WASHINGTON — The Catholic Church in Germany’s two-year reform program that has questioned established teachings on faith and morals has prompted Pope Francis and Vatican officials to take increasingly urgent action to head off the possibility of a formal schism.
Across the Atlantic, the U.S. bishops have largely remained silent on the German program of reform, called the “Synodal Path.” But Catholic scholars here made their anxiety plain in interviews with the Register. They called for additional action by Pope Francis, pointed to signs that open dissent was spreading in Europe, and highlighted decisions in Rome and Germany that laid the groundwork for the Synodal Path.
“The situation in Germany is coming to a head, and it is at a critical juncture in Pope Francis’ pontificate,” Chad Pecknold, a professor of historical and systematic theology in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, told the Register.
“The Pope is an instrument of unity, and on his watch we are seeing displays of dissent from German bishops that are comparable to those we saw in Germany in the 16th century,” Pecknold added. “The Synodal Path has been circumscribed by the Vatican at every turn, and Germany doesn’t seem to be giving an inch to Rome.”
The most significant steps by the Holy See, noted Pecknold and others, followed the German bishops’ decision in 2019 to move forward with the Synodal Path, an effort initially prompted by revelations of priestly sexual abuse and episcopal cover-up. Yet as the momentum for change gained traction, the focus shifted to a list of proposed “binding” reforms that, if approved by the German bishops, would contradict Church teaching on homosexuality, ecumenism, church order, and women’s ordination to the priesthood. Such a move by the Church in Germany could lead to schism with Rome, theologians contacted by the Register have said.
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