President of the German Episcopate responds to criticism from Nordic bishops of the Synodal Way

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Georg Bätzing, responded to the Nordic bishops’ criticism of the controversial Synodal Path of the Church in Germany and said that there is no risk of schism.

The Synodal Path is a controversial multi-year process involving bishops and laity from Germany, to address issues such as the exercise of power, sexual morality, the priesthood and the role of women in the Church.

In a letter dated March 28 and to which CNA Deutsch, the German-language agency of the ACI Group, had access, Bishop Bätzing indicated that the controversial Synodal Path does not seek to create a “Sonderweg”, a historical term that literally means special path, to the Church in Germany isolated from the Universal Church.

The also Bishop of Limburg indicated in the letter that he “would like to respond to concerns that Catholics in Germany might reject their integration into the community of the universal Church or even take a special path away from this community.”

“In contrast, I want to assure you that in the deliberations and decisions of the Synodal Way a very careful differentiation is made regarding the changes and reforms that can be carried out within the framework of the diocesan responsibility of the members of the German Episcopal Conference; and what issues, concerns and reforms can be raised in the context of the Universal Church, in particular regarding the Synodal Way of the Universal Church”, he wrote.

At the end of this paragraph, the German bishop refers to the Synod of Synodality to be held in Rome in October 2023, after a two-year consultation process around the world.

The Nordic bishops published their open letter to Msgr. Bätzing on March 9, expressing their fears about the German Bishops’ Synodal Path.

In their letter, the prelates warned of the “capitulation before the Zeitgeist” (spirit of the times) and the “impoverishment of the content of our faith.”

The bishops of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland published the letter after German Synodal Path participants voted in favor of a draft calling for the abolition of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church, the ordination of women to the priesthood; the blessing of same-sex couples and changes in the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

In his response, Msgr. Bätzing said that he appreciates the concern of the bishops, but that their “expressed and implied fears do not correspond to the real deliberations, debates and decisions of our Synodal Path.”

The Prelate recalled that this process takes place in the face of the abuse crisis that is hitting the Church in Germany.

“Starting with the truly catastrophic and shameful fact of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Church, German Catholics are searching for new forms of practice in the Church very carefully and with a new theologically rooted commitment,” he wrote.

“All these deliberations have the goal of making room for the Gospel in the life of the Church, in order to be able to collaborate more freely again in the coming of the Kingdom of God and thus create the bases to be able to give an account of the reason for our hope to all. who asks”.

Bishop Bätzing also responded to the Nordic bishops’ comment that church leaders “have a duty to embrace as our own, with gratitude and reverence, the deposit of faith that we have received through the Church.”

In this regard, the German bishop indicated that he “would like to make it clear here that the unalterable and unmodifiable depositum fidei (deposit of faith) should not be understood in such a way that every ecclesiastical practice, every regulation and every social form of the Church, which has developed in the course of history and under very specific circumstances in time, represents this unalterable depositum”.

“Many organizational aspects and also the assignments of powers in the Church were formed in response to concrete historical conditions and must also be the object of change and renewal when they prove to be obsolete or obstructive to the proclamation of the Gospel due to changing requirements. “, wrote.

Citing the document Lumen gentium of the Second Vatican Council, Bishop Bätzing indicated that “the sacramental mystery of the Church is not affected by this, since the following always applies to the Church simultaneously: she is at the same time holy and always in need to be purified, and always follows the path of penance and renewal.”

“These are the changes that the Synodal Way is concerned with, and in search of new paths to this end, it is guided by essential sources of Faith: Scripture and Tradition, the Magisterium and theology, as well as the sense of the faith of the faithful and the signs of the times”, he affirmed.

Bishop Bätzing made a similar argument in a letter sent March 16 to Bishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish Episcopal Conference, who questioned the German prelate about whether the Synodal Path was rooted in the Gospel.

In his letter to the Nordic bishops, Msgr. Bätzing assured that “the Synodal Way always has this admonition from the heart: no one can worry about frivolously aligning the Church’s action with prevailing fashions”.

“However, the reflections of the Synodal Way, in the good ecclesial tradition and in close connection with what the Second Vatican Council establishes, are based on the fact that God, Creator and sustainer of the world, also reveals himself in this world and in the history of mankind, and that this activity and its nature can also be seen in the events of history succinctly,” he said.

To conclude, the president of the German bishops asked the Nordic prelates to continue in contact in the hope that they can “strengthen and deepen” their exchange.

Translated and adapted by Walter Sánchez Silva. Originally Posted on CNA

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