It appears that what we have going on here is an ecclesiastical game of “chicken.” Bonn and Rome are on a head-on collision course, and both are waiting to see who turns first.
The objective of the German Bishops Conference in Bonn is to set the agenda for radical changes in the German Church BEFORE the Amazon Synod in Rome takes place, thus forcing Rome to make changes in the universal Church to accommodate them. Cardinal Marx apparently doesn’t believe Pope Francis has the backbone to stand up to him, and he may be right. Marx is in Francis’ inner circle, and he chair’s Vatican finance, so he knows what’s in the Pope’s bank account. The Vatican is losing money and is buried in debt. Meanwhile, Cardinal Marx sits atop the richest national bishops conference in all of Europe and possibly the world! Bonn could bail out Rome with a single check, and Francis knows it.
Marx is gambling that Francis will turn first in this game of chicken, allowing the agenda of the German Bishops Conference to dominate the Amazon Synod in Rome next month. The stakes are high for Marx, because if he’s wrong, Francis could enact censures against the German Bishops, which they will ignore, turning this whole de facto schism, between Bonn and Rome, into an official de jure schism. I suspect that Marx is certain that won’t happen, as he’s holding all the cards. He’s got an endless supply of income with the German Church tax, the deepest coffers in the Catholic world, the will of 90% of the German bishops backing him, intimate knowledge of Vatican debt, the ability to pay off that debt with a single check, and a long history of Pope Francis capitulating to the Germans on just about everything. From Marx’s perspective, he can’t lose. He may be right, Francis has (thus far) proved to be a very weak pope when it comes to dealing with the real threats to his papacy and the Church. By that I mean the real threats of Modernism coming from today’s Catholic Left.
Now, in Francis’ defense, he has fired a couple warning shots over the hood of the German bishops’ car, but so far they’ve had no effect. The two remain on a collision course at the same speed. That speed is shockingly fast. The collision will happen by the end of next week if somebody doesn’t turn the wheel. We’ll know the final results of the wreck after the Amazon Synod in Rome at the end of October. We’ll know if the German Bishops Conference is officially in schism by the end of December. The following story will explain in greater detail, but it is this excerpt that is most telling…
Cardinal Marx wants to deflect criticism onto past documents in the hopes of keeping the synodal process moving faster than Rome can keep up.
“We see this happening: The Germans say we have already made the changes you want, and by the time there can be a response saying: No, the concerns remain, the next step is already made,” an official at the Congregation for Bishops told CNA.
“If we come to [the point where] the Holy Father [is] saying, ‘Stop, do not begin the synod,’ they will reply, ‘We already began — now we must finish!’”
It’s full steam ahead for the German bishops. A final hearing will be held next week (September 23-27) when the agenda will be set in stone by a full meeting of German bishops for the upcoming German Synod in December. Once this agenda is set, it will be up to Pope Francis to determine how to deal with it. Undoubtedly, it will become a major factor during the Amazon Synod in Rome, which Francis has said he does not want. It looks like Cardinal Marx is about to insure that the pope won’t get his wishes on that. Francis wants the Amazon Synod in Rome to focus on evangelization. But the German bishops are setting their own agenda, for their own synod in December, to focus on (1) authority participation and separation of powers, (2) sexual morality, (3) the form of priestly life and (4) women in Church ministries and offices.
In a recent jet-presser at 30,000 feet, Pope Francis told journalists that he’s not afraid of schism. It looks like the German Bishops are about to test him on that. We may soon know if Pope Francis really is as fearless as he says.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.