German bishops' president responds to letter warning of schism risk in synodal path

Screenshot_2021_03_03_at_100741.png Bishop Georg Bätzing at the German bishops’ spring meeting in February 2021. Credit: Sascha Steinbach/epa pool.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, responded Thursday to a letter warning the country’s synodal path could lead to schism by defending the process as a response to abuses in the Church.

"The Synodal Path is our attempt in Germany to confront the systemic causes of the abuse and its cover-up that has caused untold suffering to so many people in and through the Church,” Bishop Bätzing wrote April 14 to Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver. The German bishop’s letter was published April 16 at the German bishops’ conference website.

More than 80 bishops from around the world signed an April 11 open letter that warned that sweeping changes to Church teaching advocated by the synodal path may lead to schism.

The “Synodal Path” is a process that brings together German lay people and Catholic bishops to discuss four major topics: how power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women. When the German bishops launched the process, they initially said that the deliberations would be “binding” on the German Church, prompting a Vatican intervention that rejected such claims.

The synodal assembly has voted in favor of documents calling for the priestly ordination of women same-sex blessings, and changes to teaching on homosexual acts.

Bishop Bätzing wrote in his response to Archbishop Aquila’s concerns that abuses in the Church had hampered her witness, and that “the synodal path is therefore also our attempt to make a credible proclamation of the Good News possible again.”

“This occasion and context is particularly important to us, but unfortunately it is not mentioned at all in your letter,” he charged.

The recent open letter made reference to Archbishop Aquila’s May 2021 letter of concern about the synodal path, in which he noted the German synodal assembly is right to voice distress over clergy sexual abuse scandals and coverups. The synod’s fundamental text is right to say these scandals have engendered “a true crisis of credibility for the Church,” Archbishop Aquila had written.

There must be consequences of the abuse scandal for the “structures” of the Church, Bishop Bätzing continued. He characterized the recent open letter as using “euphemistic embellishments” that “do not really help” the problem.

He called “accusations” made in the letter “surprising,” and claimed no justifications for them had been made.

“I can reassure you with an open heart: these fears with regard to the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany are not correct,” Bishop Bätzing wrote.

“So the synodal path in no way undermines the authority of the Church, including that of Pope Francis, as you write.”

“I was able to speak to the Holy Father several times about the synodal path,” the German bishop said. “In his letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany, he expressly asked us to walk the path as a search ‘for a bold response to the present situation’ and at the same time as a spiritual path, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

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.”

Bishop Bätzing rejected the observation that the synodal path is guided by “sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies,” asserting that it is guided rather by Scripture, Tradition, the Magisterium, theology, the sense of the faithful, and “the signs of the times interpreted in the light of the Gospel.”

“As we approach the Holy Days together,” the German bishop concluded, “I assure you that the Catholics in Germany, listening to the voice of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is also Lord of history, together with the Church all over the world, as the pilgrim people of God, will also follow their path through this time - united in the Easter hope that he is waiting for them at the end of time.”

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