indicated that they do not look to Rome for moral guidance on pressing issues. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced this week that the Catholic Church cannot bless homosexual relationships since God “does not and cannot bless sin,” Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, who chairs the German Bishops’ Conference, said he was “not happy,” suggesting that the teaching will not be followed by the Church in Germany.
“This gives the impression that the theological debate, which is currently being debated in various parts of the universal Church, including here in Germany, is to be ended as quickly as possible,” he said as reported by Katholisch. Bätzing added that this is not possible at all “because the discussion is intense and with good arguments in many places, and the theological inquiries about pastoral practice today cannot simply be put out of the way with one word of power.”
Franz-Josef Overbeck, bishop of Essen, went even further, telling the Bild that, in spite of the ban on blessings for homosexual couples, he will “continue to accompany all people in pastoral care if they ask for it, regardless of the situation in life.”
A number of German priests appear to be following the lead of these bishops. Deutschen Welle reported that about 60 German priests signed a letter this week stating that they will defy the CDF’s teaching and bless homosexual couples. “In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership and bless their relationship in the future. We do not refuse a blessing ceremony.”
Egan said that as a Catholic bishop he has a duty to speak out about what he sees happening to the Catholic Church in Germany.
“As a bishop, I have a responsibility not just for the Church in this diocese but for the universal Church. I have German friends and, like me, they have been concerned with the Synodal Way and its process for some time,” he said.
“The manner in which it is set up will inevitably lead to conclusions that compromise and collide with the Church’s Tradition.”