The bishops, who customarily send a letter to the Pope discussing the pastoral concerns of their conference, told the Holy Father that they are in need of developing “adequate pastoral structures to meet the present situation,” of falling numbers of priests and faithful in their areas of Germany.
The German Pope told his countrymen that while he agreed with their assessment, he was concerned by the implementation of models for restructuring pastoral care, in which the image of the pastor, “risks being obscured.”
I am sure, he told the prelates, "that you will give your approval only to those structural reforms that are in full harmony with the Church's teaching on the priesthood and with her juridical norms, ensuring that the implementation of reforms does not diminish the power of attraction of the priestly ministry."
The Holy Father also reminded the bishops that while the Church must be continuously renewed, “every ecclesial reform is born of a serious effort to come to a more profound understanding of the truth of the Catholic faith and of the persistent striving for moral purification and virtue.”
“The search for reform can easily slip into an exterior activism if those who seek do not lead an authentic spiritual life and do not constantly verify the motivations of their work in the light of faith,” Benedict warned. “This applies to all members of the Church: for bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and the faithful.”
"The encounter with the living Christ,” the Holy Father said, “is always at the heart of our service, an encounter that confers a decisive orientation upon our lives."
Referring to the question of lay participation in ecclesial structures, the Holy Father recalled "the broad and open field of the lay apostolate...and its multiple tasks." These include, he said, announcing the Gospel to the world, catechesis, charity work, the media of social communication, and "social commitment for the integral protection of human life and social justice."
Of particular importance, the Holy Father said, is "announcing the faith to the young people of our time," who live "in a secularized culture" in which God is absent.
As for ecclesial movements, the Pope told the bishops that "we must respect the specific nature of their charisms, and be happy that shared forms of faith come into being in which the Word of God becomes life."
Moving on to discuss the German Church's charitable activity, Pope Benedict said such interests must, "be kept apart from the confusion of political interests ... and used for the good of people." In this field, he called individual groups to "close collaboration with bishops and with episcopal conferences."
The Holy Father also touched on the need to protect the institution of marriage, the order of which, he said, was “established at creation," and, “is becoming progressively obscured today.”
In the face of a materialist culture, the Pope continued, "it is difficult for young people to commit themselves to one another definitively," to have children, "and to offer them that lasting space for growth and maturity which only the family based upon marriage can provide."
In such a situation, he went on, "it is vitally important to help young people to pronounce that definitive 'yes,' which does not contrast with freedom but, rather, represents its greatest opportunity. In the patience of remaining together for a lifetime, love achieves its true maturity. And in such an environment of lifelong love, children also learn to live and to love."
Finally, the Pope turned to the question of ecumenism. "In Germany," he said, "our efforts must be directed, above all towards Christians of Lutheran and Reformed faith.”
Ecumenical commitment cannot be entirely fulfilled with joint documents,” he said. “It becomes visible and effective where Christians from different Churches and ecclesial communities - in a social context that is ever further removed from religion - profess, together and convincingly, the values transmitted by the Christian faith, and emphasize them forcefully in their political and social activities.”
.- Meeting with a second group of German bishops, in Rome for their “ad limina” visit, Pope Benedict XVI reminded that, in the light of decreasing numbers of priests, any reforms undertaken by the bishops should be “in full harmony with the Church’s teaching on the priesthood.”