VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Episcopal Conference, has held talks with Pope Francis and Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, about the German bishops’ plans for a “binding synodal path.”
The meetings, held in Rome Sept. 19, followed a public exchange between the German hierarchy and the Vatican over the draft statutes for a “Synodal Assembly” to be formed by the bishops in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics.
In a media release issued by the German bishops’ conference on Friday, Cardinal Marx called the meetings “constructive” but offered no details about any further instructions given by the Pope or the Curia concerning the synodal plans.
“In both talks, a constructive dialogue took place, which will feed into the deliberations of the general assembly of the German Episcopal Conference next week.” The release noted that Cardinal Marx was in Rome for meetings of the Pope’s council of cardinal advisers and the Vatican Council for the Economy, both of which Cardinal Marx is a member.
The German bishops will meet in plenary session on Sept. 23-26 and are expected to formally adopt a set of statutes for the synodal process.
Pope Francis wrote to the German bishops in June, expressing a series of concerns with the German proposals and warning them to proceed in communion with Rome and the whole Church.
That letter was, according to Cardinal Walter Kasper, “set aside” by the executive committee of the German bishops’ conference, who voted in August to endorse a set of statues codifying their previous plans, while rejecting an alternative proposal drafted to accommodate the Pope’s concerns.
Earlier this month, Cardinal Ouellet wrote to Cardinal Marx, presenting a four-page legal assessment of the synodal plans. That document, issued by the Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts, concluded that the proposed synodal assembly was “not ecclesiologically valid” and set out to treat matters of universal Church teaching and discipline that “cannot be the object of the deliberations or decisions of a particular Church without contravening what is expressed by the Holy Father in his letter.”
The most recent version of the synodal statues, approved in August and unchanged through September, were due to be adopted by the German bishops at their plenary assembly next week.
In response to Cardinal Ouellet’s intervention, Cardinal Marx indicated that the synodal plans would proceed as planned, saying that Rome could not apply a canonical criticism to what he called a “sui generis process” that would be “helpful for the guidance of the universal Church and for other episcopal conferences.”
It is unclear if any changes will be made to that document following the “constructive dialogue” with the Pope and Cardinal Ouellet. It is also unclear if the alternative statutes for a “Francis model” of the synodal process will be given new consideration by the bishops, despite their rejection by the executive committee last month.
The German synodal process is scheduled to begin on the first day of Advent.