Pope Francis Fires ‘Shot Across the Bow’ of Catholic Church in Germany

(From L) The prefect of the Papal House Lord bishop Georg Gaenswein, Pope Francis, mayor of Aachen Marcel Philipp and Juergen Linden attend the award ceremony of Germany's famed Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis, given to public figures in recognition of contribution to European unity, on May 6, 2016, at …
ANGELO CARCONI/AFP/Getty

ROME — Pope Francis has warned the Catholic Church in Germany that they may be doing the devil’s work if they start striking out on their own on matters of priestly celibacy, sexual morality, and clerical power.

On Saturday, Pope Francis released a letter addressed to the “Pilgrim People of God in Germany,” displaying his pain at “the growing erosion and decay of the faith” in present-day Germany, even in traditionally Catholic regions where there is “a very strong decline in participation in Sunday Mass, as well as sacramental life.”

The pope went on to suggest that drastic, unilateral measures to address the problem are not the answer, in what amounted to what veteran Vatican journalist John Allen called a “papal shot across the bow.”

“Coming at a time when the German Church has announced a ‘binding synodal process’ to discuss priestly celibacy, sexual morality and clerical power, the letter amounted to a fairly blunt reminder to Germans that they’re part of a universal church and can’t just strike out alone,” Allen wrote Tuesday.

The pope exhorted German Catholics to unity with the entire Church at a time when they seem prepared to adopt solutions that could separate them from the rest of Catholics in the world.

“Brothers and sisters, let us watch out for one another and be attentive to the temptation of the father of lies and division, to the master of separation who, by promoting an apparent good or response to a particular situation, ends up in fact fragmenting the body of the God’s holy faithful people,” Francis said.

“As an apostolic body let us walk and walk together, listening to one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even if we do not think the same,” he said.

In what John Allen called “one of those narrative-bending moments from Francis,” the pope told the Germans that programs and structures are not at the heart of Church reform and advised them instead to prioritize “spiritual medicines” such as “prayer, penance, and adoration.”

“It’s especially ironic given perceptions that Francis is beholden to the more progressive wing of the German Church on other fronts, including his push for Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics during the family synods of 2014 and 2015,” Allen noted.

Without a strong dimension of humility and adoration, Francis told the Germans, “we run the risk of adopting ourselves as our starting point or of seeking self-justification and self-preservation that will lead us to make changes and arrangements that only go halfway.”

Far from solving problems, he continued, these arrangements “will end up ensnaring us in an endless spiral that kills and suffocates the most beautiful, liberating, and promising proclamation we have, which gives meaning to our existence: Jesus Christ is the Lord.”

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