Saturday, February 28, 2015

Catholic Blogisterium overreacts to German bishops’ statements

Cdl. Reinhard Marx at 2010 consistory: “That's the one that got away!”
(Allessia Giuliani/CPP/Ciric)
In a completely unsurprising move, traditionalist members of the Catholic Blogisterium, such as Catholic Connection and Rorate Caeli, have flown into a panic over reports that the bishops of Germany have declared independence from Rome.

On Tuesday, the German bishops, already met in plenary assembly, introduced the members who would attend the next Synod of the Family meeting as representatives of the Church in Germany: Cdl. Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Bp. Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meissen, and Bp. Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück; with deputies Bp. Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer, and the auxiliary of Münster, Bp. Wilfried Theising. Regina Einig of Die Tagespost, present for the announcement, then wrote up a summation of the bishops’ hopes for the conference

In fairness — and I’m not ordinarily predisposed to fairness where reactionaries are concerned — Rorate Caeli did refer back to Die Tagespost, through an English translation provided by “Reader ‘K’”. At the same time, only the paragraphs which were sufficient for RC’s conclusion (that the Germans were trying to “blackmail” the Synod or go it alone) got printed, not the whole article. 

Far better, however, than Catholic Connection, which referenced Matteo Matzuzzi’s blog in Il Foglio: Matzuzzi, as journalists are wont to do, played fast and loose with the translation from German into Italian, making the hierarchs out to be more defiant than they really were. Catholic Connection also provided a link to an (imperfect) English translation of the Tagespost article in Catholic Conclave, but either didn’t read it or chose to live with cognitive dissonance ringing in their ears.

Here is the crucial passage of Einig’s story, „Wir können nicht warten“ (“We can not wait”), with the emendations and emphases made by RC; the yellow highlight, though, is mine. The English translation is a combination of Google Translate, “Reader K”, and my own editing:

[Omitted: Der Erzbischof von München und Freising geht davon aus, dass sich eine Kommission nach der Synode weiter mit den einschlägigen Fragen befasst. Theologische Fragen zum Thema Ehe und Familie sowie zur Sexualmoral könnten nicht in drei Wochen erledigt werden. „Meine Hoffnung ist, dass sich dann eine weitere Diskussion ergibt.“] Die Synode müsse einen Text finden, der die Diskussion „weiter voranbringe“ und zugleich in Grundsatzfragen eine gemeinsame Position finden. In der Lehre bleibe man in der Gemeinschaft der Kirche, in Einzelfragen der Seelsorge „kann die Synode nicht im Detail vorschreiben, was wir in Deutschland zu tun haben“. Darum wollten die Bischöfe nach der Synode ein eigenes Hirtenwort zu Ehe und Familie veröffentlichen. Aufgabe der Bischöfe sei es nicht, auf Erlaubnisse zu warten.  „Wir sind keine Filialen von Rom. Jede Bischofskonferenz ist für die Pastoral in ihrem Kulturkreis zuständig und hat das Evangelium in ureigener Aufgabe selber zu verkünden. Wir können nicht warten, bis eine Synode sagt, wie wir hier Ehe- und Familienpastoral zu gestalten haben.“

The Archbishop of Munich and Freising assumes that, after the Synod, a Commission would consider the relevant issues further. Theological questions about marriage and family, as well as on sexual morality, could not be answered in a mere three weeks. [Said Cdl. Marx,] “My hope is that this then will produce further discussion.” The Synod must find a text that “would lead to further progress” in the discussion and also find a common position on fundamental issues. Where doctrine is concerned, communion with the Church is to be maintained; in individual issues of pastoral care, “the Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.” Therefore, the bishops wanted to publish their own pastoral letter on marriage and family after the Synod. The bishops are not duty-bound to wait for permission. [¶] “We are not just a subsidiary of Rome. Each Episcopal Conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture, and has to proclaim the Gospel as [part of] their own office. [Cf. CCC 888; CIC 447] We can not wait until a synod says something, as we have a marriage and family ministry to shape here.”

This is not the stuff of revolutions; this is not Martin Luther nailing his theses on the cathedral door. The statements bolded by Rorate Caeli get us no closer to a second German split than they did left alone. By contrast, as Einig reported, Cdl. Marx and his fellow delegates intend to maintain communion with the rest of the Church. What, then, is the problem?

When Cdl. Marx says the Synod can’t “prescribe in detail” the German Church's pastoral outreach to divorced and remarried Catholics, he’s not being defiant. Rather, he’s stating a practical fact — it’s hardly likely the next Synod will seek to impose detailed universal norms, on the Germans or anyone else. Likewise, when he says, “We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” he reminds us of something we tend to forget: All licitly- and validly-consecrated bishops are successors in their own rights to the apostles, and as such are “vicars and legates of Christ” in their dioceses; they therefore have the primary pastoral responsibility in their sees (Catechism of the Catholic Church 894-896). Whatever else may be said of the angel of Munich, he’s said nothing doctrinally or ecclesially incorrect, let alone declared the German Church independent of Rome.

So why are these websites seeing a de facto schism? Because the Germans helped elect Pope Francis, that’s why. RC is simply the most prominent of the traditionalist blogs that declared Francis’ election a “disaster” before he’d spent his first night as pope; Cdl. Marx is rumored to have been part of “Team Bergoglio” — i.e., the cardinals who led the floor fight to get the Argentinian Jesuit elected at the 2013 conclave. Naturally, anything else they do is to be suspected of heretical or schismatic tendencies, no matter how innocent they must appear at face value.

For instance, as part of his hyperventilation, Jon at Catholic Connection says, “Cardinal Marx’s comments follow and dovetail the comments of a ‘Team Bergoglio’ member, Cardinal [Wilfrid] Danneels, on the same subject.” The link goes to Br. Alex Bugnolo's piece in From Rome, in which it’s claimed that Cdl. Danneels had announced the Synod would accept “homo marriage” in a recent French post. I don’t know whether it’s more charitable to call Br. Bugnolo an idiot or a liar; regardless, Cdl. Danneels’ comments were concerned with Curial reform, not the Synod on the Family, and same-sex marriage wasn’t even spoken of. (The French piece, in 7Sur7, is simply written enough that Google Translate has no problems rendering a fairly clear English version.)

(Brother Bugnolo is performing a rhetorical trick of recent origin that I call “pseudo-decoding”, in which the innocent obvious meaning of a statement is rejected in favor of a “coded message” that the writer/speaker “reveals” to mean something nefarious and unacceptable to All Right-Thinking People Everywhere. While this trick is favored by hard-core leftist demagogues, Br. Bugnolo shows us that anyone can play the game.)

What do the German bishops have planned?

While they speak of “paradigm shifts” and “the mutual reinforcement of dogma and pastoral practice”, none of this palaver really amounts to a plan, or even a set of actionable principles. In theory, one could argue that the princes of the Church in Germany are trying to talk themselves into extending Communion to the divorced and remarried. However, it seems they have a higher priority in the precipitous decline in believers in the former German Democratic Republic, when other former Soviet Bloc countries are experiencing Catholic resurgences or only slight losses.

In any case, despite the claim that they “can not wait”, nothing the Germans have said indicates they’re moving in any particular direction, let alone to the left. At least, they’re not moving “with a sense of urgency”, as my drill instructor used to say.

But they’re not moving away from Rome, either. The traditionalists in the Blogisterium need to invest in new decoder rings.