A first in 643 years? Anti-gay Archbishop of Denver warns of Catholic ‘schism’ Anti-gay Archbishop of Denver warns of Catholic ‘schism’

Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has entered the fray in a turf battle that some fear will split the Catholic Church. Last week, Aquila joined 73 other bishops from around the world in signing an open letter to the bishops of Germany regarding a series of reform-minded conferences in the German Church known as the Synodal Path.

Triggered by revelations of sexual abuse by priests in the German Church, the Synodal Way – also translated as Synodal Way – is intended to bring together clergy and laity to address the exercise of power and authority in within the Church, and addressed topics concerning sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women in the Church. The assembly met for the first time in 2019 and is expected to end in 2023, by Catholic News Agency.

Georg Bätzing, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, stressed the importance of the Church’s process of healing after years of scandals and abuse, saying: “Only in this way will we gain new credibility and a new confidence in the public and among the faithful. , which we wasted.

In February, the congregation signaled support for changing church teachings on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. According to ABC reports after the February synod meeting, the group “endorsed at an assembly last week calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. He also called for the church’s employment law to be revised so that gay employees are not at risk of being made redundant.

It was this position that elicited the response from Aquila and others.

The letter, titled “Fraternal Open Letter of Correction,” lists as a primary concern that the actions of the German bishops “undermine the credibility of the authority of the Church…and the reliability of Scripture.” The bishops who signed the letter warn that the Synodal Path process “has implications for the Church worldwide” and that “the potential for schism” in the Church “will inevitably result.”

Dovetailing perfectly with current culture war issues in American politics, the signatories of the letter accuse the German bishops of being influenced not by Scripture but by “contemporary political politics.” [and] gender ideologies. The letter goes so far as to say that the reforming German bishops “exhibit more submission and obedience to the world and to ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.”

Aquila, archbishop of a diocese that encompasses all of northern Colorado, is more than a signer of the letter, however. It also appears in the text. In the opening paragraphs of the letter, the bishops recommend that German Church leaders read a previous open letter published by Aquila in May 2021, which covered much of the same topic.

For church watchers, it’s no surprise that Aquila features prominently in the recent letter. The socially conservative cleric, who is no stranger to controversy, has waded into a number of culture war battles over the years. Aquila, who has blamed LGBTQ people for priestly child sexual abuse, is a vocal opponent of abortion rights for women and was a driving political force behind the anti-abortion measure, Prop. 115, in 2020. Abortion isn’t the only issue Aquila is outspoken about, however. In 2019, he opposed a sex education bill in the state legislature. In May 2021, he made headlines again when he argued for denying Communion to President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic. Later, in August of the same year, Aquila strongly opposed vaccination mandates as the Delta variant of Covid-19 spread around the world.

Now that senior Church officials – the German bishops, archbishops and cardinals participating in the Synodal Way process – are attempting to introduce some of these more open and liberal social positions into the Catholic Church, it is to be expected that that Aquila will remain in the front line of the fratricidal quarrel.

Asked about the Denver archbishop’s role in crafting the text of the letter that sent waves through the global church, Aquila’s office declined to comment.

As for the German bishops involved in the synodal process, they do not seem to make much of the broadside of Aquila. “I can reassure you with an open heart: these fears regarding the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany are unfounded,” Bätzing wrote in a response on Saturday, adding that the Synodal Path, “in no way undermines the authority from the church.”

With the synodal process not expected to conclude until 2023, it is likely that the ongoing saga will continue to pit traditionalist elements of the Catholic Church against a generation of more reformist clergy seeking to rehabilitate the Church and its work after decades of scandal. . It is this conflict – between old and new, as much as between old and young – that has sparked fears of schism.

If indeed the Catholic Church had a schism, or split, it would be the first such event since the Western Schism of 1378 gave birth to the Avignon Papacy 643 years ago. At the time of this schism, the Catholic Church was the dominant political force in Western Europe, and the seven decades of chaos wrought by the split helped decide the future of the continent.

However, governments no longer rise and fall by the power of the papacy, and the new cries of schism are aimed more at deciding the future of the Church than the future of Europe. Catholic church membership has fallen sharply over the past two decades, with a 2021 Gallup survey showing a nearly 20% decline since the year 2000 with little sign of stopping.

Last month, Bätzing criticized “certain elements” within the church for being “ill-suited to a multicultural world in a culturally diverse time”. The warning is an Aquila might be careful as he presides over an increasingly diverse congregation, with research showing that Hispanic worshipers make up 55% of the archdiocese’s membership – and 70% of its members under the age of 30 years.

German bishops committed to the synodal path believe that the Church must adapt and present a vision for the future if it is to regain its relevance.

On the other side of the conflict to determine the future of the church, however, Aquila and her co-signers have a vision of the future that bears a striking resemblance to the past.

As to which faction will lead the way for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, or preside over a historic schism, only time will tell.

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