Rorate Caeli

Marx's comments "belong in the village pub": Cardinal Josef Cordes' letter to Tagespost publicly rebuking German Bishops' Chairman

Poverty and Humility: Cardinal Marx some years ago in Fulda enjoying
one of his great pleasures: Church Tax-funded luxury cigars
The German-language Catholic news website provided a few days ago an authorized summary of the letter sent by Cardinal Cordes to Tagespost on Cardinal Marx's most recent controversial statements, in effect declaring the independence of the German Church. Translation by reader "K":

Vatican City. Authorised summary of a letter to the editor of the “Tagespost” from March 7, 2015, in which Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, former president of the papal work COR UNUM, publicly refutes some statements made by Reinhard Cardinal Marx and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück at the plenary meeting of the German bishops in Hildesheim:

At the last plenary meeting of the German bishops, statements of their president were made public which were neither officially published nor denied by the conference’s secretariat. Since words of the most prominent representative of German Catholics give directions and [since these statements] furthermore caused a stir in the media, it makes sense to publicly contradict some of the positions expressed, also in order to limit the confusion they have caused in several places.

In these statements, the president [Marx] noted that in the universal Church ‘certain expectations’ are directed towards Germany. This is astonishing. A poll of the ‘Bertelsmann foundation’ showed that only 16.2 percent of the West-German Catholics believe in almighty God as a person they can encounter, all other Catholics equate ‘God’ with a faceless providence, anonymous fate, or a primordial power – or they simply deny His existence. Therefore we have little reason to boast against churches in other countries about our faith.

Moreover, it is not only astonishing that the German Church supposedly enjoys such great respect within Catholicism. More irritating still are the theological blurs and statements, in which the President of the Bishops’ Conference plainly declared that “We are no local branches of Rome. Each Conference is responsible for the pastoral care in its cultural environment and, as it most proper task, has to proclaim the Gospel in its own way.” As a social ethicist Cardinal Marx may know much about the dependency of branches of large corporations. In an ecclesiastical context, such statements should rather be rather left to the village pub.

What, however, is meant with the “responsibility” for the “pastoral care in a cultural environment”? Undoubtedly, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference has such competence for questions like the new edition of a hymnal [Gotteslob, new edition recently released in the German-speaking world], or for decisions on pilgrim routes to Altötting [Marian shrine]. However, the debate on the problems of remarried divorcees is another matter. It is bound to theology, which forms its centre. Therefore, even a Cardinal cannot, almost as in a coup, separate pastoral care from doctrine – unless he wants to ignore the meaning of the words of Jesus, which oblige us in Faith, and the binding definitions of the Council of Trent.

The fundamental sense of community, a central theological-spiritual foundation upholding the universal Church, seems to be of little relevance in his [Marx’s] statements from Hildesheim, although bishops have promised explicitly such “Unity with the College of Bishops under the Successor of St Peter” at their consecration. The sentence “We cannot wait until a synod tells us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and families here” was hardly inspired by the ecclesiastical sense of ‘Communio,’ to say the least. This ‘anti-Roman instinct’ is not the invention of some scholars, but in the North [of Europe] a reality that displays strong centrifugal power. It is destructive to the highest degree to the unity of the Faith.

It is, however, also correct that Cardinal Marx is not alone. The chairman of the pastoral commission of the conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, came to his support by demanding that pastoral care and dogma had to cross-fertilise each other. This was supposedly a “historically important” insight, which he even calls a “change of paradigm.” For this purpose he even uses the conciliar constitution ‘Gaudium et Spes,’ where it is written that there was “nothing truly human that did not find an echo in their [i.e.  the disciples of Christ] hearts.”

From that he deduces that, “not only the Christian message must find an echo with men, but men must find an echo with us.” “In what relation stands the doctrine of the Church today with the everyday life of men? Do we sufficiently integrate the concrete experiences of people into doctrine? A total discrepancy between doctrine and life must not happen.” However, the attempt to deduce the content of Faith from the experience of human life is not as new as is claimed here, and it can especially not claim to be a “change of paradigm”.

During the conciliar debate on the relevance of social or ecclesiastical phenomena for the Faith the arguments focused on the biblical expression “signs of the times.” However, the debate of the Council Fathers had as its result that it would be erroneous to discover the “signs of the times” in human life simply as a “source for the Faith”, and they explicitly rejected the embarrassing shortcut that a phenomenon challenging the Church would as such already be a source of the Faith (Locus Theologicus)On the contrary, the Vatican II constitution on “Divine Revelation” leaves no doubt that the Faith of the Catholic Church is nourished by Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition only. Independent of this unambiguous direction it would be paradox to attribute to a small group of members of the Church, who live in a spiritually pitiable but objectively irregular situation, the function of a source of the Faith.

This problem does not touch directly most of the members of the Church practicing the Faith. May the pastors assembled in Rome this autumn also instruct these men and women on how their marriage can root them deeper and deeper in the Faith in Jesus Christ, so that they may become for many contemporaries witnesses of God’s power in the life of men. Maybe it will even occur to the synod fathers to express their respect to those who, out of fidelity to the marriage vows once made, do not enter any new union. Also they exist.