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Cardinals Schönborn and Marx converse in the Synod Hall. Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Maike Hickson

Opinion, ,

German and Swiss bishops hail Synod’s new tone welcoming those in sinful unions

Maike Hickson

November 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Both of the official websites of the German and the Swiss Bishops' Conferences, katholisch.de and kath.ch, have published numerous articles commenting upon the Synod of Bishops on the Family and its Final Report, as it was consensually approved by the bishops in Rome on October 24, 2015.

The tendency of both websites is the same. Both are rejoicing about the fact that the language of the Synod's document does not speak of sin and a deeper need for conversion anymore, but, rather, welcomes people in different life situations – independently of the prior questions as to whether their ways of life are sincerely and actually in accordance with God's Laws or not.

In the following, I will give a few representative examples.

Most importantly, the German Bishops' Conference organized a press meeting on the same day as the approval of the Final Report, October 24. Among the speakers were the more progressive-leaning prelates of Germany and Austria, such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, and Archbishop Heiner Koch, all of whom have consistently proposed a more liberal attitude toward the remarried divorcees and homosexual unions.

Cardinal Schönborn insisted in his own presentation concerning the pastoral care of significantly different marital situations that it is now to be “about a careful examination, an accompaniment.” He stressed that there is a “variety of situations which have to be examined carefully” and that “one needs an accompaniment which allows differentiations.” Schönborn later also spoke about the “homosexual partnership” which “is a partnership, not a marriage.” He said that the Church wanted to keep this distinction. He continued: “That, of course, does not mean that we reject civilly registered partnerships [civil unions]. That, indeed, has to be properly organized and regulated.”

While Cardinal Marx pointed out that there will now be a “stronger integration” of “remarried” divorcees into the life of the Church, such as being godparents at baptisms, Bishop Bode was the most outspoken. He said: “The great step of this Synod does not lie in the determining of the little details. […] When the space has been opened up as it has now been described [in the document], nothing is anymore to be seen about speaking of sin or of something contrary to nature – none of that is in there. I am very glad that this whole document has been approved with a two-thirds majority, right up to the most delicate parts.” This approval might be for some only a little step, Koch said, “but, for me, this is a great step.”

Archbishop Koch stressed that it was important at this Synod to build up trust among the bishops who were at times suspicious of a quasi-colonializing attitude of the Germans toward the African bishops and their positions. “We have gained trust. And we would not again start at the same point where we had started three weeks ago, if we were to start again today,” said Koch.

Moreover, for the German Professor Eberhard Schockenhoff – who had been one of the speakers at the controversial May 25 “Shadow Council” at the Gregorian University in Rome – the Synod also represents a great sign of progress. On October 25, he gave an interview to the German bishops' website, katholisch.de, in which he – like the other above-quoted speakers at the German press conference – praised the Synod's final document as a “great step ahead.” He said that the pope's encouragement toward an increase of decentralization within the Church encouraged the “German Bishops' hope for more freedom of action.” The compromise between the different participants in the German-speaking group at the Synod was for Schockenhoff of great importance because it “opens up the idea of a case-by-case approach” with regard to the “remarried” divorcees. “In this matter, this is a great step ahead.”

With regard to the very liberal approach in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, Germany, Schockenhoff said that this diocese and others can now rightfully say that their “practice of finding individual solutions [with regard to the “remarried” divorcees] is in accordance with the Universal Church's rules.” Herewith, he implies that the practice of allowing “remarried” divorcees to receive Holy Communion – as is currently the practice in the Diocese of Freiburg – is now also supported by the Synod's own message. With regard to homosexual unions, Schockenhoff stressed that “at least, they are not being excluded and condemned at all anymore. There is, after all, now another tone than before.”

Another speaker of the 25 May “Shadow Council,” the Swiss Professor Eva-Maria Faber, of Chur, has a similar assessment and praise of the Synod's final document. She said in an interview with the official website of the Swiss bishops, kath.ch: “There may not be anymore any generalizing judgments concerning different life situations, but it is now to be about looking at what people experience in these situations, and also, how they suffer in these situations.” Therefore, one has to accompany people – such as “remarried” divorcees – on their path, according to Faber.

Faber also stressed – just as Bishop Bode has done – that the language of the Church has changed: “It is striking that in the [Synod's] text, one now uses the expression 'complex situations' whereas in former times, one would have likely used the expression 'irregular situations.' In the preparation for this Synod, Pope Francis has distanced himself from this notion of an 'irregular situation' because it implies a generalizing condemnation.” Faber, therefore, also sees a “positive perspective” in this Synod's final document.

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