"Tu es Petrus": Pope Francis holds the relics of St Peter as he recites the Creed at Mass last Sunday.
It seems Pope Francis will soon be facing the first major crisis of his papacy: the effective schism of the Church in Germany. As noted by commentators over the last few months, the German bishops threatened dissent from Church teaching on Communion for the divorced and remarried may well create a serious crisis in the Church universal. Latest developments do not bode well for the Church: the Bishop of Stuttgart has indicated that the German hierarchy will go ahead with their plans even if in defiance of Rome, and ultimately in defiance of Church law and the teaching of Jesus Christ. They have already explicitly rejected Archbishop Mueller of the CDF's warning, what will they do if the Holy Father himself has to come out and warn them explicitly? Rejecting the Pope's warning will be tantamount, I think, to an act of schism, and given that they seem to want to rewrite the Lord's commandment on adultery, they may also be in heresy.
The media, and perhaps even the German bishops themselves, will try and present this as an issue of compassion and inclusion. It needs to be said that compassion must be shown to those in relationships that are contrary to Christ's law (and it is Christ's law we are talking about here) and they must be included, as far as possible, in the life of the Church commending them to the mercy of God and accompanying them on what may be a journey towards to the truth. However, true compassion does not reject the truth, true compassion does not lead others into sin nor justifies or legitimises sin as St Paul says very clearly in his Hymn to Love in Corinthians. Compassion has to lead to truth and virtuous living.
Some bloggers are reacting. Fr Z reports the developments. He suggests that there will be a big push for this change at the Synod next year. It will certainly dominate discussions and we may well see, if we are allowed a peek, a right battle royal in the Synod Hall. Fr Ray Blake offers some reflections on these developments seeing them as part of a larger dissent on the part of the Church in Germany over the last number of decades. He is correct in pointing out that the Church in Germany is too wealthy, and the Church tax is not a good idea - it can enslave the Church to the State and public opinion if bishops and priests fear the loss of income should people stop paying the tax in protest at certain Church teachings. It also reveals an unhealthy relationship between the Church and State: it may incline the local Church to Erastianism.
We shall see how things go. Remember, we are not dealing with a man-made law here: it is derived from divine law. The Pope cannot change that, he cannot say that what is sinful by God's decree, is now not sinful. If the Pope cannot change the moral law, then the German bishops certainly can't. If the bishops go ahead with their plan they will inflict a serious wound on the Church and the communion of the faithful; they will lead souls astray, lead them into error and perhaps even to damnation; they will also risk damnation themselves. In this act, if they go ahead with it, these shepherds will be betraying the flock and the Chief Shepherd himself.
Last Sunday the Holy Father held the relics of St Peter in his hands as he led the Church in the praying of the Creed, as Peter he may now have to assert his authority over an erring local church, and he needs the prayers and support of all the faithful throughout the Church. The honeymoon may well be over for the Holy Father - no harm there. As the faithful, we must stand with Peter.