Archbishop Emeritus Terrence Prendergast Photo by Michael Swan

Canadian bishops sign letter warning of schism

  • April 20, 2022

Four Canadian bishops are among more than 70 bishops from around the world who have released a “fraternal open letter” to Germany’s bishops warning that sweeping changes to Church teaching advocated by the ongoing process known as the “Synodal Path” may lead to schism.

Archbishop Emeritus Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa-Cornwall, Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Prince George Bishop Stephen Jensen and Bishop Paul Terrio of St. Paul, Alta., added their signatures to  the April 11 letter.

The letter expresses “our growing concern about the nature of the entire German ‘Synodal Path,’ ” which the signatories say has led to confusion about Church teaching and appears focused more on man’s will than God’s.

“Failing to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel, the Synodal Path’s actions undermine the credibility of Church authority, including that of Pope Francis; Christian anthropology and sexual morality; and the reliability of Scripture,” the letter states.“While they display a patina of religious ideas and vocabulary, the German Synodal Path documents seem largely inspired not by Scripture and Tradition — which, for the Second Vatican Council, are ‘a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ — but by sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies,” the letter continues.

The letter’s organizers provided an email address — — that other bishops can use to add their names to the document.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, responded April 14, saying that the decision to embark on the Synodal Path was to confront the systemic causes of abuse and its cover-up. He said it was “our attempt to renew a credible proclamation of the Good News.”

Bätzing said it was important to speak openly about power and abuse of power in the Church.

Those lending their names to the document include such well-known prelates as U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Australian Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver.

Aquila released his own commentary in May on the Synodal Path’s first text, saying it puts forward “untenable” proposals for changes to Church teaching.

The Synodal Way is a controversial multi-year process bringing together Germany’s bishops and laypeople to discuss the way power is exercised in the Church, sexual morality, the priesthood and the role of women. It consists of the bishops, 69 members of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics and representatives of other parts of the German Church.

In February, the assembly voted in favour of draft texts calling for same-sex blessingsand changes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.

More recently, in an interview published on March 31, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx asserted that the catechism’s teaching on homosexuality is “not set in stone”  and “one is also allowed to doubt what it says.”

The 859-word letter doesn’t cite any specific changes to Church teaching called for so far.

Instead, it broadly criticizes the Synodal Path’s approach and the content of its draft documents. “A telling flaw” about these texts, the letter argues, is that rather than expressing the “joy of the Gospel,” they bear the “obsessively critical, and inward-looking” marks of a bureaucratic process chiefly focused on something other than the salvation of souls.

“In its effect,” the letter observes, “the Synodal Path displays more submission and obedience to the world and ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.”

Noting that authentic freedom is not the same as “autonomy,” and that one’s conscience does not determine truth, the letter argues that the the Synodal Path has veered from the reality that a “properly formed Christian conscience remains subject to the truth about human nature and the norms of righteous living revealed by God and taught by Christ’s Church.”

In the same vein, regarding questions about the governance of the institutional Church, the letter urges the German bishops to remember that “(t)he reform of structures is not at all the same thing as the conversion of hearts.”

“Christian history is littered with well-intended efforts that lost their grounding in the Word of God, in a faithful encounter with Jesus Christ, in a true listening to the Holy Spirit, and in the submission of our wills to the will of the Father.”

(With files from Catholic News Service)

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