The President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has strongly rejected Vatican criticism of the German Church’s “binding synodal path” reform process.

Driving the news

On September 4, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, wrote to Marx to inform him that the plans for the synodal process were “not valid” according to Church laws.

Ouellet attached a legal assessment of the plans from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which warned the membership of the synod were attempting to solve Church problems “beyond its competence”.

The German Bishops responded Friday and said the Vatican had analysed a June draft of the synodal process statutes.

A spokesman added that a July draft removed the passages the Vatican had found problematic, and that Marx would meet with Ouellet in person this week to clear up any “misunderstandings” over the process.


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Go deeper

A further response from Marx to the Vatican criticisms came earlier than expected.

On Saturday, the German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published extracts of a letter from Marx to Ouellet, in which the German cardinal strongly defended the synodal process.

Marx told Ouellet that it might have been “more helpful” if the Vatican had sought a conversation on the synodal process “before sending out documents”.

The German cardinal strongly rejected the suggestion that the German Church was seeking to hold a national Particular Council – which needs Vatican approval before going ahead – without using the term.

“They [the Vatican authorities] know from our protocols” that the German Bishops would never choose a form for the synodal process that could be accused of violating Church law, Marx added.

The synodal process is a sui generis – that is, unique – procedure that should not be judged “through the lenses of canon law instruments”, the German cardinal explained.

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What’s next

In his letter to Ouellet, Marx repeated the explanation that the Vatican had considered an early and not definitive draft of the synodal process statutes.

The German cardinal assured the Vatican Prefect that in their Autumn Plenary Assembly the German Bishops would guarantee the definitive plans for the synodal path protected the “particular responsibility” of bishops for implementing reform decisions, a key Vatican concern.

In any case, Marx added, no synodal process resolution would be binding on bishops.

“Maybe there will be resolutions which are addressed to the bishops’ conference or to the bishops who will then make the appropriate decision as to how such resolutions are to be dealt with”, the German cardinal explained.

Marx also said any synodal process resolutions outside the scope of the local Church would be forwarded to Pope Francis for his consideration.

“We hope that the results of the formation of an opinion in our country will be helpful for the world Church and in certain cases for other bishops’ conferences”, the German cardinal wrote.

More on the German Church’s “binding synodal path”:

Mainz bishop defends German “synodal way” as necessary for Church “cleansing”

Key German layman defends “synodal process” from cardinal’s schism warnings

Cardinal Marx defends synodality, insists “tradition and reform are not opposites”

Pope supports German push to revise celibacy, sexual morality and clerical power… with a catch

Why it matters

Marx forcefully rejected Ouellet’s suggestion that since the Church has already ruled on the topics slated for discussion in the synodal process – power in the Church, the role of women, sexual morality and priestly celibacy – those topics are no longer up for debate.

By allowing debate, “we bishops are doing what we are committed to as shepherds in order to liberate evangelisation and proclamation of Christ’s Message from the obstacles which stand in the way”, Marx insisted.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.