ROME (AP) — The reform process of the German Catholic Church is once again under fire from the Holy See, with a Vatican cardinal seemingly comparing its proposals for theological development to the thinking that perpetuated Germany’s Nazi era.
The furor of Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Holy See’s Office for Christian Unity, marks the latest criticism of Germany’s attempt at reforms in response to the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and the bleeding of Catholic faithful .
Koch suggested in an interview with the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost last week that the German reform process sought to introduce new sources of divine revelation, beyond scripture and Christian tradition, to justify theological change.
He said it was the same thing some pro-Nazi protesters did when they saw “God’s new revelation in blood and soil and in the rise of Hitler”.
His comments sparked outrage among German bishops who, along with German Catholic laymen, are pursuing a lengthy reform process known as the Synodal Path. Limburg bishop Georg Baetzing, the head of the German bishops’ conference, demanded that Koch withdraw the statement, but the cardinal refused. The two met at the Vatican on Tuesday during a previously planned visit.
In a statement Wednesday, the German conference said Koch assured Baetzing that he had no intention of comparing the current trial to the Nazi era.
“Cardinal Koch apologized to anyone who was offended by the comparison he made,” the conference said in a statement. It said that Koch and Baetzing agreed that “the theological debate to which the cardinal wished to contribute in the interview must continue.”
Koch’s office did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails requesting additional comments.
The ‘synodal path’ has sparked strong opposition in Germany, in the Vatican and beyond, mainly from conservatives who opposed opening a debate on issues such as priestly celibacy, the role of women in the church and homosexuality.
Some have openly warned against schism. The German bishops have backed down, saying that if they don’t change, the German church will continue to lose its faithful – some 360,000 German Catholics formally left the church last year.
While Pope Francis has encouraged debate on such issues and himself pursued a process of greater dialogue with the laity, he seems skeptical or ambivalent at best about the German process, and has repeatedly put the brakes on whether others have allowed that. to do for him.
An unsigned statement from the Vatican last summer warned the German church against any attempt to impose new moral or doctrinal standards on believers on hot-button issues, saying that doing so would “wound the ecclesiastical union and threat to the unity of the Church.”
Such moves have angered Germany’s Catholic leadership, which sees the synodal path as a crucial way to regain trust after a landmark 2018 report on decades of clergy sexual abuse revealed systemic problems in the way power was exercised by the all-male Catholic hierarchy.
Baetzing and the leaders of the conference were in Rome this week to lay the groundwork for a visit by all German bishops to the Holy See next month. Unlike normal visits, when bishops meet as a group with individual prefects of the offices of the Holy See, Germans are expected to meet several Vatican prefects at the same time as the pope.
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