Pope Francis Doesn’t Make Headlines When Warning German Bishops About Doctrine


(ANALYSIS) Catholics around the world are currently preparing for Advent. But there’s another period they are all currently experiencing that can’t be found on any liturgical calendar. 

Catholics are living in a post-Synod on Synodality church where the debates from the month-long meeting that took place at the Vatican last month continues to reverberate, even with the efforts by Pope Francis to put a lid on news coverage of the discussions and speeches that took place during that event.

Europe, in particular, has been the epicenter of the action since that meeting of bishops wrapped up on Oct. 29. The synod was led, for the most part, by Europeans.

Indeed, in a span of nearly a month, we’ve seen violence against churches — a trend we have documented here at GetReligion for years now — and Pope Francis’ letter saying German bishops are “increasingly” moving away from the church’s position on a number of issues. 

Let’s start with the church vandalism. This is what Catholic News Agency reported on Nov. 17: 

During the night of Nov. 14–15, unidentified persons destroyed the altar and stole sacred vessels from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Rouen, France.

According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the prosecutor’s office confirmed that the Sacré-Coeur basilica was vandalized and that the unidentified persons also smashed a statue, although the Blessed Sacrament was not stolen.

The authorities have not yet identified the vandals, but local police have already launched an investigation to find them. 

CNA also reported this: 

A recent report from the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC) indicates that France ranks third for the most hate crimes against Christians in 2022, with 106 out of a total of 748.

That study, also reported on by CNA on Nov. 17, began this way: 

Europe has witnessed a 44% jump in anti-Christian hate crimes across more than two dozen European countries over the past year, according to a group that monitors discrimination against Christians. 

The Vienna-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC Europe) on Thursday released its annual report detailing the spike in anti-Christian incidents, which it said is “connected to a rise in extremist motivation and a higher acceptance of the targeting of churches.”

OIDAC Europe says on its website that it researches, analyzes, documents, and reports “cases of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe.” 

This is what else the report found, according to the CNA story:  

In its release on Thursday, OIDAC Europe said “arson attacks on churches” increased by 75% between 2021 and 2022. The report also revealed “legal discrimination against Christians who expressed traditional Christian worldviews.”

The top five countries for anti-Christian hate crimes, the report said, were Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Poland. The United Kingdom and Austria were also near the top of the list. 

Overall, “in 2022, OIDAC Europe documented 748 anti-Christian hate crimes in 30 different countries, which ranged from arson attacks, graffiti, desecrations, and thefts to physical attacks, insults, and threats,” the release said.

The group noted that those numbers align closely with those reported by the intergovernmental Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE “found 792 anti-Christian hate crimes in 34 European countries,” the group said, “making Christians the most targeted religious group after Jewish believers.” 

These are shocking numbers, but CNA was only one of three English-language news outlets — along with The Christian Post and Catholic Herald — to report on the study. Once again, violence against Christians and their sanctuaries are “conservative” and “religious” market news.

The situation could grow worse post-Synod given that those responsible for these attacks aren’t just attacking churches — but also what they stand for and the position the church holds regarding morals and sexuality. The report was limited to incidents that took place just last year. 

Note how one of the top countries on that list included Germany. More on events in Germany further down in this post.

Anti-Chistian hate — and specifically attacks aimed at Catholic houses of worship — isn’t news among those who make decisions in elite newsrooms. 

Another story that doesn’t resonate in these same newsrooms is anything Pope Francis says or does that doesn’t fit the progressive agenda many seem to champion. 

Case in point: The Vatican informed German bishops that the ordination of women and changes to the church’s teaching on homosexuality cannot be subjects of discussion. As always, it’s important to note recent efforts — in Germany and elsewhere — to blur the lines between doctrine and pastoral policies at the diocesan level.

Once again, here’s what CNA reported: 

The letter, dated Oct. 23, also reminded the bishops of potential disciplinary consequences for anyone defying the teaching of the Church, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Written by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, and addressed to the secretary general of the German Bishops’ Conference, Beate Gilles, the letter was shared with all German diocesan bishops.

The document’s authenticity was verified by CNA Deutsch with the German Bishops’ Conference on Friday.

The latest in a growing list of Vatican interventions regarding the German Synodal Way, the letter was published in full on Nov. 25 by the newspaper Tagespost. 

German bishops and representatives of the Roman Curia met in the Vatican in July for discussions about the German Synodal Way. These talks will continue in January, April, and July 2024. They are expected to cover ecclesiology, anthropology, morality and liturgy, and texts of the Synodal Way. 

The Vatican’s letter reminded the German bishops of the Synod on Synodality underway in Rome: “Considering the course of the German Synodal Way so far, one must first realize that a universal Synodal Way is currently taking place, convened by the Holy Father.” 

The letter emphasized that it was “therefore necessary to respect this path of the universal Church and to avoid the impression that parallel initiatives are underway that are indifferent to the effort to ‘journey together.’”

The pope was responding to a letter written by Dr. Katharina Westerhorstmann, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville; Dr. Marianne Schlosser, professor of theology at the University of Vienna; Dr. Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, professor emeritus of philosophy of religion and comparative religious studies at the Technical University Dresden in Dresden; and Dorothea Schmidt, a German journalist and author, who stated their concerns regarding where the German church was heading.

The four women had been critical of the synodal process, stating it was “casting doubt on central Catholic doctrines and beliefs,” while also noting that those taking part had ignored warnings from the Vatican in the past.

Some German priests — with public support from their bishops — have begun to bless same-sex couples, disregarding the Vatican’s position on same-sex marriage rites, with some blessings taking place outside Cologne Cathedral.

This is what The Pillar reported:

The three-page Vatican document, published Nov. 24 by the weekly Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, addressed discussions between German bishops and curial officials that are expected to take place in January, April, and June 2024.

The talks — which will focus on resolutions issued by Germany’s contentious “synodal way” — are due to involve the Vatican’s dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Promotion of Christian Unity, Bishops, Divine Worship, and Legislative Texts.

The note’s publication follows the release of a Nov. 10 letter in which Pope Francis said he shared concerns that elements in the German Church are taking steps “to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church’s common path.”

The pope was referring to the decisions of the synodal way, an initiative that brought together the country’s bishops and select lay people at five “synodal assemblies” between 2020 and 2023. 

Participants endorsed texts calling for women deacons, a re-examination of priestly celibacy, lay preaching at Masses, same-sex blessings, and a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.

The note from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said that not all of the issues raised by the German initiative could “be placed on the same level.”

Depending on what happens next, whatever immediate goals that progressive Catholics were hoping to achieve with this synod process were dealt a harsh blow. At the same time, it’s crucial for journalists to note whether any of the bishops and priests who have jumped ahead on same-sex blessings are disciplined in any way, by Rome or anyone else.

How did journalists in the mainstream press cover this harsh rebuke? 

Well, they didn’t. At all. 

It was covered extensively by the Catholic press over Thanksgiving weekend — including notable sites such as Crux — and by just one mainstream news outlet. That was Fox News, of course. The media has instead spent the past few days focusing on the pontiff’s health and his bout with the flu.

Earlier this fall, when the pope had said he was open to dialoguing on the blessing of same-sex unions and looking into ordination of women as deacons, there was lots of mainstream news coverage. 

You see, Francis only gets coverage when he says things that cultural progressives support. When he doesn’t, it goes totally ignored. It is a pattern we have seen for the past decade of the Francis papacy. 

It’s true that this Jesuit pope has often spoken out of both sides of his mouth, but that doesn’t justify not covering a massive story just weeks after the synod dealt with many of these same issues. 

Secular coverage may be nil in the U.S. press, while Catholic niche newsrooms have certainly done a solid job. It’s yet another reason why the Catholic press has been so valuable in the Francis era. Otherwise, reading the secular press alone is akin to getting just half the story.

This post was originally published at GetReligion.

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