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The Growing German Schism: Warnings, Personal Attacks, and a “Liturgical Dance”

Image: Screenshot, ARD (German Broadcaster)

As we reported a few days ago, it seems that the progressivist German bishops under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx – who are facing resistance from seven fellow bishops concerning their new intercommunion handout – are leaning now toward a decentralized solution to the conflict whereby each bishop would set his own rules for his particular diocese. However, this very idea has now also met with resistance in Germany. There are to be seen now many rebukes, attacks, and yet another scandalous “liturgical dance.”

For example, for Regina Einig, writing an article for the conservative Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, this decentralized approach “means de facto the prospect of schism.” She explains: “The episcopacy in Germany is, in any event, at a point where one cannot any more elide over opposing theological views with the help of an episcopal formula of consensus.”

In Einig’s eyes, the recent Katholikentag (a national meeting of Catholics) in Münster has shown that “’ecumenism from below’ with a Protestant orientation,” an orientation which creates “facts at a violent pace, does not refute obvious errors, isolates opponents, and throws rhetorical smoke grenades.”

Einig continues her piercing description of the German Church’s situation with these words: “The Katholikentag became a rehearsal for a split of Catholics: questions concerning the teaching and the tradition of the Church were at times apodictically brushed aside and drowned by monologues.” “Psychological pressure” was applied to the opponents, as well, Einig adds. All of these steps “are accelerating the sell-out of the Sacraments,” the journalist comments. After describing the increasing sense of insecurity among the lay faithful, to include future seminarians, and the growing desire among them to exit the official structures of the German Catholic Church and also its state tax system, Einig concludes her stirring commentary with the words: “The self-protestantization of the Church in Germany damages no one more than herself.”

In the course of her comments, Einig also had earlier pointed out that nobody at the Katholikentag in Münster had listened to the dire warnings of Metropolitan Augoustinos, the President of the Orthodox Bishops’ Conference in Germany. She herself had recently, on 10 May, reported on that sobering admonition from a non-Catholic Christian leader.

Metropolitan Augoustinos had spoken on Thursday 10 May at the Katholikentag in Münster, and commented on the topic of the admittance of Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion in individual cases as it had been largely approved by the German bishops. “We all have to be careful,” he explained; “It can be that one causes schisms when trying to unite.” While Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians wish for more ecumenism, he added, one has to be careful not thereby to create new splits.

Moreover, Metropolitan Augoustinos makes it clear that the Orthodox Church also has problems in the question of intercommunion. German Christians, he says, have “carefully to clarify” the questions of the last supper, Communion, and the ecclesiastical understanding. The Orthodox Church, according to him, permits mixed marriages, but rejects intercommunion. “We have no intercommunion between the Orthodox and Catholics, even though we nearly have the same faith. And that is right,” he added. Metropolitan Augoustinos supported the idea that the Catholics, for the sake of ecumenism, should hold fast to the existing teaching according to which ecclesial communion is a precondition for Eucharistic communion.

Additionally, he also reminded his audience of a saying of the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople (1886-1972), according to which love and truth have to be the leitmotifs of ecumenical dialogue. Metropolitan Augoustinos made it clear that Communion can only be shared where one “shares the faith.” If the faithful wish to “make” unity without theologians and bishops, “that would be a catastrophe for me.” He referred here to some Protestant intercommunion initiatives. For him, it is honest to admit that there exist some fundamental problems with ecumenism.

Thus, while this passionate and truthful warning from an Orthodox leader has been largely avoided, or dismissed, during the recent discussions in Germany, another episcopal statement has received a strong, though somewhat mocking, response.

No one else but the private secretary of Pope emeritus Bendedict XVI had given, on 16 May, an interview to the German magazine Stern, in which he made a slight ironic criticism of Cardinal Reinhard Marx’ own recent rejection of Bavaria’s decision to display crosses in public buildings. First, Archbishop Georg Gänswein made it clear that he “welcomed the decision to preserve the presence of the crucifix also in the public realm.” When asked about Marx’ claim that this decision was causing “division, unrest and animosity,” Gänswein responded that these words spoken by Marx were only “a first, initial statement which was little enlightened [wenig erleuchtet].” “In the meantime, he [Marx] backed off quite strongly,” Gänswein – who is also the Prefect of the Papal Household – pertly added.

Moreover, in the same interview, Archbishop Gänswein also ruled out the possibility of female priests. This will not happen, he said, “also not after my death.” “This is fundamentally not a question of the times, but a question of the sense and purpose of the Catholic priesthood.” For this prelate, “the female priesthood would not be a fitting response to the lack of priests. Yes, we have a lack of priests in Germany, but we also have a serious lack of faithful.” Here, the German prelate made a reference to celibacy, saying that this is “something precious” that may not be thrown out into the water. He himself does not think that celibacy is at the root of the problem of the lack of faithful and priests.

Archbishop Gänswein also made an explicit reference to Pope John Paul II, and his ruling in the question of female priests, when he said:

The question has been definitively answered – if I may clearly recall here this fact – and in the negative. The Church is bound to the Will and the Word of Christ. She is not authorized to make a change in this central question of the faith. I am of course aware that there is a noisy movement which has as its main ideological goal the fight for the female priesthood.

These strong comments as presented here by Archbishop Gänswein did not seem to sit well with the progressivist camp in Germany, even though he had interspersed his comments with some high (and quite disheartening) praises for Pope Francis. In a satirical “review of the week,” the German bishops’ own website mocks the German prelate, calling him “Don Giorgio” (as he is sometimes called by Pope Benedict himself), and speaking about how he is “worth his money.” The reference here is to the fact that he is working both for Pope Francis and for Benedict, thus fulfilling two jobs. Comments the author of the satire: “Even more astonishing is it that Don Giorgio still finds time to give interviews.” In a mocking tone, the author then mentions the archbishop’s critical remarks about Cardinal Marx and himself makes up a song, asking whether Pope Benedict is still alive. Is there any further comment necessary?

However, there was also to be seen a new “liturgical dance” during the Katholikentag, on 13 May during Holy Mass (at the Agnus Dei) – in the presence of Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Rainer Woelki, as well as many German bishops. That is to say, a layman danced in front of the altar.

This scene provoked the just indignation of Dr. Markus Büning who, in his comments to Onepeterfive, called this dance “sensual” and “utterly unfitting for Holy Mass.” “This is pure event culture!” this German theologian and book author likewise exclaimed. “The fitting respect for the Holy Sacrifice at the Cross which is present in the Holy Eucharist is missing; yes, we are witnessing here a mockery of this deep mystery of our faith,” he added. “In front of the Blessed Sacrament, we do not dance, we fall on our knees and adore Him.” Dr. Büning also asked the piercing question: “How shall I teach my children a deep reverence toward the Sacrifice at Holy Mass when bishops turn it into an event filled with dance and entertainment?”

Yes, Mrs. Einig, it is so that the German Catholic Church is in trouble. Signs of schism are palpable. And sometimes also in a repellent way.

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