Five German bishops have written a letter in support of Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau who last week openly criticized a document released by the German Church’s top lay organization, the ZdK.

In the letter published over the weekend, the bishops said they thanked Bishop Oster for his opinions on the ZdK statement and that they agreed “wholeheartedly” with his remarks on the importance of Church teaching, especially concerning Christian marriage “based on the teaching of Jesus in Scripture and on the tradition of Church.”

Last week, the ZdK — the Central Committee of the German Catholics — released a declaration that called for the admittance of civilly remarried divorcees to holy Communion, acceptance of all forms of cohabitation, the blessing of same-sex couples and the reconsideration of the Church’s teaching on contraception.

Bishop Oster criticized their statement for being “incomprehensible” and said that, if enacted, it would mark a “dramatic change of much that has been valid concerning marriage and sexuality” based on holy Scripture, Tradition and the magisterium.

Congratulating Bishop Oster, the five bishops said: “We live in a highly secularized society in Germany. This fact should not discourage us and make us look at harmonizing ourselves with the mainstream, but rather be an opportunity to rediscover the uniqueness of the Christian vocation in the world today.”

They agreed with the bishop that “an essential condition” to accomplishing this is “a frank and faithful proclamation of Jesus' teaching in the Gospels and the development of a relationship with Him as a richness for our lives.

“We are therefore convinced that many believers are also most grateful for your clear words,” they concluded.

The letter was signed by Bishops Konrad Zdarsa of Augsburg, Gregory M. Hanke OSB of Eichstätt, Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, and Friedhelm Hofmann of Würzburg. All but one of their dioceses are in traditionally Catholic Bavaria, including Passau. Germany has 27 dioceses in total. 

The bishops’ letter, and the statement of Bishop Oster, show the beginnings of a possible backlash against the general direction of the episcopate which is generally sympathetic to the kind of vision put forward by the ZdK. However, they continue to be generally silent regarding any public criticism of the bishops’ conference itself, headed by Cardinal Reinhard Marx.