I have been working on another project for the past several days, but I did want to do quick a post about the new letter from Pope Francis regarding the Church in Germany. Salvatore Cernuzio of Vatican News provides the background:
Four women have written to the Pope to express their “concerns” about the developments of the synodal journey of the Church in Germany, from which they withdrew.
In response, Pope Francis has responded with a letter acknowledging that he too is concerned “about the numerous tangible steps with which large portions of this local Church continue to threaten to move further away from the common path of the universal Church.”
The National Catholic Register provided a translation of the letter in English:
From the Vatican, November 10, 2023
Dear Professor Westerhorstmann,
Dear Professor Schlosser,
Dear Professor Gerl-Falkovitz,
Dear Mrs. Schmidt,
I extend my gratitude for your kind letter dated November 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 January 16, 2023, which received my specific endorsement.
In my “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany,” I sought not to find “salvation” in constantly evolving committees, nor to persist in self-absorbed dialogues rehashing the same themes. Rather, I aimed to re-emphasize the importance of prayer, penance, and adoration. I urged an openness and a call to action to engage with our brothers and sisters, especially those found at the thresholds of our church doors, in the streets, within prisons, hospitals, public squares, and cities (as mentioned in section 8). I firmly believe that in these places, the Lord will guide us.
I commend your contributions to theology and philosophy and thank you for your witness to the Faith. May the Lord bless you, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you. I kindly ask that you continue to pray for me and for our shared commitment to unity.
United in the Lord,
It is noteworthy that Pope Francis references his “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany,” which was published in 2019. In it, he attempts to remind the German Church that the Synodal Way must remain aligned with the mission of the Church and cannot neglect the spiritual dimension. In one particularly penetrating passage of the letter, he exhorts them not to lose sight of the Lord’s Passion and the sin and evil in the world:
Help to ensure that the Passion of Christ touches in a real and concrete way the many passions and situations in which his face still suffers because of sin and evil. His is a Passion that can unmask the old and new slaveries that destroy men and women, especially today when we see xenophobia being reborn, and that promote a culture based on indifference and rejection, as well as individualism and expulsion. In turn, may the Lord’s Passion awaken in our communities and above all among the youngest the passion for his Kingdom.
Additionally, he points out that segments of the Church plan to go forward with creating a “synodal committee” that “aims to set up a consultative and decision-making body” that does not align with the Church’s ecclesial and sacramental character. This is something that has been a serious concern for Pope Francis and other Church leaders, including German Cardinal Walter Kasper. I wrote about Cardinal Kasper’s concerns last year, and quoted an address in which he said, “Renewal does not mean trying something new for a moment and reinventing a new church. Renewal means, as already promised in the Old Testament, to make oneself new by the Spirit of God and to be given a new heart (Ez 36:26 f).”
The Vatican News analysis concluded with a reminder about the ongoing dialogue between the Vatican and German Church leaders:
One year ago, 62 German bishops had met the Pope for about a week. Concurrently, they had met Cardinal Parolin and other heads of Dicasteries for an unprecedented interdicasterial meeting, defined by the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, as “a case of emergency synodality.”
At a meeting with the press at the Augustinianum Institute in Rome to report on the proceedings, Bishop Bätzing said he was “relieved” by these talks during which – he emphasized – “everything, everything” had been laid on the table: criticisms, requests, proposals, “concerns from Rome,” and perplexities.
Above all, the November 2022 meetings with the Pope and the Curia were an opportunity to clarify that the German bishops have no intention of setting up a “schism.”
“We are Catholic,” Bishop Bätzing said, “and we want to remain so.”
Image: Vatican Media