Over time, the Christian Religion has separated into many different branches. The red lines in the adjoining chart show the Roman Catholic branch with its Western and Eastern Rites. The chart shows the division that took place in the 16th century, when German Catholics led by Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation. That division resulted in the creation of the branches labeled Anglicanism, Protestantism, and Restoration. Now five centuries later, the German Catholic Church may be pushing towards a new schism, a new separation. After shocking reports exposed many sexual abuse cases by the German clergy, the German Church felt a call to action. The German bishop’s conference announced in 2019 that they are going to hold a two-year “binding synod process” to address and reform universal Church teaching and discipline. That announcement put them on a collision course with the Vatican. Issues they say they will discuss at the synod range from clerical celibacy to women’s ordination, to same-sex unions. The German bishop’s conference has been in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics who hold opposite views on all of these issues from those of the Church. The Vatican made great efforts to try and change the German’s course of action. Pope Francis himself wrote an open letter to the whole Germany Church, warning them of a false synodality (discussion) which is rooted in making the Church conform to modern secular morals and thought. He said such reforms and modernization would have no soul and could ultimately lead to the fragmentation of the Church. He asked them to rework their proposed synod. The German’s did not listen. Other Vatican officials, gave explicit warnings to the Germans, first in private and then in public, telling them that their plans look to be a challenge to the universality of Catholic teaching and discipline, and not valid. However, the German bishops openingly defied Pope Francis and began their first session of the “binding” synod on January 30th, 2020. The secretary of the German bishops’ conference Fr. Hans Langendörfer, SJ, said that it is “unacceptable” that Rome continue to have full discretion over universal teaching and discipline. He called for other regions to follow the German’s example and force a new model on the Church. The German defiance is led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who is one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers, is on the council of cardinals, and chairman of the Vatican’s economic council. But the synod does not have unanimous support from all the German bishops. It is expected that after the two year synod, the matters will come to a head and either Pope Francis will force the Germans back in line, or he may give them their way. It is unclear what will happen. But the new apostolic constitution which still has not been produced by the Vatican is said to may have a provision which directly bears on the German proposal of going their own way. The draft of the constitution speaks of giving “genuine doctrinal authority” to national bishop’s conferences. It is said that Cardinal Marx had much to do with that wording, and if that wording stays in the final version of the constitution then it would essentially validate the German synod process. The German bishops may be trying to box Pope Francis in, and he may be forced to have an open confrontation with them eventually. Anyway, it is said numbers wise, that the German Church is no longer very important as a global player in Catholicism, and also no longer that important as a theological powerhouse. Catholicism is still the single biggest faith with 23.6 million people registered as being Catholic in 2016 but only 10% attend Church regularly. But despite declining numbers, the Catholic (and Protestant) Church makes billions by collecting the church tax , 9% of a person’s income. So the German Church is a financial power, and if the Vatican’s finances are in disarray, the Germans may have an above normal degree of influence.
Fr. Joseph Antony Sebastian
St. Joachim Church
21255 Hesperian Blvd Hayward, CA, USA 94541
Office Phone: 510 783 2766