A rebellion developing in Germany?

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

The modern medieval Church

No, this blog post will not be about history, and not even about anything medieval very much, apart from using that word. I want to take about the word ‘medieval’ as some sort of accusation against the Church. Is she really some sort of old-fashioned institution when she asserts her own teachings, and if so, is that a bad thing?

Bishop Jan LiesenReason for this post is some action undertaken by Bishop Jan Liesen of Breda, who forbade an address about near-death experiences by a speaker who is known to dabble in esoteric things that are rather at odds with Catholic teachings and faith. This address would have been no exception, and it was to take place in a church, so the bishop certainly had a say about the matter.

Opponents of the decision disagree with the timing of the decision (which sounds reasonable, as it was rather last-minute, and finding a different location to host 300 guests turned out to be problematic on short notice), but some then go on to attack the decision itself. It is a step back, they say, and purely medieval.

What Bishop Liesen did here, and what other priests and bishops have done in the past, is one of their main duties: the protection of the faith and shepherding the flock entrusted to them. They are tasked with an adherence to the treasure that the Church guards: the entire body of the faith that came to her from Christ. The bishops can and should do so pro-actively, by promoting the Christian life of their faithful, but also by responding to those things that would endanger that life.

Bishop Liesen’s action is not so much about being authoritative, about displaying power and forbidding people to do things. Rather, he acts against something that would, at the very least, sow confusion. After all, if some event takes place in a church, it is logical to assume that it must therefore be something that the Church wants to support, and that agrees with what she teaches. And in this case, and so many others, the opposite is true.

Is that medieval? Perhaps it is, if you adhere to an idea about the Middle Ages that is mostly about authority. Authority is not a bad thing. It is what our society is based, and our Church no less. In order to shepherd and teach there must be authority.

Truth is unattainable by consensus. And that is akin to heresy in the ears of many modern people. It is old-fashioned to correct, medieval to say no to something. So, if that’s true, Church: by all means, be old-fashioned, be medieval. Let the authority of Christ shine through, and may his followers be open to His transforming grace. That is truly looking forward, and therefore not old-fashioned at all.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold