The spiritual director of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ has said he doubts that the Pope expressed “dramatic concern” over the reform process.

– Pope “said it was necessary” to deal with synodal path questions

Last week, bishop emeritus of Fulda Heinz Josef Algermissen alleged that the Pope had told him after the Wednesday General Audience October 7 that he was worried about the synodal path reform process.

That’s the process which is bringing togethers bishops, priests, laypeople and outside expert to discuss possible changes to the Church’s teaching and practice in four key areas: the exercise of power, sexual morality, the priesthood and the role of women in the institution.

Algermissen said that the Pope had told him that the synodal path was too focused on “political questions” such as clerical celibacy and women’s ordination.

The bishop added that Francis alluded to the letter he wrote to the German Church in June 2019, in which he warned synodal path participants against the twin extremes of adapting to the spirit of the times and of persisting in a rigid traditionalism.

Algermissen said that the Pope told him “very clearly and expressively” to “make sure that the letter is remembered”.

But speaking to Domradio October 12, co-spiritual director to participants on the synodal path Bernd Hagenkord SJ doubted Algermissen’s account of his conversation with the Pope.

Hagenkord – the former head of the German-language editorial board of Vatican Radio – recalled that “at these General Audiences, bishops have a brief exchange of words with the Pope. I don’t know how long that lasted”.

“Nobody was there, so we cannot say exactly”, the Jesuit went on, adding that Algermissen’s account of the Pope’s words sound more like Algermissen than Francis, and “the choice of words, ‘dramatic worries’ and so on, I would be a little cautious about that”.

“Bishop Algermissen also says, for example, that the conversation took place in German. The Pope has no conversational German. He understands it, but he is not someone who can express complex issues in German”, Hagenkord further observed.

The Jesuit repeated that he would be a “little cautious” in affirming that the Pope was against the synodal path, or against this or that “political issue”, above all because in his June 2019 letter “he said it was necessary to deal with these questions” that have been raised in the reform debates.

Having expressed his scepticism over Algermissen’s version of his encounter with the Pope, however, Hagenkord did admit that the synodal path is suffering from a “communication problem”, to the extent that Catholics are divided between apparent disinterest in the process and fears that it could lead to schism.

The problem is that many Catholics “don’t know exactly what this process is and then fall for such relatively dramatic descriptions” as a push towards a split, Hagenkord admitted.

“So, I think we have to do a better job of communicating what we do. Then the universal Church can also understand this and go along with it”, he explained.

– To Irish Association of Catholic Priests: “There is no future in yesterday’s answers”

Explaining what the synodal path is all about it is exactly what Hagenkord devoted himself to doing October 6 in an online meet with members of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests (ACP).

According to a rough ACP transcript, Hagenkord said in the encounter that of the four synodal path topics – celibacy, sexual morality, authority and women in the Church – “we cannot talk of the first three until we resolve how we treat women”.

On the issue of reform, “90% of people want to get something done, even if they don’t agree on certain issues”, Hagenkord continued, according to the ACP summary of his remarks.

He added that “there is no future in yesterday’s answers. Nearly all agree we need women in the running of the Church. Women’s ordination is an issue but the German Church can’t introduce it. We need discussion on women deacons and it’s on the table. We don’t know where it’s going!”

To read the full ACP transcript of Hagenkord’s presentation and to listen to the audio, follow this link to the ACP website

More on Novena on the German Church’s ‘synodal path’:

German Bishops’ head claps back at Cologne cardinal after he warned of danger of schism in ‘synodal path’ reform process

‘We Are Church’ Germany pleads for ‘synodal path’ reforms to continue despite COVID-19, “extremely irritating” Vatican parish instruction

Severe lack of lay theologians, public perception of division give German Church more reasons to push on with ‘synodal path’ reforms

German bishop comes out swinging against Vatican parish instruction, doubles-down on ‘synodal path’ as “answer to Roman challenge”

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