Cardinal Hollerich: Critics of the Synod ‘Won’t Be Able to Stop’ It

The general relator of the Synod on Synodality made a number of bold statements this week including the assertion that Christian Europe is a “thing of the past.”

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich attends the consistory for the creation of new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich attends the consistory for the creation of new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019. (photo: Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — One of Pope Francis’ closest aides and a leading figure of the Synod on Synodality has singled out critics of the process, calling them afraid of a “Church on the move” and saying they “know they won’t be able to stop” the synodal experiment.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the general relator of the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality, also issued other bold statements this week including asserting that the idea of a Christian Europe is a “thing of the past,” that people should be accepted and not judged, and that Benedict XVI’s former personal secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein had betrayed the former pope by not staying in Benedict’s “shadow.” 

The Jesuit cardinal, who last year called for a revision of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, told Quotidiano Nazionale Jan. 26 that he believes “those who want Pope Francis to resign do not want a Church on the road.” 

The Pope’s mind “is still clear, thankfully,” he said, but he acknowledged that there are some in the Church, including bishops and cardinals, who would like him to resign. “They are the same circles as those who are afraid of the Synod and of a Church on the move, no longer stuck in the past,” he said. “In truth, they know that they will not be able to stop it.”

According to the Italian news site Il Sussidiaro, his comments have led some Italian commentators, including Franca Giansoldati, the Vaticanist for Il Messaggero, to suggest that Cardinal Hollerich is expressing the hope that the heterodox agenda of the Synodal Path in Germany will be welcomed by the entire Catholic Church — although such an approach would seem to be at odds with recent comments by Pope Francis, and a letter from the Vatican to Germany’s bishops urging them not to subvert the hierarchy of the Church. 

Asked about Archbishop Gänswein’s recently published new book Nothing But the Truth — My Life Beside Benedict XVI, the contents of which were leaked to the press before Benedict XVI’s funeral, Cardinal Hollerich said, “Whoever represents the Church is the Pope, not the prefect of the Papal Household. Gänswein overexposed himself, he wanted to replace Pope Francis and this is a very serious matter.”

When he was asked if he thought Archbishop Gänswein had betrayed Benedict XVI, Cardinal Hollerich replied, “Yes, I remain convinced that whoever is secretary to a pope must always be his shadow and not seek the limelight.” 

His view of Archbishop Gänswein differs from that of Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop emeritus of Milan, who in an interview this week with the Italian magazine Oggi praised the German prelate for being “a faithful and praiseworthy servant.” 

“I think, I assume, that the publisher had already planned to launch the book with his memoirs,” Cardinal Scola said. “And so sentences came out that were mistaken for an interview. But I read that Father Georg had asked the publisher to postpone the release precisely to avoid misunderstandings.”

Elsewhere in his interview with Quotidiano Nazionale, Cardinal Hollerich tried to play down any differences between Francis and Benedict, saying that “every time Benedict XVI met Pope Francis he was happy. On one occasion I was a direct witness, I remember Ratzinger’s big smile.”


Cardinal Hollerich’s Lecture 

The cardinal also made some surprising remarks this week in a lecture he gave in Frankfurt in which he proposed that the idea of a Christian Europe is a thing of the past. “We will no longer have Christian Europe, but hopefully a small, lively church in Europe,” the cardinal told an invited audience at the Sankt Georgen Philosophical-Theological University. 

Speaking on the subject “Will the Church in Europe be sustainable? How are reforms possible?”, he said many people in Europe today no longer understand concepts of Christianity, “no longer understand the word ‘God,’” and contended that we are living in a time of “civilizational change of gigantic proportions.” 

Christians, he continued, will have to bear witness to the Christian faith primarily through authentic and open-minded actions, he said, according to the German Catholic news agency KNA. Unlike in earlier times, one is no longer in a Christian society where Church teaching “comes first,” he said. Instead, the first thing to do today is an encounter, to have an “attitude of openness and acceptance of people.”

This does not mean that the teaching is wrong, he added, but first credible action is necessary to arouse people’s interest in the Christian faith.

“We have to act more like Christ in the Church again,” Cardinal Hollerich said, which, according to him, means accepting people without judging them, whether they are divorced or remarried or homosexual people. “People today understand exclusions as unchristian,” the cardinal said. 


Controversial Statements 

Cardinal Hollerich, who has spent many years living in Japan, has made a number of controversial statements in recent years. A year ago, when COVID-19 still dominated headlines, he backed vaccine passports in churches, and in 2019 he supported the ordination of married men to the priesthood. In 2020, he told La Croix that he is open to women’s ordination. 

But this hasn’t prevented him from rising up through the ranks of the Church. On the contrary, he has gained prominence and influence over the past few years. 

In 2018, the Luxembourgish Jesuit replaced German Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, and the following year, Pope Francis elevated him to the College of Cardinals.

In 2021, Francis appointed him the Synod on Synodality’s general relator whose duties include outlining the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and coordinating the synod fathers’ contributions. 

Being appointed to the position has been a clear indication of papal approval in the past and some have said even indicative of the reigning pontiff’s preferred successor.

Pope Francis (R) embraces new Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich after he appointed him during an Ordinary Public Consistory for the creation of new cardinals on October 5, 2019 at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

Pope Francis vs. Cardinal Hollerich

EDITORIAL: The Pope’s comments regarding women’s ordination in his interview with CBS put a damper on the movement to alter the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and diaconate.