Is the Catholic Church about to shatter?

Guest Article submitted by Gr. Comm. Daniele Severino O.SS.M.L.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of St. Mary’s Hermitage Press or The Hermit of Saint Bruno. Examples of opinions proffered within this article are only examples. They should not be utilized as they are based only on very limited and dated open source information. Assumptions made within this article are not reflective of the position of St. Mary’s Hermitage Press or The Hermit of Saint Bruno.

“After the Synod last October (6 to 27 October 2019), nothing will remain the same as before”, the German bishops have warned. Together with the fleeing faithful and the collapse of the government collected ‘Kirchensteuer’ church tax revenues [a tax reaffirmed by Adolf Hitler in Article 13 of the Reichskonkordat in 1939 pay an amount equal to between 9% of their income tax to the church], launch their ultimatum on Rome which will change everything.

“The bishop of Essen, Msgr. Overbeck: Discussing the hierarchical structure of the church, sexual morality and the priesthood”

Rome October 2019. The official portal of the German Bishops’ Conference gave great prominence to the words of the bishop of Essen, Msgr. Franz-Josef Overbeck: after the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon “nothing will be the same as before”. The Synod “will lead to a Rapture of the Catholic Church”. Never mind if in theory the fathers were summoned to Rome by the Pope to discuss how the church would bring the word of God and the Eucharist to the Catholics who live in the Amazonian forest, with some priests who are forced to travel like nomad priests— and when they do — thousands of kilometres moving without a break drifting from village to village. But you know, the synods have now become a sort of large assembly where one can debate just about everything and anything that is debatable, with the episcopal conferences (some, at least) who eagerly await their demonstration before the Pope, accompanied by the usual cacophony of media hype who convened in Rome for the occasion, and the other gaggle of bishops demanding a voice, proffering their own agendas which often depart from the principal topic for which the synod had originally been convened. Msgr. Overbeck, according to whom the situation of Catholics who live on the banks of the Amazon River will have to focus on the “hierarchical structure of the church”, “its sexual morality” and “the image of the priesthood”. Naturally, a careful examination of the “role of women” which “must be reconsidered” and cannot be omitted.

Punctual as a broken clock which continues to hourly strike correctly, at least twice a day, once again it’s the German church hierarchy that raises its head to shout to the rafters, stomping their feet and announcing with their usual Germanic sensationalism and episcopal fanfare by presenting an agenda for the Synod’s immediate attention. In 2015 it was Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the then Archbishop of Munich and Freising as well as president of the German Bishops’ Conference, who announced “we are not a branch of Rome and a Synod cannot tell us Germans what to do here in Germany”, at this juncture the marginally known but equally combative prelate is alleged to be open to the Spirit of the time. This is nothing new, it has always been like this. Benedict XVI implied it for the umpteenth time if we read between the lines of his pre-Pascal document on the amendments made within the church at the turn of 1968. The same things, although made more palatable through the necessity of formal diplomacy due to a regnant Pope, who when in Freiburg in 2011 said, going so far as to invoke a sort of spiritual Entweltlichungtendenz “demondanisation” basically an act of “ridding the Church of all worldliness”. The then president of the Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Robert Zollitsch, expeditiously scurried to the press conference clarifying “the Pope, speaking of entweltlichung [a term used by the Pontiff on three separate occasions, ed.] Was not referring to the abolition of the church state tax”. The excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta did not convince or sway anyone at all “he who excuses himself, accuses himself”.

“In March, Cardinal Reinhard Marx announced the opening of “a binding synodal path for the church in Germany””

Empty churches but full coffers, even if no longer as they used to be. It’s a failing caused by the desertion of the faithful, who officially would prefer to leave the Catholic and Protestant faiths in order to no longer have to pay the imposed exorbitant Kirchensteuer, a tax which every baptised person is required to pay in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, some parts of Switzerland and several other countries. The numbers, which the Italian newspapers released at the beginning of May 2019 were quite dramatic: within forty years it is estimated that there will be a total of 12 million Catholics (currently 23m), most of whom are “non-practising”. Some signs have already manifested: epic mergers of parishes, monumental decommissioning of churches and chapels. And most importantly, a recruiting campaign that gives a nudge nudge wink wink at those who’ve never set foot inside of a church and who, intrigued by the news or perhaps mistaking the church as a sort of powerful NGO, would consider adhering to or “enrolling”. The same Msgr. Overbeck makes it very clear, when asked to account for the precipitating numbers: that the church has a duty and must act in response “to immense environmental exploitation and the violation of human rights”, and “at the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region [commonly referred to as the Amazon synod. ed.] we will talk about everything”, probably also of viri probati (men of proven virtue), these are, married men who could be ordained to make up for the lack of clergy, confirmed Msgr. Stefan Oster s.d.b., bishop of Passau, who is of the opposite inclination to that of Overbeck. Fortunately, added the bishop of Essen, “Pope Francis with his South American perspective has ensured that there was an awareness for the challenges”. The first point of the program is to dismantle “the Eurocentric structure of the church” and the model is precisely Latin America, where “local churches and clergy have become increasingly independent”. Catholics so not just drop out in Germany but also in Brazil, where the previous ninety percent have fallen to seventy, that’s why “the church must react to all this and find answers. In short, the issues caused by celibacy could be the first of these answers. The church could be called to “look for suitable married men”, explained the bishop of Aachen, Msgr. Helmut Dieser.

“Metaphysics replaced  by Habermas’s discourse on ethics; the sermons of which are “paleo-modernistic exercises””

The German Catholic Church is “in deep distress,” said Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, the coordinating body of official German Catholic lay organisations. “The trust of many Catholics in their church is deeply shaken. They are wondering how they can live their faith in light of the current situation and share it with others,” Sternberg told Catholic News Service. “They live in the feeling of passing through a deep valley.” he added when asked by the Catholic News Service. The Catholic faith in Germany was strong enough to survive the Protestant Reformation, several bitter religious wars and the Nazi era. Now, Germany’s Catholics are struggling to keep their faith amid an atmosphere of mistrust and confusion in the church owing to recent financial scandals, an acute priest shortage and restructuring of parishes, demands for modern interpretations of the Gospel, high numbers of Catholics leaving the church, and the recent sexual abuse cover-up. Nearly 30 percent of Germans are Catholic, and although the nation’s Catholic population does not often appear in large turnout for regular weekly Mass, German Catholics are deeply rooted in principle, said Sternberg. “There is a strong spiritual life of the Catholic Church in our country,” said Sternberg, adding that Germans today adhere to the Catholic faith due to inner belief rather than out of feelings of cultural or social obligation. “Those who are active in the church do so out of deep inner conviction; that is an immovable foundation.” That strong spiritual conviction is now being sorely tested, said Sternberg. “Especially the church’s handling of the horrifying crimes of abuse has led to a hard-hitting, deep loss of faith in the church — even among the ranks of the most loyal church members,” said Sternberg. The search for solutions to address the unique challenges facing the church in Germany and provide concrete forms of redress following the sexual abuse crisis has led to increasing fragmentation and dissent among the German clergy. Some priests and bishops, including Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg, have expressed openness to the future ordination of women to the priesthood. Hence the proliferation of multiple formulas, proposals, ideas for getting out of the crisis and avoid — by no means as a secondary aspect — that the coffers filled by the generous Kirchensteuer are now empty, devastating entire dioceses. The result is a triumph for parrhesia “free speech”: each individual bishop is convinced that he has the correct formula for a solution and therefore speaks out, exposes it. Often causing far more problems than there were before. “Bishop Franz Overbeck’s disclosures are not surprising. Born in 1964, he stems from a family farmers, and belongs to that generation of priests who have put their ministry at the beck and call of a new civil religion,” Wolfgang Spindler, a fifty-year-old Dominican theologian who, in addition to running a parish, writes about Die Neue Ordnung in Tumult magazine and for pleasure also children’s books, realising that they “have a direct relationship with transcendence”. A new civil religion which is no longer based, as in Rousseau, on the separation between state and church, between politics and religion, but rather aims toward their fusion and interpenetration. It is no longer the church which is the only vehicle of salvation, but the ‘staying together’ of everyone within society made up of both individuals and groups, independently from their confession and religion, or the postmodern project of a peaceful coexistence, for which the realisation (an endless process) of the current alliance of dominion sovereignty (Merkel, European Union, NGO’s) and the altar (the ‘synodal church of the Amazonia’ […], and the episcopal conferences) were formed.”

“The disintegration of the faithful, embarrassment over the taxes imposed upon the baptised and the sociological and relativistic drift which have also been denounced by numerous priests”

Our first preoccupation, notes Spindler, “is no longer addressed to the faithful Catholic. Their numbers have dwindled during the course of a single generation making them a marginal group, and the bishops have devoted themselves to a far bigger task: breathing life into what they call ‘true’ universalism, leaving behind the ‘old’ universalism and natural law of the Catholic Church. The prerequisites for this turnaround are quite evident to Overbeck and his colleagues, a faith of ‘as if’ and a theology which replaces metaphysics with Habermas’s discourse ethics. Their sermons are exercises in paleo-modernism, the followers of which by definition — as noted French poet Charles Pierre Péguy expressed — ‘do not believe in what they believe’. They have given up on justifying themselves in the face of the past, to the depositum fidei [the teachings of the Catholic Church that are handed down since the time of the Apostles through Scripture and Sacred Tradition]. Which no longer even refer to the Second Vatican Council, because this council, with its perpendicularly leaden mountains of documents, have, in the meantime become ‘inflexible’, ‘restorative’, if not, even ‘reactionary’. Fixated on their new idol, which is the “incommensurate Tomorrow”. Only when the Catholic Church has freed itself from the heavy shackles of the past (the hierarchy, the priesthood, theological studies, celibacy and so on), then and only then will Satan be bound for a thousand years and a reign of peace, of universal reconciliation can begin, of a cosmopolis of Kant. In the struggles towards this conclusion — says the Dominican theologian — no effort will be spared.”

If the bishop of Essen, as we have seen, is practicing a total revolution, the colleague from Magdeburg, Msgr. Gerhard Feige wants the ordination of women to the priesthood. In the middle, Cardinal Marx, who in March 2019, concluding the plenary session of the German episcopate, announced the opening of a “binding synodal path for the church in Germany” to discuss sexual morality, priestly celibacy and the abuse of clerical power. Once again we hear echos of that—Rome-will-have-no-say-in-what-we-are-doing-here. An agenda, which the president of the German bishops’ conference, defined as “certainly more sociological than theological” by Father Frank Unterhalt, spokesman for Priesterkreises Communio veritatis, a group of 10 priests from the diocese of Paderborn who formed an association on the feast of Saint Peter’s Chair at Antioch on February 22, 2018. Priests who meet every month to “pray and prepare theological publications in response to current affairs. In Unterhalt’s opinion, Cardinal Marx “He speaks and behaves often like a left-liberal politician and not like a shepherd of the holy church of God. Whoever sets the cross aside and wishes to serve the dictatorship of relativism should accept the consequences.” The diocese of Paderborn has long made it known that Communio veritatis is a private group not linked to the diocese. Its the archbishop of Munich and Freising, flitting between one press conference to another, participated in the annual congress of the German diocesan Caritas which had the slogan “The social has need of the digital”. One in five people do not have access to digital, Marx observed incredulously, wondering “what can be done for these people, how can they be made a part of social life”, also reaching those who could be tempted “by suicide”. Evidently the spokesman for the cenacle of priests in Paderborn had read the cardinal’s statements before talking about the social drift within the German church. In 2001 during a homily delivered in Fontgombault, France [published in the May 4], Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said that: “after the Council we spread the idea that the contents of the Gospel would be social development, which needs to be done above all  our external concerns, material things, and only afterwards perhaps we may still have some time for God. We see the consequences: even missionaries no longer have the courage to proclaim the Gospel. They thought that their task now was to contribute to the development of underdeveloped countries. We have forgotten about God, and the consequences are terrible: the destruction of the moral foundations of these societies.”

And there it is!

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