Following demands for an apology and a threat he might “file an official complaint with the Holy Father,” the German Bishops’ Conference president met with a Vatican cardinal in Rome last week.
Bishop Georg Bätzing sat down with Cardinal Kurt Koch last week to apparently clear the air over what the German Bätzing had called a “totally unacceptable gaffe” by the Vatican cardinal, who is a native of Switzerland and president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The exchange was the result of a disagreement over remarks involving “German Christians”, an alleged “Nazi ideology”, and theological claims of a key document of the German Synodal Way.
“For Cardinal Koch and Bishop Bätzing, it is clear after the conversation that the theological debate, to which the cardinal wanted to contribute in the interview, must continue,” spokesman Matthias Kopp said Wednesday, according to a report by CNA Deutsch.
According to the Bishops’ Conference statement, the cardinal had “assured the bishop that he in no way meant the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany or the Synodal Assembly by the comparison he drew between theological debates on the Synodal Way and the events surrounding the so-called ‘German Christians’ during the Nazi era”.
“Expressly Cardinal Koch emphasises that it is completely far from him to want to impute the terrible ideology of the 1930s to the Synodal Way,” the spokesman continued.
“Cardinal Koch asks for forgiveness from all those who feel hurt by the comparison he made.”
However, this assertion is not new, nor is the apology that Bätzing said he found not to be to his satisfaction.
In late September, Koch had apologised for any hurt but at the same time defended himself against Bätzing’s claims of an “unacceptable gaffe”, saying, “I cannot retract my essential point, simply because I have in no way compared the Synodal Way to a Nazi ideology, nor will I ever do so”.
At that time, this clarification did not sit well with the German Bishops’ Conference president and Bätzing replied he would not accept this apology as “satisfactory”.
In an interview with a German newspaper, Koch — an internationally respected theologian — had said he was shocked that, of all places, the German Synodal Way was talking about new sources of revelation.
“This phenomenon already existed during the National Socialist dictatorship, when the so-called ‘German Christians’ saw God’s new revelation in blood and soil and in the rise of Hitler,” Koch told the weekly Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost.
The “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen) were a Nazi-era pressure group that wanted to align Protestantism with racist Nazi Ideology.
Following demands by Bishop Bätzing for an apology, Koch said in a response: “It was a matter of concern to me to recall the Barmen Theological Declaration in this context, because I still consider it important today, also for ecumenical reasons. In order to make the content understandable to those who read it, I had to briefly note what this declaration responded to”.
“In saying this, I was in no way comparing the Synodal Way with the mentality of the ‘German Christians,’ nor did I want to do so,” the Swiss prelate added.
Koch pointed out he was far from “alone in my criticism of the orientation text of the Synodal Way,” adding: “My critical comment, then, cannot simply be an expression of a completely mistaken theology”.
“Just as the so-called ‘German Christians’ — thank God — did not comprise all German Christians, I also, in no way, had all [Synodal Way] participants in mind with my statement, but only those Christians who represent the assertion formulated in the question. And I hope to continue to assume that this assertion is not the opinion of the Synodal Way,” he said.