Pope Francis’ June letter to German Catholics was originally conceived as a way to stop the German Church’s “synodal path”, a report has claimed.

Driving the news

Herder Korrespondenz reported Wednesday that Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican, was heavily involved in the preparation of the letter Pope Francis addressed “to the pilgrim People of God in Germany”.

As a consultant on the Pope’s letter, Kasper said he was “astonished, to say the least” with the way the letter had been received by some in Germany, as giving unqualified support for the “binding synodal path”.

“In Germany, the Pope’s letter was much praised, but then put aside and things continued as planned earlier”, Kasper said.

“But without renewal from the faith, all well-intentioned structural reforms amount to nothing”, the cardinal warned.

“It is a fatal self-deception to think that with structural reforms alone new religious joy can be aroused”, Kasper said.

“In the end, this can only lead to new, even deeper disappointment”.

The cardinal explained that, in his opinion, the Pope’s emphasis is on evangelisation, and not just on Church reform alone.


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The intrigue

Herder Korrespondenz consulted with highly-placed Vatican sources to trace the provenance of the Pope’s letter to German Catholics.

Those sources confirmed that, although Kasper was involved in the drafting of the letter, the original idea for the letter came not from Germany, but from the Vatican itself.

The letter was born of the wariness of the German bishops that has been brewing in the Vatican for some time, according to Herder‘s sources.

That mistrust has only been intensified by the decision of some German bishops to allow communion for non-Catholic spouses of Catholics, or for Catholics who have divorced and remarried.

The suspicion, too, was only reinforced by regular negative briefs from the Nuncio in Germany, Nikola Eterovic.

But it wasn’t until May that Vatican officials decided to react to the announcement, after the annoucement of the synodal path in March.

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Go deeper

According to the Herder insiders, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Cardinal Marc Ouellet – who just last week warned the German bishops in a stern letter that draft plans for the synodal process were “not ecclesiologically valid” – decided to call an interdicasterial meeting in the Vatican in May.

Present at that meeting also were the heads and secretaries of the Vatican Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for the Clergy, along with Vatican ‘number 2’, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin.

After considering their options, the partcipants at the interdicasterial meeting decided to have Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Luis Ladaria, request of the Pope a short letter to the German Bishops’ Conference, to remind them of their communion with Rome.

The Pope took the idea and ran with it, and decided to address a text not just to the bishops but to the entire German Church.

More on the German “synodal path”:

German Catholic youth blast Synod-phobic Cardinal Woelki for ‘noes’ on women priests, Church democracy

Why it matters

Herder said it obtained Vatican Press Office confirmation that the Pope’s letter to the German Church was subject to input and consultation from the various competent dicasteries, “as is usual with other texts”.

But according to Herder, Pope Francis wrote the letter himself, in his native Spanish, with input especially from Cardinal Kasper.

The Pope then entrusted the letter’s translation into German not to the Vatican Secretariat of State, as is usual procedure, but to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

That is a step Herder called a measure of special discretion on the Pope’s part, to avoid any possible misinterpretation of his words.

Next on Novena:

Mainz bishop defends German “synodal way” as necessary for Church “cleansing”

Cardinal Marx says married priests possible “in certain conditions and certain regions”

Key German layman defends “synodal process” from cardinal’s schism warnings


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.