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RC bishops in Germany defend reform process

09 December 2022

Vatican warns that Synodal Path talks raise risk of schism


The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Dr Georg Bätzing, speaks at a press conference last month

The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Dr Georg Bätzing, speaks at a press conference last month

ROMAN CATHOLIC bishops in Germany have vowed to continue debating women’s ordination, voluntary priestly celibacy, and other proposed church reforms, despite Vatican warnings that their current Synodal Path consultation risks a schism.

“This Synodal Path is making up for decades of reform backlog,” the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, the Bishop of Limburg, Dr Georg Bätzing, said. “Although our talks were tough, and the Vatican sees the question of women priests as non-negotiable, urgent questions are being asked and remain on the table.”

Dr Bätzing made his comments at an RC youth forum in Koblenz, as other German bishops reacted to criticisms delivered by Vatican dignitaries during their ad limina visit to Rome last month.

Another bishop said that he and others had made it “very clear” that they would not accept a moratorium on German discussions, and that some Vatican office-holders still appeared to view “synodality as a challenge”.

“A total rejection of our Synodal Path would lead to an uprising by the faithful in Germany, and protests in other parts of the world,” the Bishop of Essen, Dr Franz-Josef Overbeck, told the daily newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

“Although there’s a good culture of discussion in many Vatican departments, there’s also a rather old-fashioned demeanour among some top Curia representatives, who don’t want any shaking of traditional patterns. There’s a trend towards a new anti-modernism in the Church, which blames every problem on adaptation to the Zeitgeist.”

Launched three years ago in response to sexual-abuse scandals and lay dissatisfaction, the Synodal Path’s four working groups are debating “Power, Participation, Separation of Powers”, “Sexual Morals”, “Priestly Existence”, and “Women in Services and Offices of the Church”. They expect to publish proposals for reform during 2023.

In a letter in 2019, the Pope backed efforts “to respond with boldness to the present situation”, but also cautioned the Synodal Path to remain in “live and effective communion with the whole body of the Church”.

During talks in Rome, however, the German bishops were warned by the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, that they risked “giving up their role as shepherds” by allowing the Synodal Path to reject established church teaching.

Meanwhile, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, accused the Synodal Path of responding to “strong cultural and media pressure” rather than the gospel, and of damaging “ecclesial communion” by adopting an “intrusive rationalism” and “sowing doubt and confusion”.

Several German bishops, including the Bishop of Regensberg, Dr Rudolf Voderholzer, and the former Archbishop of Bamberg, the Most Revd Ludwig Schick, have since urged their Church to follow Vatican guidance, and avoid “going its own way” on reform demands, which also include a re-evaluation of homosexuality, greater lay involvement, and limits to hierarchical power.

In his Koblenz speech, however, Dr Bätzing rejected any suggestion that the German Church was “taking a special path”, and said that similar reform proposals had been debated in diocesan and national reports compiled worldwide for the RC Church’s current debate on synodality, which runs until 2024.

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