Catholics Submit ‘Dubium’ to Vatican Asking if Church in Germany is in Schism

André Wichmann, from Bochum, in western Germany said June 9 that he and two others had submitted the dubium out of a “great concern about unity.”

Main nave inside Essen Cathedral, Germany.
Main nave inside Essen Cathedral, Germany. (photo: Public domain)

ESSEN, Germany — Three Catholics have submitted a “dubium” to the Vatican asking if the Church in Germany is in schism.

The trio from the Diocese of Essen formally requested a ruling from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

A dubium, from the Latin word meaning “doubt,” is a question addressed to the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” 

The congregation replies with a “Responsum ad dubium,” as it did in March when asked whether the Church has the authority to bless same-sex couples. 

The congregation is sometimes asked to answer multiple queries, known as “dubia.” Four cardinals submitted five dubia in 2016 about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family. 

André Wichmann, from Bochum, in western Germany, told CNA Deutsch on June 9 that he and two others had submitted the dubium out of a “great concern about unity.” 

“From my point of view, the split has already taken place,” he said, citing demands in Germany for the ordination of women, blessings of same-sex couples in defiance of the Vatican, and lay people preaching at Masses.

“We are three Catholic Christians from the Diocese of Essen. We have also been involved in community life in various ministries for many years,” he said. 

“In a process that has lasted many years, we have also experienced the increasing polarization in the local congregations. It was not always easy to profess the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nor was it always easy to stand up for a liturgy celebrated according to the books of the Church.”

Wichmann said that the group knew they had “no entitlement to an answer” from Rome, but the signal was still important. 

“The Church’s roof is on fire north of the Alps,” he commented.

Wichmann noted criticisms of the German Church’s “Synodal Way” made this week by the influential theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper.

The 88-year-old German cardinal said: “I have not yet given up hope that the prayers of many faithful Catholics will help to steer the Synodal Way in Germany on Catholic tracks.”

The Synodal Way is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

Wichmann predicted that the Synodal Way would also cause frustration among “reform-oriented Catholics.” He argued that since the initiative’s decisions were not legally binding for the bishops, expectations of doctrinal change were unrealistic. 

He said that even for Catholics who are loyal to the Magisterium, the Synodal Way risks creating deeper “polarization and division.” 

“The discussions here, in the Catholic Church in Germany, are held separately from the universal Church. Many of the topics raised have to be decided in the universal Church, on the basis of the Magisterium,” he said.

“By dealing with topics that contradict the Magisterium and thereby undertaking an idiosyncratic path, the Synodal Way also inevitably disappoints the expectations of Catholics for whom the Catechism and the Magisterium form a foundation.”

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, insisted last month that the country’s Catholics are not “schismatics.” 

He said: “It is absolutely clear that there are matters that we can only discuss at the level of the universal Church. We will contribute from Germany with our reflections.”

“However, I would like to reject the accusation repeatedly used of us being schismatics or of wanting to detach ourselves as the German national Church from Rome. Our bond with Rome and the Holy Father is very tight.”

For the three authors of the dubium, he said, “only on the foundation of clarification can unity in faith, love, and hope be found again.”

“We therefore very much hope for an answer from Rome,” said Wichmann, “also in order to take away the doubts of many believers and thus promote trust.”

Cardinal Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at a penance service in St. Peter's Basilica, March 29, 2019.

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