Top cardinals say Pope won’t correct wayward head of German bishops: report
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March 31, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) —The National Catholic Register (NCR) reported that Pope Francis has denied the request of two top cardinals to have the Vatican correct flagrantly heterodox statements by Bishop Georg Bätzing calling for changes to Church moral and disciplinary teaching.
In the “largely overlooked interview” with the German publication Herder Korrespondenz published over the New Year and entitled “I Want Change,” Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, “directly challenged” several core Church teachings “regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood, the blessing of same-sex unions, priestly celibacy and Holy Communion for Protestants.”
A source told NCR that “Santa Marta said ‘No’” to the request that Bätzing come to Rome to be corrected, expressed by Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Swiss president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Santa Marta refers to the Pope’s residence.
At the time of the article’s publication, NCR had not received a response either from the cardinals or from the Holy See Press Office in order to confirm the source’s allegations.
In his interview, Bätzing’s call for the Church to depart from several of its perennial teachings echoed those of the German Bishops’ Conference, expressed particularly in its “Synodal Path,” which — at least to a large extent — proposes heterodox solutions on matters pertaining to sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women in the Church.
Among the radical changes Bätzing hopes for are the blessing of same-sex “unions.”
NCR explained, “Regarding the blessing of same-sex unions, Bishop Bätzing said there was a need for solutions, that he believed it necessary to find liturgical answers ‘without Rome’s approval,’ and that he believed ‘we should change the Catechism in this sense’ after ‘intense discussion.’”
Bätzing, who reportedly said he favors “a greater involvement of women” in the Mass, such as preaching homilies, also said that “arguments” against the ordination of women “are becoming less and less convincing,” and that “there are well-developed arguments in theology in favor of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well.”
Bätzing not only sees the “diaconate of women” “as a space for action,” but goes so far as to say that the priesthood of women is “on the table” — while admitting “unanimous” declarations to the contrary by recent Popes.
Regarding priestly celibacy, Bätzing “said he believed the discussion had matured and it was no longer a matter of discernment,” NCR related.
Bätzing also praised a document in favor of “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality,” that is, calling for Catholics and Protestants to “reciprocally open access to communion.”
Before Bätzing was elected chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference in March 2020, this very document, entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table,” issued by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German abbreviation ÖAK), was adopted under Bätzing’s co-chairmanship, along with that of retired Lutheran bishop Martin Hein.
Bätzing has advocated this “Eucharistic fellowship” not only through this ecumenical forum, but directly to his own priests. On March 1, Bätzing wrote a letter to the clergy of his diocese, saying that “they could give Holy Communion to non-Catholic individuals if they requested it after examining their consciences,” shared NCR.
In Bätzing’s “I Want Change” interview, he argued that the ÖAK document “was not about a ‘common celebration’ of the Eucharist of intercommunion but rather whether Catholics and Protestants who attend each other’s celebration of Communion ‘have good reasons for doing so.’”
Cardinal Koch’s concerns
Cardinal Koch told NCR on March 8 that his views aligned with those expressed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued a “critique” to Bishop Bätzing last September, under the leadership of Cardinal Ladaria, stating that doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants are “still so weighty” that “mutual participation in the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist” was not possible.
NCR reported that Koch has been “uncharacteristically direct in resisting the recent developments in Germany,” and that Koch “emphasized” that he openly declared his opposition to “Together at the Lord’s Table” in interviews and a “detailed open letter to the director of the Protestant side” of ÖAK.
Last year, Cardinal Koch objected to Protestant-Catholic “intercommunion” based on what he called the false “assumption” that “the Catholic Eucharistic celebration and the Protestant Last Supper are identical.”
Bishop Bätzing said in the “I Want Change” interview that the bishops’ conference would respond to the CDF critique and “confront the counter-arguments,” “adding that the letter took him by surprise, and failed to “appreciate the ecumenical effort” behind the group,” NCR noted.
Pope Francis’ response
There have been conflicting reports of Pope Francis’ response to the direction the German bishops are taking.
In a Sept. 22 interview with the magazine Herder Korrespondenz, Cardinal Koch said he “believed that the pope backed a recent intervention by the Vatican’s doctrinal office in a debate over intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants in Germany,” NCR reported.
Koch is said to have “clarified” that Pope Francis expressed concern “not only” about the question of intercommunion, “but about the situation of the Church in Germany in general.”
However, “Bishop Bätzing insisted that Francis ‘appreciates’ the ‘Synodal Way’ after a private audience with the pope in June,” NCR said.
“I feel strengthened by the intensive exchange with the Holy Father to continue on the path we have taken. The pope appreciates this project, which he associates closely with the concept of ‘synodality’ which he coined,” said Bätzing.
The seemingly conflicting indications by Pope Francis regarding intercommunion are reminiscent of similarly conflicting reports in 2018 concerning Pope Francis’ response to a German proposal for a “limited” form of intercommunion. At the time, German bishops denied reports that Pope Francis had rejected their plan to give Holy Communion to Protestant spouses of Catholics.
Edward Pentin, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register, said his sources claimed that while Pope Francis had given approval to the CDF letter rejecting the German guidelines, he wanted that decision to be kept secret “for reasons unknown.”
A few months later, in June 2018, the German Bishops Conference published a pastoral handout which gives a nod to Protestant spouses of Catholics, in certain cases, to receive Holy Communion. Pope Francis had signed a note that gave “recommendations” to the German bishops, which the Permanent Council of the Bishops’ Conference said would allow some Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive Holy Communion when they have a “serious spiritual desire.”
Regarding the most recent developments among the German bishops, one Vatican source told NCR, “If the German bishops are going to go through with the Synodal Path, there will be schism,” adding that it would be “not a good tactic” for the Vatican to wait until the German bishops proceed to “the end” to say “stop.”