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Pope Francis Worries Over German Church’s Synodal Journey

Pope Francis has responded to a letter from four German women, expressing his worries about the direction the German Church is taking in its synodal journey. 

The four women, involved in the national synodal process, had written to the Pope expressing their concerns and subsequently withdrew from the process.

In a letter dated November 10, Pope Francis addressed moral theologian Katharina Westerhorstmann, theologian Marianne Schlosser, philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, and publicist Dorothea Schmidt. The Pope acknowledged that he shares their concerns about the German Church moving away from the universal path.

The synodal process in Germany involved 230 delegates, including bishops, priests, laymen, and laywomen, discussing various issues like the blessing of same-sex couples, changes in sexual morality, priestly celibacy, clerical power, combating abuse, the role of women, and the possibility of the priestly ordination of women. The concerns raised by the four women centered around the establishment of a synodal committee for decision-making, which the Pope emphasized cannot align with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis reminded the women of a letter dated January 16, 2023, in which the Holy See prohibited the establishment of such a committee, and he personally approved it. He also referred to his Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany, published on June 29, 2019, where he called on the Church leaders in Germany to follow the path of the Gospel without succumbing to functionalist drifts or ideological reductions.

In his response, Pope Francis stressed that the synodal process cannot make doctrinal decisions and lacks the authority to impose new forms of governance or moral approaches on bishops and the faithful. He expressed hope that the proposals from the German path could align with the universal Church’s synodal journey.

The Pope concluded his letter by thanking the women for their theological and philosophical work and their witness of faith. He urged them to continue praying for unity and emphasized the importance of prayer, penance, and worship over continual committee discussions.

Regarding the synodal path, a meeting took place on July 26 in the Vatican between Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, heads of Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and representatives of the German Bishops’ Conference. This meeting followed the ad limina visit of the German bishops in November 2022, where theological and disciplinary issues arising from the Synodal Path were discussed.

A year ago, 62 German bishops had met with the Pope for about a week, addressing criticisms, requests, proposals, concerns from Rome, and perplexities. Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg emphasized that the German bishops have no intention of setting up a schism and reaffirmed their commitment to remaining Catholic.

The Pope’s response reflects a larger concern about the German Church potentially diverging from the universal path, and ongoing dialogues seek to address these issues without compromising the unity of the Catholic Church.

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