The Pope has expressed his concern about the constitution of a "Synodical Committee"The German Bishops' Conference (DBK) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) in Germany, in a letter addressed personally to four former members of the Synodal Way, published today, Tuesday, by the newspaper "Die Welt".
Francis expresses his discomfort after the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects of the Dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Bishops, with the express approval of Pope Francis, in a letter that the establishment of a "Synodal Council is not compatible with the hierarchical structure of the Church.
The Holy Father shares his "concern for the many concrete steps, with which large parts of this local Church threaten to move further and further away from the common path of the universal Church".
The Pope's letter, written in German and signed in his own handwriting, emphasizes the prohibition of a Synodal Committee, since it "cannot be harmonized with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church". The Pope recalls his "Letter to the people on pilgrimage in Germany".in which he referred to the "need for prayer, penance and adoration".
That letter was written by the Pope on June 29, 2019; it was followed by several interventions from various Vatican Dicasteries culminating in the meetings on the occasion of the visita ad limina of the German bishops in November 2022.
However, as the German Synodal Way continued with its claim to create a Synodal Council, the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects of the Dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Bishops, with the express approval of Pope Francis, communicated to the President of the DBK on January 16, 2023: "Neither the Synodal Way, nor a body appointed by it, nor a national bishops' conference" are authorized to create such a body. This is because such a council would be "a new governing structure of the Church in Germany, which (...) seems to place itself above the authority of the Bishops' Conference and to replace it de facto."
The Synodal Way tried to circumvent this prohibition by setting up not directly the Synodal Council, but a Synodal Committee... the purpose of which is the creation of such a Synodal Council. The committee was to include the 27 titular bishops of the German dioceses. Four resigned as a matter of principle and four others did not attend the constitution of the Committee on November 11, so that 19 of the 27 bishops were present.
The statutes approved that decisions would be made by a two-thirds majority of all members present, thus eliminating the veto power that the bishops had in the assemblies of the Synodal Way, where decisions required the support of two-thirds of the bishops present.
Theologians Katharina Westerhorstmann and Marianne Schlosser, as well as philosopher Katharina Westerhorstmann and Marianne Schlosser, and philosopher Katharina Westerhorstmann and Marianne Schlosser Gerl-Falkovitz and journalist Dorothea Schmidt - lhe four were part of the Synodal Way, but have left it - addressed the Pope on November 6.
In a conversation with "Die Welt", Westerhorstmann said: "We were surprised that the Pope answered us within a few days". The fact that the Pope's letter bears the same date on which the Synodal Committee was formed "may not be a coincidence". We appreciate the clarity of the Pope's words, Westerhorstmann said. The concern for unity is not only relevant for Germany, "but is of great importance for the entire world Church."
The president of the DBK, Georg Bätzinghas repeatedly stressed that the German bishops are not looking for a special path. Earlier this year, he said, "I am sure there will be no secession. Simply because no one wants it."
The Pope's letter
The literal text of Pope Francis' letter dated November 10, 2023 at the Vatican is as follows:
Dear Prof. Westerhorstmann,
dear Prof. Schlosser,
Dear Prof. Gerl-Falkovitz,
Dear Ms. Schmidt:
Thank you for your kind letter of November 6. You convey to me your concern about the current developments in the Church in Germany. I too share this concern about the many concrete steps you are now taking by which large parts of this local Church threaten to move further and further away from the common path of the universal Church. Among these is undoubtedly the constitution of the Synodal Committee they mention, which are intended to prepare for the introduction of a consultative and decision-making body which, in the form outlined in the corresponding resolution text, cannot be harmonized with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church and whose erection was therefore rejected by the Holy See with the letter of January 16, 2023, which I specifically approved. Instead of seeking "solutions" with new organisms and dealing with the same issues with a certain self-referentiality, in my "Letter to the People of God on pilgrimage in Germany" I wanted to recall the need for prayer, penance and adoration and invite to open up and go out "to meet our brothers and sisters, especially those who are on the doorsteps of our churches, on the streets, in prisons, in hospitals, in squares and in cities" (n. 8). I am convinced that it is there that the Lord will show us the way.
I thank you for your theological and philosophical work and your witness of faith. May the Lord bless you and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you. Please continue to pray for me and for unity, our common cause.
United in the Lord