Vatican blocks doctrinal changes on homosexual relationships, female priests

The Vatican filed a letter to German bishops prohibiting the prelates’ attempts to change doctrine that condemns homosexual relationships and female clergy. 

Vatican officials admonished the “German Synodal Way” — the national-level meeting of Catholic leaders that was convened as part of Pope Francis’s global Synod on Synodality — and warned that radical propositions such as approval of homosexual relationships and female priests must be abandoned.

The letter, publicized Friday but dated Oct. 23, rebukes the German bishops for their continued efforts to alter established doctrine for which “there is no possibility of arriving at a different assessment,” according to a translation from the blog Rorate Caeli.

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Pope Francis leads his traditional Wednesday General Audience at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. (Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“[I]t must be made clear from the outset that these issues are of varying relevance and cannot all be placed on the same level,” a translation of the original German reads. “Some of them have aspects that cannot be put up for discussion, but also aspects that can be subjected to joint in-depth discussion. With regard to others, however, there is no possibility of arriving at a different assessment, such as the following:”

The letter was written by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and sent to Secretary General Beate Gilles of the German Bishops Conference.

The German Bishops’ Conference has repeatedly attempted to use its voice in the ongoing Synod on Synodality to rewrite church teachings on a variety of social issues — a campaign that threatens to undermine the historical authority of the Catholic Church.

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Beate Gilles

Beate Gilles, Secretary General of the German Bishops’ Conference, speaks during a press conference at the end of the Fall Plenary Assembly at the Wilhelm Kempf House.  (Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Parolin cited a 1994 ruling by Pope St. John Paul II, in which the pope taught, “So that all doubt maybe removed concerning this important matter, which concerns the divine constitution of the Church itself, I declare, by virtue of my office of strengthening the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), that the Church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women to the priesthood, and that all the faithful of the Church must definitively abide by this decision.”

The letter also cited Pope Francis’s 2013 affirmation of John Paul II’s ruling: “With regard to the ordination of women to the priesthood, the Church has spoken, and she says: No — St. John Paul II said this, but in a definitive way. This door is closed.”

It also explicitly reminded the German bishops that to attempt the ordination of a woman to the priesthood is to be “punished with a major excommunication.”

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Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin

Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin (C) attends the blessing ceremony of the newly opened reception and integration centre for Ukrainian refugees during the Bishops’ Conference of Slovakia in Kosice, Slovakia. (Robert Nemeti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Vatican was equally dismissive of attempts to legitimize homosexual relationships.

“Another issue on which a local Church has no possibility of taking a different view concerns homosexual acts,” the letter to the German bishops reads. “For even if one recognizes that from a subjective point of view there may be various factors that call us not to judge people, this in no way changes the evaluation of the objective morality of these acts.”

This was not the first scuffle between Pope Francis and the German Catholic hierarchy — last year, the Holy See issued a letter reminding the prelates they do not have the authority to counter established doctrine.

Cardinals and bishops at the Catholic Synod

Priests and bishops are attending a Holy Mass led by Pope Francis with the new Cardinals at the opening of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City. (Massimo Valicchia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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“In order to protect the freedom of the People of God and the exercise of the episcopal ministry, it would appear necessary to clarify that the ‘Synodal Way’ in Germany does not have the power to compel the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals,” the statement from the Holy See said. “Prior to an agreed understanding at the level of the universal Church, it would not be permissible to initiate new official structures or doctrines in the dioceses, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”

Just before the pope’s letter, over 100 bishops from around the world issued an open letter to the German bishops, urging that they cease the synod and restrain themselves from making illicit alterations.

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