German Cardinal Issues Stark Warning About ‘Synodal Way’

The “Synodal Way” is a process bringing together German lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Berlin arrives at the Vatican on March 5, 2013.
Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Berlin arrives at the Vatican on March 5, 2013. (photo: Courtesy photo / InterMirifica.net)

ROME — A German cardinal issued a stark warning Saturday about his country’s controversial “Synodal Way.”

In an address to former students of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Rome Sept. 26, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki said that the initiative’s draft texts appeared to press for the ordination of women to the priesthood. 

“The synod texts seem to want to prepare quite consciously for the consecration of women,” he said.

“If this should not succeed, new offices [for women] are to be created -- not because one could cite concrete ‘needs.’”

The “Synodal Way” is a process bringing together German lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

When the German bishops launched the initiative, they initially said that the deliberations would be “binding” on the German Church, prompting a Vatican intervention. 

In his address, recorded by EWTN - Katholisches TV and reported by CNA Deutsch, the archbishop of Cologne said that the push for female ordination seemed to be a response to the perception that the exclusion of women from ordained offices was “hurtful and unjust.”

“Certainly an answer must be found to this reality of life, but not against revelation,” he said. 

He explained that the “reality of life” that had led to the “Synodal Way” in the first place was the damage to the Church’s credibility in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandals. But he said that the draft texts did not reflect this.

“If only a marginal paragraph is devoted to this problem [of damaged credibility], I cannot deny the suspicion that this reality of life seems to be only a vehicle to make long-cherished wishes come true,” he said.

Cardinal Woelki hit the headlines in Germany earlier this month when he said that the worst outcome would be if the Synodal Way “leads to a split and thereby outside of the Church, out of communion with the universal Church.”

In a Sept. 17 interview with the German Catholic news agency KNA, the cardinal said he feared that this would create “something like a German national church.” 

His comments were downplayed by Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, who insisted that the Church in Germany is “part of the Universal Church and nothing will change that.”

Cardinal Woelki was one of the speakers at a symposium bringing together the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Circles of Alumni (Schülerkreise) in Rome. The circles consist of an older group of former doctoral students of Joseph Ratzinger and newer members inspired by the retired pope’s theology. 

Other speakers included Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who wrote to Bishop Bätzing earlier month expressing alarm about an appeal by German theologians for intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.

In his address, Cardinal Woelki made further criticisms of the “Synodal Way” process.

He said: “I also cannot deny a further suspicion, namely that it is the tradition and interpretative communion with the universal Church that is called into question here, rather than the concern of finding real answers that do justice to realities of life as well as to the truth of revelation.”

“I would therefore like to emphasize once again: I am willing to engage in a dialogue about the realities of life. I am not prepared to do so against the living tradition of the Church.” 

He continued: “This distorts the Word of God. This makes dialogue with God impossible, which should lead us to our actual happiness and to true joy. This blocks the path to communion with Him, which makes us into the person we are truly supposed to be and yearn to be.”

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Pope Francis is venturing on the first papal visit to Iraq this weekend. The historic trip could have immense ramifications for Christians in the region. On this week’s Register Radio, Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin highlights the hopes for this mission. An also in Vatican News Edward tells us about a new interview by Pope Emeritus Benedict. And finally we talk to Register correspondent Jonathan Liedl about why gender ideology brooks no dissent.