VATICAN CITY, June 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis encouraged Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, to continue to pursue what is called the Synodal Path in Germany.
“I feel strengthened by the intensive exchange with the Holy Father to continue on the path we have taken,” the bishop of Limburg said after his private audience last Saturday.
During the process, which was officially launched late last year, preparatory documents have already defended the use of contraception, the practice of masturbation, and an active homosexual lifestyle. Additionally, neither the question of the ordination of women nor that of making celibacy optional for priests was taken off the table.
“The Pope appreciates this project, which he connects closely with the concept of ‘synodality’ that he coined,” Bätzing said. “It was a matter of concern to me to make it clear that the Church in Germany is taking this path and always knows that it is bound to the universal Church.”
After Batzing’s election as new head of the German Bishops’ Conference last March, when he succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx, it was his first official meeting with Pope Francis.
“We must find answers to urgent challenges facing the Church, ranging from coming to terms with sexual abuse of minors to the dramatic numbers of people leaving the Church,” Bätzing pointed out. He did not explain how questioning Church teaching and customs of apostolic origin like celibacy help in addressing these issues.
The bishop of Limburg said the Pope referred to his letter to the Church in Germany, which he had written one year ago.
In his letter, the Holy Father had not only praised and encouraged the Synodal Path as an expression of synodality. He had also expressed some criticism, saying Catholic leaders in Germany should not be “looking for immediate results with hasty consequences, also in the media, which are fleeting due to a lack of deepening and maturation, or because they do not correspond to the vocation given to us.”
Pope Francis had also called out German Catholics for their tendency to advance mostly structural developments, saying “what we need is much more than a structural, organizational or functional change.” He even characterized this attitude as a “new pelagianism.”
“The basis of this temptation is the idea that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings is to reorganize things, make changes, and ‘patch things up,’ with the goal of ordering and smoothing out ecclesial life, adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group,” he wrote.
Instead of structural developments, the Pope referred to evangelization as the main goal the Synodal Path should have. “Pastoral conversion reminds us that evangelization must be our guiding criterion par excellence, by which we can recognize all the steps we are called to take as an ecclesial community; evangelization is the proper and essential mission of the Church.”
The German Bishops’ Conference’s press release after Bätzing’s meeting with Pope Francis did not mention evangelization at all, even though it was focused mainly on the Synodal Path, whose “guiding criterion,” Francis wrote last year, was to be evangelization.
In 2019, the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, at the time still Cardinal Marx, and the head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Thomas Sternberg, who together initiated the Synodal Path, put their own spin on the Pope’s letter.
“Pope Francis wants to support the Church in Germany in its search for answers to the questions that move us all regarding a future-oriented form of the Church,” they stated. “We will take up this letter as an orientation for our common action and reflect on it intensively on the Synodal Path.”
According to Bishop Bätzing, Pope Francis reminded the proponents of the Synodal Path, as well as the German Church in general, to “not lose sight of the poor and the old, the refugees and those in need. “The Pope expressly asked that the effects and experiences in the face of the coronavirus pandemic be taken into consideration on the further Path,” the bishop added.
He also expressed his hope that German Catholics could influence the upcoming synod on synodality in Rome. “I hope that with the experiences of the Synodal Path we can make a contribution to the World Synod of Bishops in October 2022,” Bätzing said.
A LifeSiteNews petition to the German bishops calls on them to resist the protestantization of the German Church due to the Synodal Path’s dissent from Catholic teaching on celibacy, clerical authority, the ban on female ordination, contraception, cohabitation, homosexuality, and gender theory. With more than 11,000 signatures, readers may still sign it today.