The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, has called for talks as soon as possible with the Church leadership in the Vatican about the dispute over the German Synodal Path reform process.
In a letter published on Wednesday, Baetzing asked for “an appointment for talks as soon as possible after the last Synodal Assembly”, which is to take place in Frankfurt from March 9 to 11.
The bishop of Limburg added: “I assure you that we take the concerns you have raised about the issues of a Synodal Committee and a Synodal Council seriously”.
The planned Synodal Committee was “a sign that there is still a great need for clarification with regard to future synodal dialogue”. Due to this lack of clarity, the bishops in Germany had not agreed to the original plan to immediately establish a Synodal Council. Instead, there would first be a Synodal Committee to prepare the Synodal Council.
The Vatican had written in a letter on January 16 that the Catholic Church in Germany did not have the authority to establish a joint governing body of laypeople and clergy. The letter was expressly approved by Pope Francis.
According to current plans, bishops other clergy and laypeople are to consult and decide together on fundamental Church issues and on the use of financial resources in this new forum after the conclusion of the Synodal Path.
Conservatives within the Church, several canon lawyers and top representatives in the Vatican see this as curtailing the authority of the bishops, and reject the plans.
At the start of the spring plenary meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference in Dresden on Monday, Baetzing said he had responded last week to the Vatican’s letter. On Wednesday, the Bishops’ Conference published the text of this reply, dated 23 February. The letter was addressed to the three curia cardinals Parolin, Ladaria and Ouellet, the authors of the Vatican’s letter.
Rome’s rejection came in response to an enquiry from the local bishops of Cologne, Augsburg, Eichstaett, Passau and Regensburg who had asked the Vatican whether they were obliged to cooperate in a Synodal Committee. In his reply, Baetzing noted that he had still not seen this letter from the five bishops dated December 21, 2022.
Baetzing had already stated immediately after the publication of the Vatican’s letter in January that he wanted to stick to the plans for the Synodal Council despite the objections. The preparatory Synodal Committee was “not called into question by the Roman letter”, he said. The Synodal Council too would “remain within the existing canon law”.
The Vatican saw a danger that the office of bishop would be weakened, Baetzing had said. He countered: “I experience synodal consultation as a strengthening of this office”. In the future, he would therefore “think much more intensively” about such forms and possibilities and seek talks on this issue with Vatican leaders.
He had made similar comments at the start of the bishops’ meeting on Monday. The Synodal Committee would set up the Synodal Council in such a way that it complied with canon law and did not weaken the authority of a bishop in his diocese, but instead strengthened it, Baetzing said.
The Pope’s ambassador to Germany, Nuncio Nikola Eterovic, had said shortly afterwards in his traditional message of greeting to the bishops that he had been officially commissioned to clarify the letter sent by Rome in January.
According to “a correct interpretation of the content of this letter, not even a local bishop can establish a Synodal Council at the diocesan or parish level,” Eterovic said.
*Originally reported by KNA Germany.