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German Catholic Bishops Cross A Red Line

The German pope has lived to see his own fellow German bishops begin to dismantle Catholic orthodoxy (micu77/Shutterstock)

Pope Francis signaled last year, I believe it was, that something like this might be possible. Now the German bishops, the vanguard of the progressives, have gone and done it:

German bishops have voted “overwhelmingly” in favour of producing a “guide” for Protestant spouses on reception of Holy Communion under certain conditions.

At their spring conference in Ingolstadt, the German bishops’ conference agreed that a Protestant partner of a Catholic can receive the Eucharist after having made a “serious examination” of conscience with a priest or another person with pastoral responsibilities, “affirms the faith of the Catholic Church,” wishes to end “serious spiritual distress,” and has a “longing to satisfy a hunger for the Eucharist.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, said Thursday that such a guide was a “positive step.” He said there had been an “intense debate” during which “serious concerns” had been raised, according to Katholisch.dethe website of the German bishops’ conference.

He added the bishops were not giving general approval but that the guide pertained to individual decisions. He said the bishops wanted to continue with this issue “in a high profile way,” but that the guide would merely be a “pastoral handout” and that “we don’t want to change any doctrine.”

“We don’t want to change any doctrine.” Weasel words. This would amount to a de facto change of doctrine. If you do not have to be in formal communion with the Roman Catholic Church to receive the Eucharist, much less in a state of grace, then doctrine will have been changed. Who on earth is fooled by this verbal formulation? Cardinal Marx is the same weasel-wordsmith who recently announced his openness to blessing gay couples, but of course without changing church doctrine. Anything but that. Don’t worry. Trust them.

Last week, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former doctrine chief of the Catholic Church (until dismissed by Pope Francis), fired a big shell across the bow of Cardinal Cupich and Francis’s “new paradigm” brigade.  Here’s the core:

The criteria that Newman unfolds are useful, then, to disclose how we should read Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The first two criteria are “preservation of type” and “continuity of principles.” They are meant precisely to ensure the stability of the faith’s foundational structure. These principles and types prevent us from speaking of a “paradigm shift” regarding the form of the Church’s being and of her presence in the world. Now chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia has been the object of contradictory interpretations. When in this context some speak of a paradigm shift, this seems to be a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith. It was in 1962 that Thomas Kuhn introduced his controversial and at the same time influential idea of “paradigm shifts” into the debate internal to the philosophy of science, where the expression received a precise, technical meaning. Apart from this context, however, this term also has an everyday use, referring to any form of fundamental change in theoretical forms of thought and social behavior. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8)—this is, in contrast, our paradigm, which we will not exchange for any other. “For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).

Countering the Gnostics, who tried to make themselves seem important by contriving ever new revelations and insights, Saint Irenaeus of Lyon wrote: “Know that He brought all novelty, by bringing Himself who had been announced.” In the second half of the second century, Irenaeus worked out the formal principles of the Catholic faith as he responded to the gnostic challenge. First of all, revelation needs to be accepted as a historical fact. This revelation is contained in the deposit of faith—that is, in the apostolic teaching—which in its truth and in its entirety has been entrusted to the Church to be faithfully preserved and interpreted. The proper method for interpreting revelation requires the joint workings of three principles, which are: Holy Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Apostolic Succession of Catholic bishops. The Roman Church in general and her bishops in particular should be the last to follow the Gnostic’s suit by introducing a novel principle of interpretation by which to give a completely different direction to all of Church teaching. Irenaeus, in fact, compared Christian doctrine to a mosaic whose stones were arranged to reproduce the image of the King. In his view, the Gnostics had taken the same stones, but had changed their order. Now, instead of the likeness of the King, they have formed the image of a fox, the deceiver. One can in fact sin against the Catholic faith not only by denying some of its contents, but also by reformulating its formal principles of knowledge.

One may think here of the Protestant Reformation. Its new formal principle was Scripture alone. This new principle subjected the Catholic doctrine of the faith, as it had developed up to the sixteenth century, to a radical change. The fundamental understanding of Christianity turned into something completely different. Salvation was to be obtained by faith alone, so that the individual believer no longer required the help of ecclesial mediation. In consequence, the Reformers radically rejected the dogmas concerning the seven sacraments and the episcopal and papal constitution of the Church. If understood in this sense, there can be no paradigm shifts in the Catholic faith. Whoever speaks of a Copernican turn in moral theology, which turns a direct violation of God’s commandments into a praiseworthy decision of conscience, quite evidently speaks against the Catholic faith. Situation ethics remains a false ethical theory, even if some were to claim to find it in Amoris Laetitia.

Cardinal Müller’s language in the piece makes it hard to understand what, precisely, he’s saying. If you read closely, he’s stepping very close to the point of saying that the “new paradigm” rhetoric of Cupich and Francis’s top supporters is heretical and even schismatic.

It seems clear to this outsider that the German bishops, as the leading edge of Francis’s reforms, are dragging the Catholic Church ever closer to a fundamental crisis — even schism. And for what? So Lutherans can receive communion? The German bishops preside over a church that is very rich, but in collapse. Read:

“The faith has evaporated,” a wistful Cardinal Friedrich Wetter told me in 2014. Wetter, a deeply spiritual, prayerful cleric, was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1982 to 2007. He followed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in this role, and was the predecessor of Cardinal Reinhard Marx. We had spent the last hour mostly talking about Edith Stein, a saint he greatly admires. When I asked him why he thought this “evaporation” had taken place, he shrugged, biting his lip. It was the kind of shrug you make when asked about deterministic forces, things you cannot change.

When the Church’s current reality – spiritually impoverished and in decline, yet rich in material means – is actually discussed, two suggestions are brought forward. Some propose that the Church tax should be abolished. They seem to assume that if money will not solve the problem, then the absence of it will. (Though there is some merit to the idea, it is rarely thought through). The other response is an appeal for more heterodoxy.

Bishop Voderholzer, of the diocese of Regensburg, recently noted how “remarkable” these suggestions were. In a sermon that received widespread attention, the Bavarian bishop said: “Again and again, we’re sold the idea that there is a universal solution for reverting these trends and maintaining social relevance. We’re told that we must – I quote – ‘further open up and dismiss conservative dogmas’. We are then also told this means: abolition of priestly celibacy; abnegation of different responsibilities and vocations of women and men in the Church as well as the admission of women to the apostolic ministry.”

Instead of these debates and demands, Voderholzer proposed something different entirely. On the anniversary of a schism that is commonly called “reformation”, the bishop reminded his flock of a different meaning, which is the only way forward for the German Church:

“The first and foremost step on this path is the daily struggle for sanctity, listening to God’s Word and being prepared to start the reform of the Church with oneself. For that is what reformation means: renewal from within the faith, restoration of the Image of Christ, which is imprinted in us in baptism and confirmation. Where that is granted to us, by the grace of God, where this succeeds, we will also make the people of our time once again curious about the faith that carries us. And then we will also be able to bear witness to the hope that fulfils us.”

The German bishops will embrace every progressive fad they possibly can to keep the faith “relevant” — and it will do no good. Bishop Voderholzer’s call is the way of the Benedict Option. It is the only way Catholicism in Germany will survive: by digging in deep, and resisting through prayer, sacrifices, and keeping the authentic tradition alive. It is the only way Christianity of any kind in the West will endure. This picture is clearer in Europe than it is in the US now. But in the lifetime of my children, it will be undeniable.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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