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Cardinal Marx: no ‘stop sign’ from Rome as German bishops open assembly

September 25, 2019

As the Catholic bishops of Germany opened an assembly that their leaders have planned as a “binding synodal process,” Cardinal Reinhard Marx said that they have received “no stop sign” from Rome, despite public cautions from the Vatican about their plans.

Cardinal Marx, the president of the German episcopal conference, told his colleagues that he had a “constructive encounter” last week with Pope Francis. The Vatican has issued no statement about the meeting.

In June, however, Pope Francis had cautioned the German bishops against making their own decisions on issues of Church teaching, urging them to “walk together with patience,” awaiting the judgment of the universal Church. More recently the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, released a letter in which he warned that the German bishops’ plans were “not ecclesiologically valid.” Cardinal Ouellet enclosed an analysis by the Vatican’s top canon-law official, Archbishop Filippo Iannone, concurring that a national bishops’ conference could not make independent decisions on doctrinal and disciplinary issues that affect the universal Church.

Cardinal Marx responded to those warnings indirectly, saying that the German bishops’ meeting was not formally a synod nor a “particular council” and therefore was not directly bound by the canonical rules for such assemblies.

The apostolic nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Nicola Eterovic, sounded yet another cautionary note in his address to the bishops’ meeting, saying that the Pope’s June letter “deserves special attention.” He pointed out that the papal letter was the first such letter addressed specifically to the German bishops since Pope Pius XI issued his encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge in 1937.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, who has expressed severe misgivings about the direction of the German bishops’ conference, also advised his colleagues to follow the Pontiff’s “fatherly advice.” He remarked that the German Catholic Church, which has been steadily losing members, should concentrate on “re-evangelizing itself” rather than altering perennial teachings.


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