DRESDEN, Germany (LifeSiteNews) — The president of the German Bishops’ Conference has declared that the German episcopacy is moving forward with its plans to establish a permanent “synodal council,” despite express instructions to the contrary from the Vatican.
In a letter dated February 23 and published Wednesday, March 1, Bishop Georg Bätzing announced to Vatican officials that although the German bishops took Rome’s “concerns” about a German synodal council seriously, a “synodal committee” would nonetheless prepare a synodal council over the course of three years. Bätzing stated to the Vatican that he thought “there is still a great need for clarification regarding future synodal cooperation.”
The letter was addressed to Cardinals Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Luis Ladaria Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops.
It was issued as the German bishops meet this week in Dresden for their plenary assembly. At the beginning of the plenary meeting, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, Apostolic Nuncio to Germany, reiterated the Holy See’ proscription against the establishment of a permanent German synodal council, which Rome pronounced in a January 16 letter sent to the German bishops.
The nuncio declared he had been “commissioned ex officio” by the Vatican to “specify that, according to a correct interpretation of the content of this letter, not even a diocesan bishop can establish a synodal council at the diocesan or parish level.”
“We wish to make it clear that neither the Synodal Path, nor any body established by it, nor any Episcopal Conference has the competence to establish the ‘Synodal Council’ at the national, diocesan or parish level,” the Vatican stated in the January letter.
At the time, in response to Rome’s prohibitions, Bätzing scoffed at the instructions, calling its concerns “that a new body might stand above the bishops’ conference or undermine the authority of individual bishops” “unfounded.” He further indicated that the “Synodal Committee” would continue going forward despite the fact that its sole purpose is to set up and order a future permanent “Synodal Council.”
“The synodal council, which is to be prepared by the synodal committee, will therefore operate within current canon law in accordance with the mandate contained in the resolution,” Bätzing touted.
Paying lip-service to Rome’s instruction, the bishop said it would mean thinking more intensely about “synodal consultation and decision-making.” He wrote, “The document from Rome will have the consequence for us in Germany that we will think much more intensively about the forms and possibilities of synodal consultation and decision-making in order to develop a culture of synodality. I consider this to be helpful and feasible in the task portfolio of the synodal committee, while respecting the limits and possibilities given by church law.”
In clear contradiction to the intention of the Vatican’s proscription, Bätzing stated, “The synodal committee is not called into question by the Roman letter.”
In this week’s letter, Bätzing’s said the German bishops now want to discuss the theological issues raised by Rome. “Therefore, I ask for your understanding if I do not address individual aspects of your remarks in this letter, but gladly and gratefully take up the offer of conversation you have proposed,” he wrote.
That conversation, Bätzing proposed should take place in Rome “as soon as possible” after the conclusion of the German Synodal Way in Frankfurt.
Pope Francis’s position on the German Synodal Way has been ambivalent. While he did repeatedly criticize the German Synod for potentially leading to Protestantism, his own “Synod on Synodality” has made advances towards many of the same heterodox positions, like calling for a female diaconate and promoting the LGBT agenda.