The World

German bishops who do not accept decisions of the synodal path, in uncomfortable position

The resolutions of the synodal journey were the focus of attention at the recently concluded Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference. In this context, there was talk of "developing the Catechism", since President Bätzing considers that the "instrumentality" of the Catechism "is not enough".

José M. García Pelegrín-March 11, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
batzing germany

Photo: ©2022 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), held March 7-10 in Vierzehnheiligen, was marked mainly by two themes: the war in Ukraine and the synodal path. In fact, the co-presidents of the four "synodal forums" participated in the Assembly as guests, as well as Thomas Söding, vice-president of the "Central Committee of German Catholics", who is also vice-president of the synodal path. The president of the DBK, Msgr. Georg Bätzing, justified the presence of the laity at the Bishops' Assembly by saying that here, too, "synodality must be practiced."

Regarding the invasion of Ukraine, Bishop Bätzing declared that an attempt is being made to remove a "legitimate government" from power and that this is an action "contrary to international public law" and the world cannot be a mere spectator.

On the other hand, the "Cologne question" took center stage after the return of Cardinal Rainer Woelki to the diocese, after the four months of reflection requested by the Holy Father. The situation in the diocese is complicated, which is why the Cardinal once again placed his continuity in the Pope's hands. At the opening press conference of the Plenary, Bishop Georg Bätzing urged the Pope and the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet: "The responsibility is now theirs and we cannot wait too long".

In his homily at the inaugural Mass of the assembly, Msgr. Bätzing said that being Catholic means "living solidarity, not confessional narrowness, isolation or creating an identity by drawing boundaries"; to achieve this goal "we still have to overcome many barriers, dare to make progress and change ways of thinking that have been valid up to now". Cardinal Reinhard Marx followed in his homily along the same lines: the question of the "authentic Church" is now posed in a new way, in which it is not only a question of dogmas. "Of what use to me," Marx continued, "is a cleanly dogmatic profession of faith if in practice it supports a dictatorship? Meanwhile, the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Nikola Eterović, called - following the line marked by Pope Francis for the universal synod - to "discern the spirits" and expressly recalled the letter that the Holy Father wrote "to the people of God who are on pilgrimage in Germany" in 2019.

In relation to the synodal journey, the Plenary of the DBK dealt with the "theological bases" in two aspects: ecclesiology and anthropology, as Bishop Bätzing summarized at the final press conference on Thursday, March 10. Bätzing summed it up at the final press conference on Thursday, March 10: the "theological foundations" in two aspects: ecclesiology and anthropology. When asked by one of the journalists present, he explained in more detail: in the ecclesiology section, the question of sacramental orders for women was discussed; the President of the DBK reiterated - as he has done on other occasions - that in this field there is a "very clear limit", since no decisions can be made in this regard in Germany, but "the reflections will be made available to the universal Church". As for the section on anthropology, he said that discussions had been held on the meaning of natural law; specifically he referred to the "polarity of the sexes": between the two poles - man and woman - "reality shows that there are other identities". And this is fundamental in considering how to treat those who live in a relationship with a person of the same sex. According to Bishop Bätzing, "the doctrine of the Catechism must be differentiated and developed, because it says nothing in relation to trans persons," so he concluded: "The instrumentality [of the Catechism] is no longer sufficient."

A fundamental question discussed at the Bishops' Assembly is the implementation of the resolutions of the synodal journey; for example, the first reading of a "basic ordinance" for people who work in ecclesiastical organizations is scheduled for the summer; in this regard, the President of the DBK asked at Thursday's press conference: "How do we behave with those who do not share our faith, for example with Muslims who work in day-care centers or residences run by the Church?"The triple coincidence of a Catholic body working exclusively for Catholics and targeting Catholics "ceased a long time ago". In other words: "personal loyalty" to Catholic doctrine will no longer be required.

One of the controversial issues already discussed in the Assembly of the synodal journey is the creation of a "synodal council" to follow the resolutions once the synodal journey itself is over; for example, some of the participants insist that it should be made up of bishops, priests and laity, and that it would decide, for example, on the election of bishops, and even evaluate the activity of the bishops; it would therefore be a kind of control instance of the episcopal activity.
In general, Msgr. Bätzing emphasized - as he had already done on other occasions - that the resolutions of the synodal journey will be put into practice successively, without waiting until they are finalized. He also stressed that the decisions are not "binding" on the bishops, but that each one is responsible before his conscience and free to put them into practice in his own diocese. Now, he noted that there is some concern that this would entail an "atomization" of dioceses: "How do we support the implementation [of the resolutions of the synodal journey] in the dioceses?" An example of how this could be carried out was given by the DBK President in answering a question at the press conference: a bishop who does not agree to implement some resolution "will have to enter into a dialogue with the faithful of his diocese and explain why he does not do so." If to this is added the "supervision" by the "synodal council" it seems that -if these proposals go ahead- the freedom of the bishops who do not agree with what is synodally correct will remain a dead letter.

The Bishops' Conference of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland) met at the same time as the German Conference in Tromsø, northern Norway. From there they sent a letter to the German bishops to express that "we are concerned about the direction, methodology and content of the synodal journey of the Church in Germany". After emphasizing that the issues at stake here are not specific to Germany, but occur throughout the world, they refer to the universal synod convened by Pope Francis: "This process calls for a radical conversion. We must first rediscover and communicate the promises of Jesus as a source of joy, freedom and flourishing. Our task is to make our own the depositum fidei transmitted by the Church, with gratitude and reverence". The nine Nordic bishops remind their German brethren of the direction that every reform process in the Church must take: "True reforms in the Church have always consisted in defending and clarifying Catholic doctrine based on divine revelation and authentic tradition and putting it credibly into practice, not in following the spirit of the times. The transience of the spirit of the times is confirmed every day". They also emphasize that "the Church cannot be defined only as a visible society. It is a mystery of communion: communion of humanity with the Triune God; communion of the faithful with one another; communion of the local Churches throughout the world with the Successor of Peter". This is the second neighboring Bishops' Conference - after the letter sent weeks earlier by the Bishops' Conference of Poland - to officially address the German bishops to ask them to redirect the course of the synodal journey in the direction of a "call to radical conversion and holiness".

Read more
La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.