Vatican and German bishops discuss theological questions from Synodal Way

Synprozsept2022 Bishop Georg Bätzing watches ZdK president Irme Stetter-Karp speak at the "Synodal Way" assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept 8. 2022. | Synodaler Weg / Maximilian von Lachner

German bishops and representatives of the Roman Curia met in the Vatican on Wednesday to continue discussions started last year about the German Synodal Way.

According to a joint statement from the Vatican and the German bishops’ conference, the July 26 meeting took place in a “positive and constructive climate” and will be followed by other encounters.

The meeting was convened, the brief statement said, following the German bishops’ November 2022 ad limina visit, when “it was agreed that the theological and disciplinary issues that emerged in particular in the ‘Synodal Way’ would be further discussed.”

The Synodal Way, which began in 2019, is a collaborative effort between the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and the German bishops’ conference.

During a concluding assembly in March, delegates overwhelmingly passed measures to change Church practices based on transgender ideology and to push the universal Church to ordain women to the sacramental diaconate.

Delegates also voted to adopt same-sex blessings, normalize lay preaching, and ask Rome to “reexamine” the discipline of priestly celibacy.

While the Germans pushed forward with these controversial measures, the assembly held back from crossing a line laid down by the Vatican concerning the establishment of synodal councils at the national, diocesan, and parochial levels. The Vatican has said the synodal council model, which involves shared governance between bishops and the laity, is not consistent with Catholic ecclesiology.

Pope Francis and the Vatican have intervened repeatedly in the Synodal Way, as have a large number of bishops and theologians, both from Germany and around the world, raising serious concerns about many aspects of the process.

Francis wrote a letter to all Catholics in Germany in June 2019 warning of a “belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist is to reorganize things, change them, and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier.”

The Germans who attended the July 26 discussions at the Vatican were Bishops Georg Bätzing, Stephan Ackermann, Michael Gerber, Bertram Meier, and Franz-Josef Overbeck. The bishops’ conference secretary general, Beate Gilles, and spokesperson, Matthias Kopp, were also in attendance.

On the Vatican side, five heads of departments and one secretary participated: Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity; Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Archbishop Robert Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops; Archbishop Filippo Iannone, prefect of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts; and Archbishop Vittorio Viola, secretary of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

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