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German synodal way sparks schism fears

Archbishop Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh is among those wary of the approach in Germany.

Dozens of bishops, including two from Scotland, have signed an open letter about the German Synodal Way warning of its ‘potential for schism.’

The letter is a rare public example of bishops criticising bishops and highlights the growing concern by many senior members of the Church about the German Synodal Way which predates the wider synodal process in the Church.

The German process, which bishops there have said is responding to ongoing revelations of clerical sexual abuse, has endorsed women priests, blessings for same-sex relationships, and rewriting the Catechism on sexual ethics.

However, the open letter suggests the German approach ‘may lead some bishops, and will lead many otherwise faithful laypeople, to distrust the very idea of synodality’.

Signatories include Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier, Bishop Stephen Robson of Dunkeld, Australian Cardinal George Pell, and American Cardinal Raymond Burke who noted ‘events in one nation inevitably impact ecclesial life elsewhere’.

The letter lays out seven criticisms, including ‘failing to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel’, relying more on ‘sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies’ than on Scripture and tradition, and being too focused on power and autonomy.

“The Synodal Path process, at nearly every step, is the work of experts and committees,” the letter said, calling the process ‘bureaucracy heavy, obsessively critical, and inward-looking.’

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops, expressed surprise at some of the letter’s contents but said he was glad that the bishops were taking the process of Germany’s synodal path seriously.

In response, he stressed, “the synodal path in no way undermines the authority of the church, including that of Pope Francis, as you write”.

The Limburg bishop said the decision to embark on the synodal path was to confront the systemic causes of the abuse and its cover-up and it was important to speak openly about power and abuse of power in the church.

“Unfortunately, such abuse of power, also by episcopal authorities, is not only a thing of the past but is also happening in the present and leads to massive violations of the rights and personal integrity of the faithful and religious,” the bishop said.

“The participation of the faithful in decision-making at all levels of ecclesiastical action – this is what we mean when we speak of the separation of powers – will in no way damage the authority of the hierarchical office, it will give it a newly founded acceptance among the people of God, I am convinced of that.”

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