Pope Francis: German Synodal Way Not in Alignment With Church

European Conservative [Budapest, Hungary]

November 26, 2023

By Chris Tomlinson

The Pope has so far taken no disciplinary action, in stark contrast to his swift removal of a conservative bishop in the U.S.

Pope Francis has responded to concerns over the ultra-progressive German Synodal Way, a series of conferences including Bishops and lay people seeking to ‘modernise’ Church doctrine and organisation in the wake of sexual abuse scandals, which earlier this year called for a number of major changes to the Catholic Church, including blessing gay couples and scrapping priestly celibacy

Although the Synodal Way has no authority to change Church doctrine under Catholic Canon Law, its declarations have been heavily criticised for going against Church tradition and doctrine.  

The head of the Catholic Church responded to a letter written by Dr. Katharina Westerhorstmann, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Dr. Marianne Schlosser, professor of theology at the University of Vienna, Dr. Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, professor emeritus of philosophy of religion and comparative religious studies at the Technical University Dresden in Dresden and Dorothea Schmidt, a German journalist and author, who stated their concerns regarding where the German church was heading.

The four women have been highly critical of the Synodal Way, stating it was “casting doubt on central Catholic doctrines and beliefs,” and also noted that those taking part had ignored warnings from the Vatican in the past. 

The four also announced earlier this year that they would be ending their own participation in the Synodal Way, saying

The resolutions of the past three years have not only called into question essential foundations of Catholic theology, anthropology as well as Church practice, but have reformulated and in some cases completely redefined them …We cannot and will not share responsibility for that.

Professor Marianne Schlosser, for example, took issue with the Synodal Way’s fixation on opening up priestly ordination to women.

Pope Francis, in his reply to the concerns of the four women, shared his own views, which were critical of the synod. 

Pope Francis stated:

I extend my gratitude for your kind letter dated Nov. 6. Your concerns regarding the current developments within the Church in Germany have reached me, and I share your concerns. There are indeed numerous steps being taken by significant segments of this local Church that threaten to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church’s common path. 

This doubtlessly includes the establishment of the synodal committee you referenced. This committee aims to set up a consultative and decision-making body. However, as outlined in the corresponding resolution, its proposed structure is not in alignment with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church. Consequently, its formation was forbidden by the Holy See in a letter dated Jan. 16, 2023, which received my specific endorsement.

According to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope expressed particular concern about a proposal from the Synodal Way to create a permanent council of both Clergy and lay people which would be set up as a governing body of the Catholic Church in Germany. 

Despite the rejection from the Vatican, the Synodal Way leadership held a meeting this month to discuss how to proceed with the creation of the Synodal Council, which they hope will be up and running by 2026 at the latest. 

The letter is not the first time the Vatican has rebuked some of the proposals that have come from the Synodal Way. It has previously denounced  the German group’s call to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. 

Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, stated in March that the German Church could not go off on its own and bless same-sex unions. 

“A local, particular church cannot make a decision like that which involves the discipline of the Universal Church,” Cardinal Parolin said, adding, “There must certainly be a discussion with Rome and the rest of the Churches in the world … to clarify what are the decisions to make.”

The issue was expected to be on the agenda of the official ‘Synod on Synodality,’ a gathering which took place in Rome and was organised at the request of Pope Francis. However, no official approval for the blessing of same-sex unions was included in the summary report released last month. 

In fact, there was no mention of the term LGBT at all in the document, disappointing progressives in the church, such as Jesuit Father James Martin, who has become well-known for his LGBT advocacy within the Church. 

“Still, the lack of any mention of the term ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ in the final synthesis … was, for many people, including myself, a disappointment,” Fr Martin said. 

However, some German priests have begun to bless same-sex couples, disregarding the Vatican’s position on the matter, with some blessings even taking place outside Cologne Cathedral.

Cologne’s Archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, spoke out against the same-sex blessings but was slammed by Birgit Mock, a vice president of the ultra-liberal Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who called Woelki’s objections “beyond incomprehensible.”

So far, while Pope Francis has publicly expressed concerns over the direction of the German Church, no priests or bishops have been formally disciplined for their actions. 

This approach is in stark contrast to Pope Francis’ approach in the United States, where he this month removed conservative Bishop Joseph Strickland, a critic of Pope Francis and of the progressive agenda of some in the Church, from the diocese of Tyler, Texas.