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Pope Francis warns German bishops: Changing doctrines is ‘unlawful’, causing churches to ‘rot and die’

Pope Francis warns German bishops: Changing doctrines is 'unlawful', causing churches to 'rot and die'
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Pope Francis on Thursday took a hit at the leadership of the Catholic Church in Germany, reminding believers in the country that German bishops have no authority to spread new theology or change church leadership.

The statement was released by the Holy See on Thursday morning. In the message, the pope expressed his concern for lay people and clergy in Germany if their leaders break with it established church teaching. The statement claimed that Catholics would be adversely affected by the many proposed changes to the church being pushed by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and other liberal German leaders on their “Synodal Path.”

The “Synodal Way” – sometimes also called “Synodal Way” – is a controversial church body in Germany. The synod, organized by the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics, wants to discuss and address four loose topics: sexual ethics, the structure of church government, the role of women in the church and the vocation to the priesthood.

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“In order to protect the freedom of the people of God and the exercise of the episcopal office, it seems necessary to make it clear that the ‘synodal path’ in Germany does not have the power to force the bishops and the faithful to new ways of governance and new approaches in doctrine and morals” , says the statement of the Holy See, “Until there is an agreed understanding at the universal Church level, it would not be permissible to initiate new official structures or teachings in the dioceses that would wound ecclesial communion and threaten the unity of the Church. “

Pope Francis is assisted by his aide-de-camp Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza (left) as he carries a cane to his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 1, 2022.

Pope Francis is assisted by his aide-de-camp Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza (left) as he carries a cane to his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican June 1, 2022.
(AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, file)

Marx, who chaired the committee, put forward proposals to change teachings on homosexuality, marriage, masturbation, women priests and more that go against the catechism of the Catholic Church.

A major change in the governance of the German Church or its belief system could push it into schism with the Holy See and thereby split from the Catholic Church. Such a conflict could prove disastrous for both German Catholics and the Catholic Church as a whole — thanks to a long-standing government “church tax,” the Catholic Church in Germany is perhaps the wealthiest branch of the institution.

Earlier this year, over 100 bishops from around the world sent an open letter to the German bishops, urging them to halt the synod and refrain from making unauthorized changes.

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Pope Francis has struggled to reconcile his firm grip on the Catholic hierarchy and his defense of Church doctrine with his explicit openness to the development of undogmatic Catholic traditions.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, celebrates the opening service of the conference at Fulda Cathedral, Germany, on Oct. 25, 2018

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, celebrates the opening service of the conference at Fulda Cathedral, Germany, on Oct. 25, 2018
(ARNE DEDERT/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Individual Catholic churches – sometimes called “particular churches” – maintain their own bishops and leaders. These regional church leaders are generally expected to act autonomously and manage their own affairs without direct intervention from the Pope. However, Pope Francis has been quick to rhetorically slam would-be reformers who risk ignoring Rome’s central authority over doctrinal or governance changes.

The pope reinforced this tightrope walk in his message to German Catholics. The statement on the German synod quotes a passage from Pope Francis’ “Letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany”, which states: “The universal Church lives in and from the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and prosper in and from the universal church. When they find themselves separated from the body of the Church, they weaken, rot, and die. Hence the need always to ensure that communion with the whole of the Church is alive and effective.”

The Bishop of Rome ended the message with an appeal to the “universal” nature of the Church and its need for worldwide cooperation – the term “Catholic” is Greek for “universal”.

Pope Francis wrote: “It is therefore to be hoped that the proposals of the path of the particular Churches in Germany will converge with the synodal path of the universal Church, for mutual enrichment and witness to that unity with which the body of the Church proclaims its fidelity to Christ the Lord .”

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Pope Francis’ episcopal philosophy has become more complicated than ever as the leader, who was once widely regarded as a solid progressive, is harder to categorize.

The Pope recently chose to appoint women to the Dicastery of Bishops for the first time in history, including two religious sisters and the head of several Catholic women’s organizations. He was notable for urging mercy and compassion for gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, declaring that they are all children of God and deserve respect. However, he has refused to support any form of gay marriage in the church, calling the institution a sacrament that cannot be changed.

Pope Francis has also refused to intervene in US politics, ignoring calls from members of the Catholic Church to specifically excommunicate President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both of whom claim to be Catholics despite being one support abortion policies.

The pope has slammed the president’s views as “incoherent” and told him to seek advice from his pastor, but he has hosted both Biden and Pelosi at the Vatican on numerous occasions.

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