The president of Poland’s Catholic bishops’ conference raised his concerns about the German “Synodal Way” during a meeting with Pope Francis on Monday.

The Polish bishops’ conference said in a statement after the March 28 audience that the pope distanced himself from the controversial multi-year process bringing together Germany’s bishops and laypeople.

“The Holy Father was also briefed on the difficulties caused for the universal Church by the issues raised — in the words of the pope — by the so-called German ‘synodal way,’” the statement said. “Francis distances himself from this initiative.”

The Vatican has not commented on the conversation and rarely addresses discussions during private papal audiences.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki publicly expressed his “fraternal concern” about the direction of the “Synodal Way” in a strongly worded letter to his German counterpart, Bishop Georg Bätzing, in February.

In the almost 3,000-word letter, the archbishop questioned whether the initiative was rooted in the Gospel.

The Nordic Catholic bishops have also publicly expressed alarm at the Synodal Way’s trajectory.

Bishop Georg Bätzing said in a March 16 reply to Gądecki that he sought “a real theological exchange” about draft texts endorsed at a Synodal Way meeting in February.

More in Vatican

Synodal Way participants voted in favor of documents calling for married priests in the Latin Church, the ordination of women priests, same-sex blessings, and changes to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

In his letter to Gądecki, Bätzing defended the initiative, saying that it sought to reform the Church in Germany following a devastating abuse crisis.

The main topic of discussion during the 45-minute meeting between Gądecki and the pope was the refugee crisis following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, almost 2.3 million people had entered Poland from Ukraine as of March 27, around 60% of the total 3.9 million people who have fled Ukraine.

The archbishop of Poznań, western Poland, explained how Poland’s Catholics are making an unprecedented effort to support refugees, as well as sending aid to Ukraine.

The bishops’ conference said that Gądecki also outlined his steps “to intensify joint actions of Christians of different denominations for a just peace.”

The 72-year-old archbishop cited the joint message of bishops in Ukraine and Poland in January, his pre-invasion appeal to Orthodox and Catholic leaders in Russia and Ukraine, and his letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

(Story continues below)

He told the pope that he planned to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians, in the Polish capital Warsaw on March 29.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda is expected to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican later this week.

“The Holy Father expressed thanks for all the actions taken by the Church in Poland and assured of his spiritual support,” the Polish bishops’ conference said. “He asked the clergy and seminarians to remain close to the faith of the people of God. He also bestowed his apostolic blessing.”

Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to German Catholics in June 2019, urging them to focus on evangelizing in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

His most recent public comments about the Synodal Way came in September 2021, in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE.

Asked if the initiative gave him sleepless nights, the pope recalled that he wrote an extensive letter that expressed “everything I feel about the German synod.”

Responding to the interviewer’s comment that the Church had faced similar challenges in the past, he said: “Yes, but I wouldn’t get too tragic either. There is no ill will in many bishops with whom I spoke.”

“It is a pastoral desire, but one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter that need to be taken into account.”