The first three plenary councils of Baltimore in 1852, 1866 and 1884 were exercises in ecclesial communion for the incipient American Church. The American Bishops covered topics ranging from the establishment of quasi-parishes to combatting lay trusteeism. The bishops were keenly aware of the issues facing their Church, which found itself as a foreigner in a culturally diverse—and largely anti-Catholic—environment. But they also recognized that everything they enacted must mirror communion with the Bishop of Rome and the divine deposit of the faith.
The first axiom of the Baltimore Council recognizes this immediately: “The Fathers profess their allegiance to the pope as the divinely constituted head of the Church, whose office is to confirm his brethren in the Faith. They also declare their belief in the entire Catholic Faith as explained by the ecumenical councils and the constitutions of the Roman pontiffs.” When the German bishops meet for their upcoming synod in late September, they will face markedly different issues than the American bishops did in the nineteenth century. The cultural landscape of Germany has proven to be religiously vapid. The Bishops rightly wish to engage this culture fruitfully. Eternal truths, however, cannot be sacrificed on the altar of progress.
The Bishops would do well to mirror the first axiom of the Baltimore council. Cardinal Marc Ouelett, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, seems to agree. He recently cautioned the German bishops that no synod or council could ever modify universal doctrine or discipline, especially on matters of faith and morals. Any attempt to act contrary to the depositum fidei would render their ecclesial status schismatic. There can be no communion apart from the truth.