HILDESHEIM, Germany — The upcoming synod on the family must lead to “further progress” towards finding a common position on fundamental issues, but it “cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany,” the president of the German bishops’ conference has said.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday at the end of the bishops’ plenary meeting in Hildesheim, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said theological questions regarding marriage, the family and sexual morality could not be answered during the three weeks of the synod.
He said he hopes the synod will result in “a further discussion” and said that it must find a text that “would lead to further progress” towards finding a common theological position on fundamental issues.
But concerning pastoral practice, he said the German Church “cannot wait” for synodal statements, as marriage and family ministry has to be undertaken now, according to an article in Die Tagespost, translated by the blog Catholic Conclave.
Cardinal Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, said as far as doctrine is concerned, the German episcopate remains in communion with the Church, but on individual issues of pastoral care, “the synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.”
The German bishops want to publish their own pastoral letter on marriage and family after the synod, the article says.
“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx said. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”
Divorced, Remarried and Communion
Cardinal Marx and the majority of German bishops favor German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive Communion after a period of penance. In April, they are also expected to pass new labor regulations that will permit remarried divorcees and homosexual couples to work in the country’s many Church-run institutions.
In a Jan. 22 interview with the Jesuit-run America magazine, Cardinal Marx said the Church “must look for ways” for people to receive the Eucharist. “It is not about finding ways to keep them out! We must find ways to welcome them,” he said. “We have to use our imagination in asking, ‘Can we do something?’ Perhaps it is not possible in some situations. That is not the question. The focus must be on how to welcome people.”
But senior Church figures in other countries have warned about discrepancies between pastoral practice and doctrine. Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, recently stated that detaching Church teaching from pastoral practice — which critics say the Kasper proposal would do — is a form of “heresy.”
The idea of placing the magisterium “in a nice box by detaching it from pastoral practice — which could evolve according to the circumstances, fads and passions — is a form of heresy, a dangerous schizophrenic pathology,” Cardinal Sarah said.
He added that the African Church “will strongly oppose any rebellion against the teaching of Jesus and the magisterium.” (The cardinal’s comments were published in a book by the French publisher Fayard. The book had originally been promoted as containing a preface written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but the preface was withdrawn without explanation prior to publication.)
Addressing Synod Participants
Cardinal Marx told reporters this week that the German bishops will be presenting a paper to the synod, which should be released in the coming weeks.
Bishops at the plenary meeting also elected officials to represent the German bishops during the synod. In addition to Cardinal Marx, Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meissen, chairman of the bishops’ marriage and family commission, and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, chairman of the pastoral commission, will take part in the deliberations. All three delegates are known to strongly support the Kasper proposal.
Another major area of controversy at last year’s synod was an effort to emphasize the “positive aspects” of homosexual lifestyles. Although this and the Kasper proposal failed to receive a necessary two-thirds consensus, it remains in the lineamenta, or guidelines, for the upcoming October synod.
In an interview last week with a local German newspaper, Bishop Koch also called for changes in the way the Church treats homosexual people, saying that to “portray homosexuality as a sin is hurtful.” He said the Church “needs a different language when it comes to homosexuals,” adding, “I know gay couples who value reliability and commitment and live these in an exemplary manner.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.