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African Bishops among Signatories Warning of German Synodal Path’s “potential for schism”

L-R: Francis Cardinal Arinze, Archbishop Andrew Nkea, Wilfred Cardinal Napier, and Archbishop Charles Gabriel Palmer- Buckle are among signatories to the letter. Credit: Courtesy Photo

African Catholic Bishops are among dozens of Church leaders who have signed a "fraternal open letter to our brother bishops in Germany”, making known their “growing concern about” the "Synodal Path" and its “potential for schism”.

In the letter dated Monday, April 11 shared with ACI Africa, some 74 Catholic Bishops from Africa, Australia, Italy, and North America caution against the "Synodal Path" saying its “actions undermine the credibility of church authority, including that of Pope Francis.”

“(The) ‘Synodal Path’ process, as currently pursued by Catholics in Germany, has implications for the Church worldwide. This includes the local Churches which we pastor and the many faithful Catholics for whom we are responsible,” the Catholic Bishops who include 19 from Africa say in the letter that was circulated Tuesday, April 12, a day after it had been sent to the Bishops in Germany.

They tell their counterparts in Germany that ““events in one nation inevitably impact ecclesial life elsewhere.”

The Catholic Church leaders who include African Bishops from Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania criticize Catholic Bishops in Germany for “failing to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel,” for relying more on “sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies” than on Scripture and Tradition of the Church, and for being too focused on “power” and “autonomy.”

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In the April 11 letter in which an email address ([email protected]) that other Catholic Bishops can use to add their names is provided, the Church leaders acknowledge the fact that their German counterparts “display a patina of religious ideas and vocabulary”.

However, in the German Synodal Path documents, Catholic Bishops in Germany “look at the Church and her mission through the lens of the world rather than through the lens of the truths revealed in Scripture and the Church’s authoritative Tradition”, the signatories to the letter caution.

They term the German Synodal Path a process that is, in its various steps, “the work of experts and committees,” and a process that is “bureaucracy-heavy, obsessively critical, and inward-looking.”

“In its effect, the Synodal Path displays more submission and obedience to the world and ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” the Catholic Church leaders say in their letter that raise similar concerns as those recently raised by Nordic Bishops as well as Catholic Bishops in Poland.

The German Synodal Path is “terribly ironic” and offers a “destructive example” that “may lead some bishops, and will lead many otherwise faithful laypeople, to distrust the very idea of ‘synodality,’ thus further impeding the church’s necessary conversation about fulfilling the mission of converting and sanctifying the world,” they conclude in the letter that is signed by four Cardinals, including Nigerian-born Francis Cardinal  Arinze and  Wilfred Cardinal  Napier from South Africa. 

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In an interview with National Catholic Register (NCR) in reference to the letter, Cardinal Napier said he signed the letter out of concern that the Church in Germany is going in a different direction than the rest of the Church, “particularly when it comes to issues that are going to have repercussions on the Church in every part of the world.”

The South African Cardinal also said he was concerned about the Synodal Path’s deviation from established teaching of the Church regarding sexuality, adding that what happens in Germany “absolutely” has an impact on life in his country. 

During the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) meetings, Cardinal Napier told NCR, “There is always concern about how what is taking place in the Church in the West is [having an] impact upon the Church in Africa, and in particular where the impact is of a negative nature.”

He said he expects the letter to generate widespread conversation among Catholic Bishops in Africa and German Synodal Path’s possible threat to Church unity.

“What we don’t want to see is the splitting up of the Church. I don’t think anybody wants to see that,” the member of the Order of Friars Minor, Capuchin (OFM Cap.) said.

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Because of the great respect African Bishops have for Church authority and the Holy Father, he said he would expect even more outspokenness from the continent regarding German Synodal Path, if it was perceived as going against the intentions of Pope Francis and threatening Church unity.

In the letter, the Catholic Church leaders from 10 countries say the German Synodal Path “reflects a widespread form of Church sclerosis and, ironically, becomes anti-evangelical in tone.”

“The Synodal Path’s focus on ‘power’ in the Church suggests a spirit fundamentally at odds with the real nature of Christian life. Ultimately the Church is not merely an ‘institution’ but an organic community; not egalitarian but familial, complementary, and hierarchical -- a people sealed together by love of Jesus Christ and love for each other in his name,” they say.

The Catholic Bishops who include 14 from the East African nation of Tanzania continue about the German Synodal Path, “The reform of structures is not at all the same thing as the conversion of hearts. The encounter with Jesus, as seen in the Gospel and in the lives of the saints throughout history, changes hearts and minds, brings healing, turns one away from a life of sin and unhappiness, and demonstrates the power of the Gospel.” 

“As you discern the Lord’s will for the Church in Germany, be assured of our prayers for you,” the signatories to the letter dated April 11 say.

(Story continues below)

Below is the list of signatories to the April 11 letter shared with ACI Africa

Cardinal Francis Arinze (Onitsha, Nigeria) 

Cardinal Raymond Burke (archbishop emeritus of St. Louis, Missouri, USA) 

Cardinal Wilfred Napier (archbishop emeritus of Durban, South Africa) 

Cardinal George Pell (archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia) 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila (Denver, Colorado, USA) 

Archbishop Emeritus Charles Chaput (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) 

Archbishop Paul Coakley (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA) 

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (San Francisco, California, USA) 

Archbishop Damian Dallu (Songea, Tanzania) 

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Kurtz (Louisville, Kentucky, USA) 

Archbishop J. Michael Miller (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann (Kansas City, Kansas, USA) 

Archbishop Andrew Nkea (Bamenda, Cameroon) 

Archbishop Renatus Nkwande (Mwanza, Tanzania) 

Archbishop Gervas Nyaisonga (Mbeya, Tanzania) 

Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle (Cape Coast, Ghana) 

Archbishop Emeritus Terrence Prendergast (Ottawa-Cornwall, Ontario, Canada) 

Archbishop Jude Thaddaeus Ruwaichi (Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania) 

Archbishop Alexander Sample (Portland, Oregon, USA) 

Bishop Joseph Afrifah-Agyekum (Koforidua, Ghana) 

Bishop Michael Barber (Oakland, California, USA) 

Bishop Emeritus Herbert Bevard (St. Thomas, American Virgin Islands) 

Bishop Earl Boyea (Lansing, Michigan, USA) 

Bishop Neal Buckon (Auxiliary, Military Services, USA) 

Bishop William Callahan (La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA) 

Bishop Emeritus Massimo Camisasca (Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Italy) 

Bishop Liam Cary (Baker, Oregon, USA) 

Bishop Peter Christensen (Boise, Idaho, USA) 

Bishop Joseph Coffey (Auxiliary, Military Services, USA) 

Bishop James Conley (Lincoln, Nebraska, USA) 

Bishop Thomas Daly (Spokane, Washington, USA) 

Bishop John Doerfler (Marquette, Michigan, USA) 

Bishop Timothy Freyer (Auxiliary, Orange, California, USA) 

Bishop Donald Hying (Madison, Wisconsin, USA) 

Bishop Emeritus Daniel Jenky (Peoria, Illinois, USA) 

Bishop Stephen Jensen (Prince George, British Columbia, Canada) 

Bishop William Joensen (Des Moines, Iowa, USA) 

Bishop James Johnston (Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, USA) 

Bishop David Kagan (Bismarck, North Dakota, USA) 

Bishop Flavian Kassala (Geita, Tanzania) 

Bishop Carl Kemme (Wichita, Kansas, USA) 

Bishop Rogatus Kimaryo (Same, Tanzania) 

Bishop Anthony Lagwen (Mbulu, Tanzania) 

Bishop David Malloy (Rockford, Illinois, USA) 

Bishop Gregory Mansour (Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, New York, USA) 

Bishop Simon Masondole (Bunda, Tanzania) 

Bishop Robert McManus (Worcester, Massachusetts, USA) 

Bishop Bernadin Mfumbusa (Kondoa, Tanzania) 

Bishop Filbert Mhasi (Tunduru-Masasi, Tanzania) 

Bishop Lazarus Msimbe (Morogoro, Tanzania) 

Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg (Reno, Nevada, USA) 

Bishop William Muhm (Auxiliary, Military Services, USA) 

Bishop Thanh Thai Nguyen (Auxiliary, Orange, California, USA) 

Bishop Walker Nickless (Sioux City, Iowa, USA) 

Bishop Eusebius Nzigilwa (Mpanda, Tanzania) 

Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix, Arizona, USA) 

Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Springfield, Illinois, USA) 

Bishop Kevin Rhoades (Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, USA) 

Bishop David Ricken (Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA) 

Bishop Almachius Rweyongeza (Kayanga, Tanzania) 

Bishop James Scheuerman (Auxiliary, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA) 

Bishop Augustine Shao (Zanzibar, Tanzania) 

Bishop Joseph Siegel (Evansville, Indiana, USA) 

Bishop Frank Spencer (Auxiliary, Military Services, USA) 

Bishop Joseph Strickland (Tyler, Texas, USA) 

Bishop Paul Terrio (St. Paul in Alberta, Canada) 

Bishop Thomas Tobin (Providence, Rhode Island, USA) 

Bishop Kevin Vann (Orange, California, USA) 

Bishop Robert Vasa (Santa Rosa, California, USA) 

Bishop David Walkowiak (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA) 

Bishop James Wall (Gallup, New Mexico, USA) 

Bishop William Waltersheid (Auxiliary, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA) 

Bishop Michael Warfel (Great Falls-Billings, Montana, USA) 

Bishop Chad Zielinski (Fairbanks, Alaska, USA) 

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.