By Synod Watch staff from Rome
Pope Francis has stated clearly that he wants a “poor Church.” He has also stated that he believes that the “sacraments must be free” and that “attachment to money” is the one sin that Catholics will not forgive of the clergy.
Ironically, it is the bishops conference that violates these principles without mercy that is pushing hardest for changes to Church teaching on marriage in the name of mercy. The German bishops are important players at the Vatican and at the Synod. It was German Cardinal Walter Kasper who kicked off the discussion of how to handle divorce and remarriage in the Church, and Kasper is seen as a leader of the “liberals” advocating changes to Church teaching and practice at the Synod. And the Archbishop of Berlin speaking last week at the Synod, directly called for changing the Church’s rules on communion. In fact, the Germans’ theological experimentation combined with their increased influence has alarmed both those at the Vatican and Vatican watchers alike.
Adding to the concern, is that another Synod Father is coordinator (head) of the Vatican’s Council for Economics, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich. The author of a book entitled Das Kapital: A Plea for Man that critiques economic systems, he too is known to support theological innovations on the sexual teaching of the Church  as well for as his own lavish lifestyle that includes a reported salary of more than 11,000 Euros a month, a BMW 7-series, and two multi-million dollar apartments, one in Rome, the other in Bavaria. And the Church Marx leads as head of its bishops conference is reeling from allegations of excessive wealth, and a lack of financial transparency.
But while the German bishops are leaders among those who would change Church teaching in Rome this month, their credibility is in free fall at home, as thousands of Catholics annually leave the Church – despite the Church’s overt attempts to conform to the prevailing secular culture there. Some have actually gone so far as to compare the situation of the Catholic Church in that country to the last days of the East German regime, in which there was the façade of stability in the face of imminent collapse.
A troubling prediction of all of this occurred four years ago when the former head of the German Bishops Conference stated in Die Zeit in 2011 that Catholic theology on divorce and remarriage would be changed within his lifetime. He added that while many saw the positions of the German bishops as heretical, Germany had one important attribute that everyone liked: the country’s Church tax gave it money, money it spent liberally in poorer regions, especially in Latin America and Africa. Archbishop Zollitsch said: that Rome often saw Germany “‘as the country of schism.’ However, the German Catholic Church is often appreciated around the world as a financier. ‘Germans count very much where there is someone who needs money,’ notes Zollitsch. Today, he recalls, the costs for priest training in Latin America are largely covered by Germany, which also finances 60% of the priests in South Africa.”
The “Church tax” money flowing into South America and Sub-Saharan Africa continues, with more than 140,000,000 Euros going to Latin America in just one year, and a similar amount going to Africa.
One must wonder if the dismissive comments Cardinal Kasper made about the African bishops last year had its basis in this financial relationship. And if they think so little of the Africans, whom they fund heavily, what do they really think of Latin Americans (Pope Francis included) who also hail from a poor continent heavily dependent on German largesse.
Whatever they think, they certainly aren’t afraid to speak their minds. Prior to the Synod, Cardinal Marx argued for autonomous action by the German Bishops Conference in its dealings on pastoral issues.
“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx was quoted as saying. “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.”
Last week, Cardinal Marx changed his tune, saying that German bishops would abide by whatever the pope decided – on family issues at the Synod.
Some commentators have worried about whether this means the Germans are now confident their position will prevail. Or perhaps the German bishops realize how much discord their position has caused the universal Church.
But even if the German bishops abide by the decision of the pope on matters of marriage, they haven’t yet started taking his advice to stop selling the sacraments. And mercy in Germany may be advocated for sexual matters, but it is not for tax matters: even though under Benedict XVI, the German practice of excommunicating the faithful for not paying the Church tax was banned outright by the Vatican. Today, it de facto – if not de jure – continues, without mercy, and non-taxpayers are banned from the sacraments (including confession and communion), as well as from God-parenting, Catholic burials, etc.
The situation could spell trouble beyond Germany. With the high stakes at the synod, it would be very dangerous is if the perception took hold that money, not doctrine, nor even a solid majority committed to that doctrine held sway. Selling the sacraments is terrible. Appearing to buy a synod – because of its influence as Church financier – could be even worse, and all the more given the pope’s commitment to a “poor Church.”
The belief that ideological colonization of the Church had occurred from within, would be devastating, and could make it seem not that Germany was a subsidiary of Rome, but that Rome – and the Church – were a subsidiary of Germany.