A Surprising German Editorial: A De Facto Schism in the Church

Out of Germany there now come to us some newly unexpected and surprisingly strong words. For, the candid source is that same national Catholic newspaper, Die Tagespost, and that same Rome Correspondent – Guido Horst himself – whom we had just a few days ago politely criticized for his claim that the debate about Amoris Laetitia is – and should be – now over and closed.

To do justice to this new important 16 January editorial statement from Germany, I shall therefore present a translation in full of Horst’s somewhat short but incisive statement concerning the current situation in the Church:

Editorial: A De Facto Schism

by Guido Horst

Whoever these days walks through the Vatican and speaks with individual clergymen about the broadening of the conflict concerning Amoris Laetitia meets with speechlessness; it is a speechlessness which also can – depending upon the intuition of the individual clergyman with regard to theological succinctness and the weight of doctrine – even broaden itself out into a complete bewilderment. With his own vote – as he presented it on Italian television – according to which certain ambiguities of the eighth chapter of the post-synodal document are “not a danger to the Faith” and thus a correction of the pope is impossible at this moment, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has likely made a quite consequential decision. There will not be any answer now coming from Francis to the questions, respectively as to the doubts of the four cardinals. Otherwise, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith would not have spoken so unambiguously. But the answers are coming now from other directions. The Church of Malta is a small local church at the periphery of Europe, but the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna is a respectable man who as a leading collaborator with the Congregation for the Faith had a decisive role at the time of the abuse scandals. When he – together with the bishop of Gozo – now instructs the pastors of his own small island state that every remarried divorcee may deal himself with the dear God as to whether he may go to Communion (see page 5 [of Die Tagespost]), then that means very clearly that each local church may now do as it pleases. The furrow grows deeper. Florence against Rome, Poland against Argentina, Malta against Milan. That is what one calls a de facto schism.

The Vatican which once was able – for example, in the case of the German system of counseling pregnant women in need – and after a long struggle to implement a decision dedicated to the clarity of the witness – at the time for [the sanctity of human] life – is now not any more capable to ensure such clarity. The pope is silent concerning the letter of the [four] cardinals and thus indirectly refuses to give a clear statement according to which the controversial paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia must be read in light of the proclamation of the previous popes. That, too, is an answer. And the Prefect of the Congregation for the Faith declares that the debates concerning the requested papal clarification is now at an end. Rome is not any more a clarifying authority, but a quiet observer who silently keeps watch on how – and while – the unity of the Church’s pastoral care breaks into pieces.

As so often happens, this takes place on the back of the “small people.” In this case, there are the many pastors who will have to explain to the faithful – and then also to those standing at a distance from the Church – what exactly has now changed. The morality, the Sacraments, the pastoral care? The good intention of the pope – namely that sinning and weak people do not excommunicate themselves any longer, but now recognize that there is also still a place in the Church for them – thus threatens to drown itself in the midst of the cluelessness of the pastors and with an increasingly venomous ongoing controversy between theologians and bishops. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra (see page 5 [of Die Tagespost]) is right when he says that this is especially a burden for the priests – a burden which they cannot bear. But, now they are left alone. [my emphasis]

We wholeheartedly commend Guido Horst for such a loyal witness to, and such a courageous defense of, the truth.

In a similar vein – and as an addition to Horst’s words – Carl Olson, the editor of Catholic World Report, also criticizes Pope Francis for his causing so much moral confusion. Olson says in a 14 January article:

The current papacy of sentimentality has produced confusion and conflict. As Cardinal Caffera states in a recent interview, “Only a blind man can deny that there is great confusion in the Church.” The clarity that Cardinal Müller speaks of so strongly is not just lacking, it seems to be absent altogether. There are directly competing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia: some by “conservative” prelates who refer to the perennial teachings of the Church and some are by progressive bishops who refer only to Amoris Laetitia and are published in the Vatican newspaper. The Pope’s Exhortation may not always be clear, but his intentions and goals are increasingly so. [my emphasis]

In light of these forthright and stirring comments written by Guido Horst and Carl Olson, it might be noteworthy to make reference also to an article published today on the official website of the German bishops, Katholisch.de. The article is written by Björn Odendahl and rebukes the conservative Catholics for their perceived moral resistance toward Amoris Laetitia, saying quite assuredly that their words “are becoming more and more absurd.” He even sees “hatred” coming from that direction. (In one rather indirect quote, he even seems to refer to Guido Horst’s own above-translated article.) The importance of this polemical article, however, lies in its last paragraph:

In one aspect, the conservatives are right: the words of the pope are not always clear enough. He should raise once more his voice and soon put an end to these goings-on which damage the Church.  [my emphasis]

While Odendahl – who himself not long ago had made a stir because of his demeaning remarks concerning the African Church’s opposition to any permissive laxening of the Church’s moral teaching – might now also wish that Pope Francis put an end to the irritant conservative resistance, we do actually agree with him on at least one essential aspect: It is up to the Vicar of Christ on earth once more to raise his authoritative voice and to clarify Amoris Laetitia. Here Odendahl even effectively agrees with the three bishops of Kazhakstan who have just made an eloquent public appeal for exactly that same intention.

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