Concern is growing in Rome about the German church’s undue influence on Pope Francis’ reform of the Roman curia and church governance.
Last week, the so-called C9 group of cardinals advising the Holy Father on the reform met in Rome. No decisions were made and changes aren’t expected until the end of net year at the earliest.
One of the most influential members of the C9 is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising. Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord, director of Vatican Radio’s German edition, told a Munich newspaper last week that Marx, who heads the country’s bishops, had clearly gained influence over the Pope. Francis will “certainly” listen to his experience of handling funds and labor issues, he said.
This is disturbing some of the faithful for at least two reasons. First, the church in Germany is currently considering reforming ecclesiastical labor law so that divorced and remarried Catholics, and those in homosexual relationships, can be employed by the church.
The majority of bishops, anxious to align the church with secular trends, are expected to vote to pass the reform next April — despite concerns it will undermine church teaching and authority. Observers say the bishops’ conference is using manipulative and underhanded techniques to ensure it passes, devising the changes in secret — planting at least one pro-reform article in a newspaper.
The bishops, including Marx, believe the church should adapt to the times, and be seen as “more merciful” with respect to current situations. If the church is to maintain the many services it provides, it must allow such employees to work for the church.
Opponents argue that, if enacted, those living in what the church has always taught as sinful relationships would henceforth have those lifestyles implicitly affirmed.
Furthermore, they fear the changes would make it difficult to offer pastoral care such as recommending they go to confession when their colleagues and possibly superiors are known to be living sinful private lives. As for maintaining the services, they argue that out of 23 million Catholics, it surely cannot be too difficult to find employees who respect and try to adhere to church teaching.
Second, the church’s growing influence is disturbing because it adds to the many controversial influences during a synod of bishops on the family that took place at the Vatican in October. At that major meeting, the bishops spoke about examining the positive aspects of those in homosexual relationships and cohabitating, provoking widespread opposition. Many of these influences came via German prelates, most notably Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is pushing for changes concerning divorced and remarried Catholics.
Some senior Vatican officials have openly questioned why anyone should listen to leaders of a church which is rapidly losing members — 118,335 left in 2012 — where the faith is weak. Helping to drive the German Catholic Church into oblivion is the country’s notorious ecclesiastical tax which has made it the wealthiest church in the world — 2013 revenues totaled $6.7 billion.
The compulsory nature of the tax and reliance on its income has led to complacency, general resentment, and a willingness to compromise with the state to maintain funds at a time when members are dwindling.
The Teutonic juggernaut influencing the church is powerful and likely to continue. Marx, who also heads the church’s episcopal conference to the European Union, is one of the most senior and influential figures in the church today. He has the Pope’s ear. Many therefore fear, especially in the run-up to next year’s second synod on the family, German bishops will inflict deep and lasting wounds on the church’s teaching and practice — harming both Catholics and non-Catholics.
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