31 December 2023, The Tablet

Francis is no ‘progressive’, Fernández warns Germans

Fiducia Supplicans was not a “liberal reform” but a “pastoral answer which everyone – even albeit with difficulty – could accept”.

Francis is no ‘progressive’, Fernández warns Germans

Cardinal Victor Fernández said that Pope Francis could not guarantee the Church’s communion if he was a “liberal reformer”.
Maria Grazia Picciarella / Alamy

The Vatican’s doctrine chief has warned Germany’s bishops that Pope Francis is not “progressive”, despite recent pronouncements from the Holy See.

Cardinal Victor Fernández, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), told the Catholic weekly Die Tagespost that the Pope was not the liberal reformer some imagined him to be.

“Some German bishops in my view don’t really seem to understand that a progressive (aufklärerisch) Pope could not guarantee the communion (Gemeinschaft) of Germans, Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, Russians and so on”, Fernandez said, emphasising that the Pope’s approach was “pastoral”.

Fiducia Supplicans, the DDF’s declaration on blessings for unmarried and same-sex couples published shortly before Christmas, was a “clear answer/response which bears the Pope’s signature”, Fernández said, “not the answer/response which two or three countries would like”.

It was a “pastoral answer which everyone – even albeit with difficulty – could accept”.

Fernández particularly criticised Germany’s debates on Church reform: “When one hears some of the views expressed in the German Synodal Path Initiative it sometimes seems that a certain part of the world feels particularly ‘enlightened’ and understands what the other poor wretches cannot comprehend as they are too uncommunicative and medieval, and then this ‘enlightened’ part of the world naïvely feels that it is reforming the whole Universal Church and liberating it from its outdated doctrine.”

Die Tagespost will publish the full interview in its 4 January edition.

Fernández previously told the US-based news site The Pillar that he would visit Germany to discuss the celebration of same-sex blessings following the publication of Fiducia Supplicans, which was widely welcomed by the German bishops.

“I didn’t think that such a signal [from the Vatican] would be that quick to come”, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich said on 19 December.

He said it was a very good first step and even if it looked like a small step to Catholics in Germany, “for some in the World Church it is a huge step which should not be underestimated. A not inconsiderable number of Catholics in Africa will most certainly be shaking their heads.”

“For us it is nothing new,” Marx said. “We have been working on it for some time”, with guidelines ready to distribute to clergy.

Marx said that in 2021, after a Vatican statement prohibited blessings for remarried and same-sex couples, he had told Pope Francis that “things cannot go on like this”, adding that the Pope had been unhappy with the statement.

“The present approval is therefore absolutely in accordance with his wishes”, he said.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, said Fiducia Supplicans allowed the Church to respond to couples “who ask for a blessing of their partnership even if they are not in every sense living according to Church norms. It is a good thing that this treasure has been made available for a diversity of lifestyles.”

Among other German bishops to welcome the declaration, Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden said it was “an attempt not to neglect the Church’s teaching on Christian marriage and at the same time to enhance the value of same sex relationships”. Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg called it “a real Christmas present”.

However, Prof Thomas Schüller of Münster University, one of Germany’s best-known canon lawyers, told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that a lack of guidance on how to conduct blessings meant that they would remain contested.

“It will come to a free play of liturgical powers,” he said, anticipating a “culture clash (Kulturkampf) in the Catholic Church between the progressive and conservative camps”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99