President of German Bishops’ Conference gives mixed assessment after intense discussions in Rome

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, addressed Pope Francis on November 17, in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace during the bishops’ “ad limina” visits to the Vatican.

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, has given a mixed assessment of last week’s meetings in Rome which saw heated discussions on church reforms. He was “going home with relief as well as with concern”, Baetzing told journalists at the weekend, according to KNA Germany. 

“The people of God in Germany are impatient and pushing for change,” Baetzing said. There was intense pressure from the Catholic grassroots in Germany. He said he was concerned that laypeople, who made up the majority of God’s people, had still not had the opportunity to present their views in Rome.

The conference president said it was a success that all contentious issues had been discussed openly and that this was recorded in a joint protocol. “No one can say any more: I didn’t hear that,” Baetzing said after the ad limina visit of the German bishops in Rome which lasted most of the week.

The visit had been eagerly awaited because the Vatican had repeatedly criticised the direction the Catholic Church in Germany has taken by embarking on reform consultations in an attempt to regain trust lost in the abuse scandal. The project has addressed contentious issues such as the ordination of women, power structures in the church and priestly celibacy.

Baetzing said that so far, no further talks had been agreed with Rome on the demands of the so-called Synodal Path. The suggestion of a “round table” had been made.

There had been “clear statements” from the Curia that had to be taken seriously, the bishop said. Red lines had been named which, in the view of the heads of the Curia, should not be crossed, including the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood.

In retrospect, Baetzing said it had been fortunate that Pope Francis, contrary to expectations, had not been present at the final debate between the German bishops and the Roman Curia. Although his absence had initially caused irritation, it became clear that the debate was much more open and heated than it could have been in the presence of the Pope.

Baetzing stressed that there had been no statement from the Vatican regarding the planned creation of a Synodal Council in Germany, although some bishops from Germany had demanded that the Vatican state its position.

Regarding the ongoing crisis in the archdiocese of Cologne, Baetzing said the German bishops had made it clear that the Pope’s statement that he did not want to take a decision under pressure would lead to even more pressure. The situation was unacceptable for the diocese as well as for Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki. However, the pope had not said when and how he would decide on Woelki’s future.

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