Pope Francis received the German bishops at the Vatican on Thursday.

The audience with Pope Francis lasted about two hours, the German Bishops’ Conference said in a statement published after the encounter, describing the meeting as an “open round of talks” in which “the bishops were able to raise their questions and issues, and the pope answered them individually.”

The statement briefly mentioned that “aspects of the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany, and the worldwide synodal process also came up in the conversation.” 

As CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported, the press release also said that the pontiff and the bishops exchanged “reflections on pastoral care in changed times,” “the self-understanding of the priestly and episcopal ministry, the commitment of laypeople in the Church, as well as the challenge of how evangelization can succeed in the context of a secular world.”

“In addition, the bishops were able to report on their experiences in the dioceses,” the statement continued. 

“The question of political responsibility, social cohesion, and a perspective for peace in the face of global and regional conflicts shaped the meeting.”

Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis meeting with the German bishops at the Vatican, Nov. 17, 2022. Vatican Media

Sixty-three German bishops are in Rome this week for their ad limina visit, which concludes Nov. 18. Every diocesan bishop in the world must make an “ad limina apostolorum” papal visit to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese.

On Friday, the German bishops will meet with the heads of several Vatican dicasteries to discuss the Synodal Way.

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According to news agency KNA, the bishops also discussed the controversial process in a meeting with Cardinal Mario Grech, who is responsible for the Synod on Synodality, on Wednesday.

In an interview published on his diocese’s website ahead of the visit, the head of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said he believed it was “no coincidence that we bishops are now invited to Rome.”

The German bishop said there was “a lot of lack of understanding about our process in Rome.” 

“That’s why I’m very grateful that we really have a lot of time to talk about this together. This is a real opportunity.”

An initiative of German Catholics critical of the Synodal Way this week called on Pope Francis to intervene in the process, CNA Deutsch reported

“Intervene courageously!” the organizers of the “New Beginning” (Neuer Anfang) said. “Stop the pseudo-democratic restructuring of the Church! Defend the common faith! And defend the weak against the violence of the apparatus.”

At the same time, supporters of the controversial process said they expected from the Vatican “finally a clear sign of appreciation of the German Synodal Way,” according to CNA Deutsch.

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The Synodal Way — Synodaler Weg in German, sometimes translated as Synodal Path — is a controversial process with the declared aim of debating and passing resolutions about four topics: the way power is exercised in the Church, the priesthood, the role of women, and sexual morality.

Writing about the process, Pope Francis in 2019 warned of disunity in a letter to German Catholics

More recently, in early November, Pope Francis spoke about making sure to “not lose the people’s sense of faith.” 

It was true, he said, that “Germany has a great Protestant church. I don’t want another one that is not as good as this one. I want Catholics to be fraternally united with the Protestant Church.”