In a major address on Saturday 17th October Pope Francis told a gathering of bishops that he “felt the need to proceed in a healthy ‘decentralization'” of power to the “Episcopal Conferences”. “We must reflect on realizing even more through these bodies” he said, because the “hope of the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized.” Towards the beginning of his pontificate Francis had already called for a “conversion of the papacy” in Evangelii Gaudium and stated that “a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.”
Calls for “decentralization” made by heterodox prelates at Ordinary Synod
The demand for devolution of power, including “genuine doctrinal authority”, has been a demand made at the Ordinary Synod by those who reject Catholic teaching on human sexuality. Abbot Jeremias Schroder, who attended the synod as a representative of the Union of Superior Generals, said that both “the social acceptance of homosexuality” and the manner of dealing with “divorced and remarried persons” were examples “where bishops conferences should be allowed to formulate pastoral responses that are in tune with what can be preached and announced and lived in a different context.”
The Abbot alleged that such delegation was supported by a majority of the synod fathers. “This has come up many times, many interventions in the aula have developed the topic that there should be a delegation and authorization of dealing with issues at least pastorally in different ways according to the cultures,” he said. “I think I’ve heard something like that at least twenty times in the interventions, whereas only about two or three have spoken against it, affirming that the unity of the church needs to be maintained also in all these regards and that it would be painful to go into such a delegation of authority.”
Reinhard Cardinal Marx, who is both Archbishop of Munich and Freising and a member of Pope Francis’s inner council of nine cardinals, has also called for more delegation to bishops’ conferences.
“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx said earlier this year. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”
Cardinal Marx repudiates Catholic doctrine in synodal intervention
Cardinal Marx’s understanding of what “pastoral care” requires in his “culture” is directly contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. During his intervention at the Ordinary Synod on 14th October he attacked the Church’s doctrine and discipline regarding the reception of Holy Communion by those living in public adultery:
“Therefore, the question of how to deal with faithful whose marriages failed – and who not seldomly afterwards, after a civil divorce, have entered into a new civil marriage – remains in many parts of the world an urgent pastoral problem. For many faithful – also for those who live in an intact marriage – it is a question of the credibility of the Church.” (Translation by Maike Hickson)
Echoing Cardinal Kasper’s view that it is possible for an adulterer to embark on a “penitential pathway” to obtain forgiveness for sins that led to the “breakdown” of their first marriage without abandoning the second sinful union Marx argued: “Can we really heal without making possible the Sacrament of Reconciliation?” This statement denies the teaching of the Catholic Church that absolution can only be received in the Sacrament of Penance when there is true contrition and a firm purpose of amendment.
Marx proceeded to question whether adultery is always a sinful behaviour. He asked whether one “does justice to the situation of those couples” when saying that they live, objectively, in the state of adultery: “[D]oes such an answer do justice to the situation of the concerned people? And is it imperative, from the view point of Sacramental Theology?” He continued, “Can people truly have the feeling to be part of us when they are regarded as living in the state of grave sin?” This raises the serious question of whether Cardinal Marx accepts the reality of the state of grave sin. Does Cardinal Marx believe that somebody who habitually steals, murders or commits fraud live in a “state of grave sin”? Are thieves, murderers and fraudsters able to receive Holy Communion without first repenting of their sins?
Cardinal Marx also seems to embrace “situation ethics” when he states that “It is also questionable whether sexual acts in a second civil marriage can be judged independently of the circumstances in life. Can we without exception judge sexual acts in a second civil marriage as adultery?” This approach was decisively rejected by Pope John Paul II in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor in which he taught:
“Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature ‘incapable of being ordered’ to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed ‘intrinsically evil’: they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances.”
Cardinal Marx also sought to undermine Catholic teaching on contraception, insisting that the Church has “to give more scope to the conscientious decision of the bridal and married couple.”
He continued: “This is true especially in situations where partners – in the middle of a conflict of values – have to make a decision: for example, when the openness to the procreation of more children comes into conflict with the preservation of the marital and family life.” In this statement Cardinal Marx echoes paragraph 137 of the Instrumentum Laboris, the agenda for the Ordinary Synod, which seeks to undermine Catholic teaching by creating a false conflict between “conscience” and an “objective moral norm”. Here Cardinal Marx creates a “false conflict” between “procreation” and “family life”. It will here be helpful to remember the teaching of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae:
“Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.
“From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (No. 10)
“This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” (No. 12)
Pope Francis can only quell grave concerns by correcting heresy
“Decentralization” has been demanded by prelates who are openly stating that they wish to see Episcopal Conferences depart from the faith and practice of the Universal Church. Far from correcting such prelates Pope Francis has often, as in the case of Cardinal Marx, appointed them to positions of influence. It is reasonable therefore for Catholics to be gravely concerned when he echoes their call for decentralization.
Pope Francis can only restore trust by publicly correcting heresy and by ending his practice of conferring honours and influence on prelates who reject the Catholic faith.