The German Catholic Church’s two-year Synodal Path, which began Sunday, must be about evangelization rather than “political or sociological process” or driven by a mainstream media ignorant of the Church, a German bishop has cautioned.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg also said claims that “apocalyptic impulses” mean the Synodal Path is a kind of “last chance” for the Church to reform herself are “not helpful” but rather a form of “attempted coercion.”

“We will not be intimidated by this!” Bishop Voderholzer told faithful at an investiture of a new cathedral capitular, Professor Josel Kreiml, in Regensburg cathedral Nov. 30.

The Synodal Path, which began on the first day of Advent with informal talks, is aimed at discussing “key issues” arising from the clerical sex-abuse crisis, in particular the Catholic Church’s perennial teaching on priestly celibacy, human sexuality and the role of women in the Church.

But the meeting, whose first general assembly will be held on Jan. 30, has already attracted controversy, with critics concerned it will result in proposals that will undermine the Church’s teaching and possibly lead the German Church into schism.

Drawing on Pope Francis’ June 29 letter to the German faithful, Bishop Voderholzer said the Pope has stressed the importance of evangelization in the Synodal Path which, the bishop believes, “must be the guiding criterion of all our deliberations.”

“I myself was received by Pope Francis in private audience at the end of August, and he also told me once again with urgent words: ‘The essence of the Church is evangelization,’” he said.

The Synodal Path must therefore be a “spiritual process, a common listening to the Gospel,” the bishop insisted, and “under no circumstances” be a “political or sociological process” driven by a “mainstream media that usually doesn’t understand anything about the nature of the Church.”

For this reason, he said he was “very saddened” that the statutes for the Synodal Path failed to “take into account the main concern of the Holy Father” by establishing a separate forum dedicated to the “New Evangelization.”

Bishop Voderholzer, who has threatened to withdraw from the two-year process if unity and evangelization are not given priority, said that with Prof. Kreiml assisting him on the synodal process, he wishes to bring the diocese into the Synodal Path “with full force” and to help promote the “unity of the Church” which the “sensus ecclesiae (sense of the Church) values.”

Kreiml, he said, is an “outstanding expert” on Joseph Ratzinger’s theology who understands the Church “with all her traditions, not as a corporation or a political party, but as a community of prayer,” and not as “managers but priests who live from daily common prayer and celebration of the Eucharist.”

Bishop Voderholzer also criticized in his homily a new film in Germany called ‘Verteidiger des Glaubens‘ (Defender of the Faith) which he believes is part of an attempt in “certain circles” to “deliberately discredit Pope Benedict and his theology” ahead of the synodal process.

The film, “disguised as a documentary,” tries to blame Benedict for sexual abuse in the Church, he observed, and he pointed out that Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a leading Church expert on combating abuse of minors in the Church, said in a recent interview he was interviewed for four hours for the program “but not a single second of it appeared in the film.”

Father Zollner also said that for him, Benedict, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the first to “consistently tackle the question of abuse and condemn perpetrators,” and to treat such cases with an “iron fist.”

Bishop Voderholzer closed his homily by saying the Church needs “renewal” which is “always necessary,” but stressed this can be done now, during Advent, rather than awaiting the outcome of the Synodal Path.

“Evangelization always begins with self-evangelization” through the “intensification and internalization of personal prayer and the daily contemplation of Scripture!

“Let us answer Jesus’ call to conversion with a personal and honest examination of conscience and the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation,” he said.