Despite a cardinal’s objections, the German Bishops’ president has insisted that that country’s Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process is “alive and kicking”.
Bishop Georg Bätzing of the Limburg diocese made the assurances in an interview with German Bishops’ news agency katholisch.de June 10 to mark his first one hundred days in office as head of the German episcopate.
Ever since coming to the post in early March, Bätzing has been a strong defender of the ‘synodal path’ discussions, which in a two-year framework – now extended due to coronavirus complications – are aimed at looking at possible changes to Church doctrine and practice in the fields of power and authority, sexual morality, celibacy and the priestly way of life and women in Catholicism.
“The synodal path is alive and kicking. It will continue, even if the second synodal assembly in September cannot take place in Frankfurt as planned”, Bätzing told katholisch.de, referring to the postponement of the next discussion gathering from September 2020 to February 2021.
The German Bishops’ president said that in the context of the often bitter disagreements over the direction of the synodal path, it was important for participants to listen to each other and to maintain the dialogue.
“As chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, I am not the head of the bishops. My task is to moderate and bring them together so that we can make joint decisions and resolutions”, Bätzing explained, adding that “in this sense, I want to be a bridge builder, but I will bring my roles and experiences to bear on the deliberations”.
The Limburg bishop said, too, that he hoped that at the end of the intensive consultations on the synodal path there will be decisions that bring about real change in the Church.
A future in which Catholicism regained its relevance to wider society – one of the principal goals of the synodal path – could be glimpsed in the new Church formats that emerged during the coronavirus lockdown, particularly online, Bätzing highlighted.
With online Masses “we also reach people who otherwise do not go to church services on Sundays. I think that’s great”, the bishop celebrated.
– “People feel alienated” by Church’s message: “Continuing in this way cannot be the aim of the synodal procedure”
Without directly mentioning his name, Bätzing was responding in his katholisch.de interview today to Cologne cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, who in an interview of his own June 4 warned synodal path participants that “the Catholic Church must remain Catholic”.
In the reform process, “we must all work together respectfully for unity”, Woelki said, adding that “it will be important, however, that positions that are derived from the tradition of the Church, for example those that refer to Pope St. John Paul II, are not excluded”.
The Cologne archbishop expressed his particular concern that the synodal path would lead to a push to abolish priestly celibacy and reintroduce the ordination of women, both issues to which Pope Francis apparently said no at last October’s Amazon Synod.
“Whoever now wants to take these two questions to Rome once again, so that he can receive the same response in German, runs the risk of making himself ridiculous”, Woelki cautioned.
But Bätzing and his fellow German reform-minded bishops – “and there are many of them”, he told Catholic magazine Publik Forum in a May 28 interview – are not letting themselves be deterred by Woelki’s ongoing scepticism.
“For many people the message we [in the Church] proclaim comes over as a type of moralising that only forbids. People feel alienated”, Bätzing told Publik Forum, adding that “continuing in this way cannot be the aim of the synodal procedure”.