German bishops to discuss Synodal Way with Vatican amid controversy — By: Catholic News Agency

German bishops in Rome on Nov. 17, 2022. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Newsroom, Mar 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A delegation of German bishops is expected in Rome this Friday for talks with the Vatican about the German Synodal Way. 

While the precise agenda is not a matter of public record, the encounter will likely focus on plans to install a permanent Synodal Council to oversee the Church in Germany.

Raising several concerns, the Vatican reminded the Germans ahead of the meeting — in a letter dated Feb. 16 — that the Holy See has not mandated them to set up such a council. 

Addressing Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Vatican officials told the Germans “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”

Previous warnings from Rome have not always been well received, and the February letter, signed by Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Victor Fernández, and Robert Prevost — the heads of the Secretariat of State, Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Dicastery for Bishops — may suffer a similar fate.

“I have the impression that we are not properly understood in Rome,” Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen told news agency KNA this week regarding the Friday meeting in Rome, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

While hoping for progress, Dieser, who supports changes in Church teaching on sexuality and gender, also criticized the Vatican: Noting Rome had invited bishops, not laypeople, the bishop said this was “not the style of leadership that we are trying to establish in Germany.”

A private letter from Pope Francis

The question of how Church leadership is understood is a burning one. While Pope Francis told the Synod of Bishops on Oct. 4, 2023, that “the synod is not a parliament,” one of the key organizers of the German process, ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp, has called for the council to provide for majority decisions, CNA Deutsch reported

The German bishops were expected to vote on the statutes for a preparatory committee during their plenary assembly in February. 

However, that vote was suspended following the Vatican intervention. At the same time, plans to establish a council by 2026 clearly have not been abandoned. According to the official portal of the Church in Germany, katholisch.de, the committee will still meet again in June to discuss plans.  

Furthermore, the lay organization ZdK already approved the committee’s statutes on Nov. 25, 2023, despite earlier warnings from Rome of the risk of a new German schism

Pope Francis criticized the work of the preparatory committee in a private letter in November. Calling the committee one of “numerous steps being taken by significant segments” of the Church in Germany, he warned that these “threaten to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church’s common path.”

Striking a carefully optimistic tone, the new archbishop of Paderborn, Udo Bentz, called for patience with a view to fostering “good synodal processes,” even if this sometimes meant walking an extra mile, but doing so together, CNA Deutsch reported on Wednesday.

The Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg,” sometimes called Synodal Path — describes itself as a process bringing together Germany’s bishops and selected laypeople to debate and pass resolutions based on a 2018 sexual abuse study.

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts.

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