Polish Catholic bishops’ leader expresses ‘fraternal concern’ over German ‘Synodal Way’

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki and Bishop Georg Bätzing Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki and Bishop Georg Bätzing. | Episkopat.pl/Bistum Limburg.

The president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference expressed “fraternal concern” about the direction of the “Synodal Way” on Tuesday in a strongly worded letter to his German counterpart.

In the almost 3,000-word letter published on Feb. 22 on the Polish bishops’ website, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki questioned whether the initiative bringing together Germany’s bishops and laypeople was rooted in the Gospel.

“The Catholic Church in Germany is important on the map of Europe, and I am aware that it will either radiate its faith or its unbelief onto the entire continent,” he wrote to Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference.

“Therefore, I look with unease at the actions of the German ‘synodal path’ so far. Observing its fruits, one can get the impression that the Gospel is not always the basis for reflection.”

Gądecki’s intervention is likely to intensify the debate about the Synodal Way, a multi-year process addressing the way power is exercised in the Church, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women in the wake of a devastating clerical abuse crisis in Germany.

At a meeting earlier this month, participants voted in favor of draft texts calling for married priests in the Latin Church, the ordination of women priests, same-sex blessings, and changes to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

The Synodal Way has also faced criticism within the German Catholic Church.

Members of an initiative called “New Beginning” expressed fear earlier this month that the process would deepen divisions among Catholics.

“The next schism in Christendom is just around the corner. And it will come again from Germany,” they said.

But Bishop Bätzing has repeatedly rejected suggestions that the Synodal Way will lead to schism.

In his letter, Gądecki addressed the recent votes and appealed to Bätzing to resist pressure to seek to bring Church teaching in line with public opinion.

“Faithful to the Church’s teaching, we should not yield to the pressures of the world or to the patterns of the dominant culture since this can lead to moral and spiritual corruption,” he wrote.

“Let us avoid the repetition of worn-out slogans, and standard demands such as the abolition of celibacy, the priesthood of women, communion for the divorced, and the blessing of same-sex unions.”

Gądecki’s intervention is significant as Poland and Germany are neighbors, sharing an almost 300-mile border.

But there are striking differences between the Catholic Church in Poland and Germany.

More than 90% of Poland’s almost 38 million population describe themselves as members of the Church, with 36.9% of Catholics regularly attending Mass.

Around 27% of Germany’s 83 million population identify as Catholics, with only 5.9% of Catholics attending Mass in 2020. More than 220,000 people formally left the Catholic Church that year.

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In his letter, Gądecki highlighted the shared history of Polish and German Catholics, including the process of reconciliation after the Second World War supported by the future Polish pope John Paul II and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński.

“Bearing in mind this communion of faith and history between Poland and Germany, I would like to express my deep concern and anxiety regarding the information that has been recently received from some spheres of the Catholic Church in Germany,” wrote Gądecki, the archbishop of Poznań, western Poland.

“In a spirit of Christian charity, therefore, I take the liberty of addressing to you — as President of the German Bishops’ Conference — this letter, full of fraternal care and in a spirit of shared responsibility for the deposit of the holy apostolic faith entrusted to us by Christ.”

The archbishop said that throughout history leading figures had attempted to reinvent Christianity for their age through a process of subtraction.

He cited Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, who produced a version of the Bible that eliminated passages he believed were not from Jesus, but “uneducated apostles.”

“Convinced that he had the criteria to distinguish one sentence from another, he decided to do it with scissors. In this way, a modern apocrypha was composed which, according to its author, is better than the original,” he wrote.

“It cannot be excluded that the proprium christianum — what is characteristic for Christianity — is expressed precisely in these most difficult fragments of the Bible that fall under ‘Jefferson’s scissors.’”

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Gądecki said that another temptation facing the Church today was to seek to update Jesus’ teaching in the light of the latest findings of psychology and the social sciences.

“If something in the Gospel does not agree with the current state of knowledge in these sciences, the disciples, wanting to save the Master from being compromised in the eyes of his contemporaries, try to ‘update’ the Gospel,” he said.

“The temptation to ‘modernize’ concerns in a particular way the sphere of sexual identity. It is forgotten, however, that the state of scientific knowledge changes frequently and sometimes dramatically.”

He cited the National Origins Act, which restricted immigration to the United States, passed by Congress in 1924.

“The main reason was the belief that peoples such as Italians and Poles, for example, were racially inferior,” Gądecki noted.

“On the other hand, based on knowledge of eugenics, an estimated 70,000 women belonging to ethnic minorities were forcibly sterilized in the United States in the 20th century.”

He said that the history of scientific knowledge was marked not only by “errors,” but also “ideological fallacies,” referencing a study of the sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey.

He said that books on psychology and social sciences “considered infallible” today would be “put aside” by future generations.

He added that Catholics in Germany, and also in Poland, should avoid living with “a kind of inferiority complex” about their faith.

Gądecki observed that an exodus of Catholics and a sharp decline in vocations to the priesthood in Germany had prompted calls for a relaxation of priestly celibacy.

But he said that this response ran “the risk of corporate thinking: ‘there are not enough employees, so let’s lower the recruitment criteria.’”

Addressing the Synodal Way vote for women priests, the archbishop said that Pope John Paul II had “definitively settled this matter” with his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which he said had been confirmed by Pope Francis.

He noted that participants also backed a draft text calling for what he described as “the erroneous and scandalous practice of blessing same-sex relationships,” as well as “attempts to change Church teaching on the sin of homosexual acts.”

“The Catechism clearly distinguishes between homosexual inclinations and same-sex acts. It teaches respect for every human being regardless of his or her inclination, but unequivocally condemns same-sex acts as acts against nature,” he wrote.

“Despite the outcry, ostracism and unpopularity, the Catholic Church — faithful to the truth of the Gospel and at the same time motivated by love for every human being — cannot remain silent and condone this false vision of man, much less bless or promote it.”

Referring to a recent meeting with Bätzing in Poznań, Gądecki said he understood that his German counterpart was “deeply concerned” about the flock entrusted to him, “and that you desire that none of the sheep should go astray.”

He concluded by quoting St. Paul the Apostle’s message to the Ephesians, in which urged them to “put on the armor of God” and “hold your ground.”

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