NEW YORK – In a new letter, Archbishop Samuel Aquila took aim at the German episcopacy for what he considers “radical” proposals that came out of the first forum of the German Synodal Path that took place earlier this year.

The “fundamental text” of “Forum I: Power and separation of powers in the Church – common participation and sharing in the mission” includes a proposal to make the election process of bishops and pastors more democratic, calls priestly celibacy into question and states clarifications are needed to “open access for women to the ordained ministry in the Church.”

Early on in the archbishop’s seven section, 15-page letter titled “A Response to ‘Forum I” of the German Catholic Synodal Path: An Open Letter to the Catholic Bishops of the World,” he disputes the claim that clarifications are needed on the topic of ordaining women.

“At one level, the Fundamental Text’s proposals depend upon a partial and tendentious account of the origin and nature of the ordained ministry, one that is at odds with the Church’s definitive understanding of Christ’s own institution of the Church,” the Archbishop of Denver wrote.

“At a deeper level, while claiming to anchor itself in the Second Vatican Council, the Synodal Path exploits a selective and misleading interpretation of the Council’s documents to prop up untenable views of the nature of the Church, her relationship with the world, and her foundation on divine revelation, views that are impossible to square with a full reading of the council.”

Aquila anchors many of his disputes throughout the letter on the discrepancies between what German bishops propose, and what’s written in Lumen gentium, one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Another area is the proposal to alter the hierarchical structure of the church. Aquila calls it “unfortunate” that the “fundamental text” deems the best way to reform the exercise of power is “by diffusing it through a system of checks and balances.” And notes that both the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis instead proposed a clarion call to holiness.

“None of this means that the lay faithful cannot or should not help the clergy in the governance of the Church,” Aquila writes. “But reform in the Church can never be accomplished by simply sharing out a power that remains, it would seem, oriented to self-interest and insufficiently grounded in Jesus’ gifts and expressed will.”

Once again invoking Lumen Gentium, Aquila further notes that the Second Vatican Council grounds the hierarchical constitution of the Church in the “manifest intention of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit themselves.”

“It is therefore outside of the competence of the Church, in Germany or elsewhere, fundamentally to alter it,” he wrote.

Aquila’s points on hierarchical structure, his points on the ordination of women, are both found in the third section – the longest – of the letter, titled “The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Structure of Church.”

The other sections include:

  • The Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • “Forum I” of the German Catholic Synodal Path
  • The Church as Society and Sacrament
  • The Church and the World
  • The Church and the Word of God
  • Christ Crucified, Our First Love

A key point made in these sections is a belief that in the “fundamental text” the Synodal Assembly hopes the Church will be accepted alongside other worldly institutions.

“At attentive reading of the Fundamental Text in its entirety makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Synodal Assembly hopes to bring about a Church that, far from being prepared to suffer the world’s contempt for her fidelity to Christ, will be preeminently conditioned by the world and comfortably accepted by it as one respectable institution among others,” Aquila writes.

From the outset of the letter, however, Aquila acknowledges that in the first forum the Synodal Assembly was correct to express distress over clergy sex abuse scandals, and the importance of further implementation of the Second Vatican Council, particularly in fully realizing the role of the lay faithful.

On the topic of the clergy sex abuse crisis, Aquila brought up the importance of a commitment to pastoral care for victims of clergy abuse, Masses in “reparation for the sins of clergy and laity,” public acts of contrition and penance, and transparency.

He also cautioned that while the financial impact on the Church from the abuse scandals “has been severe,” that can’t be the primary motivation for reform.

“Instead, our greatest concern must be the restoration of the trust of those whom Christ has entrusted to the Church,” Aquila wrote.

To close the letter, he posed a series of questions to his fellow bishops.

“I offer this letter and these questions for prayer and reflection,” he wrote. “Are we willing to speak of the Cross? Do we have the courage to walk in the way of the Cross, bearing the world’s contempt for the message of the Gospel? Will we ourselves heed the Lord Jesus’s call to repentance, and have the courage to echo it to an unbelieving world?”

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