Polish Laity Sharply Criticize Key Protagonists of Germany’s Synodal Way

In a statement, Catholic Action in Poland said ‘the German Way is not built on the Gospel and often contradicts the principles of the faith.’

Three Crosses Square in Warsaw
Three Crosses Square in Warsaw (photo: ArtMediaFactory / Shutterstock)

WARSAW, Poland — Polish lay representatives have sharply criticized Germany’s Synodal Way in a meeting with some of its chief organizers and proponents, saying it is not built on the Gospel, often contradicts the faith, and is a threat to Church unity. 

At a conference in Warsaw last weekend with German laity, including the leader of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), members of the lay group Catholic Action in Poland said that “despite the noble goal of strengthening Christian witness, the German Way is not built on the Gospel and often contradicts the principles of the faith.”

In a statement signed by Urszula Furtak, president of Catholic Action in Poland, they maintained that the Synodal Way in Germany is at variance with Pope Francis’ wishes and pointed out that, despite the German experiment having no formal binding force, “in practice it puts pressure on the entire environment of the Church in Germany.” 

The statement went on to refer to a Vatican declaration last July, which noted that the Synodal Way “does not have the power to oblige bishops and the faithful” to adopt “new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morality.”

It also said that, in Germany itself, not everyone agrees with the Synodal Way “because they believe it does not lead to a true renewal and leaves out the core, the crisis of faith.” 

Along with the Vatican, the Polish lay representatives also foresee the danger of a permanent synodal council made up of laity and bishops, predicting it would lead to “placing itself above the episcopate.” Such an innovation would “break the backbone of the Gospel-based Church and the office of bishop,” they predicted, “with a new way of electing him by the synodal council.”

“The Synodal Way,” the statement continued, “gives the ‘signs of the times’ an important place,” but added that this “concept is unclear and interpreted in various ways” and it highlighted the controversial demands that emerged from the Synodal Way, such as the separation of governing and ordaining powers, and the blessing of same-sex couples. 

The Synodal Way “poses a threat to the unity of the Church,” the lay representatives said. 

According to the German bishops’ website Katholisch.de, the meeting in Warsaw focused on the role of the laity in the Church of their respective countries. The two delegations also exchanged views on participation in synodal processes in the Church. 

Taking part on the German side were representatives of the ZdK, including its president, Irme Stetter-Karp, as well as representatives of the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk, an association whose main goal is to help victims of ghettos and former prisoners of concentration camps. 

The ZdK, Germany’s radical and most influential lay group, has played a leading role in the Synodal Way, and Setter-Karp has been especially anxious in recent weeks to ensure that its goals are met after encountering resistance, especially with regard to the establishment of a synodal council.

The organization didn’t issue a statement after the meeting in Warsaw. 


Previous Polish Criticisms

This is not the first time members of the Church in Poland have sternly criticized the Synodal Way. 

Last year, the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, wrote a letter to his German counterpart, Bishop Georg Bätzing, expressing his “deep concern and anxiety” about the process. 

“We should not yield to the pressures of the world or to the patterns of the dominant culture, since this can lead to moral and spiritual corruption,” he warned. 

Bishop Bätzing rejected the archbishop’s criticism, saying he was “irritated” by his letter and insisting the Church in Germany was walking the Synodal Way “as Pope Francis expressly urged us to do.”

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne attends a German Synodal Way assembly on March 9, 2023.

Four German Bishops Resist Push to Install Permanent ‘Synodal Council’

Given the Vatican’s repeated interventions against the German process, the bishops said they would instead look to the Synod of Bishops in Rome. Meanwhile, on Monday, German diocesan bishops approved the statutes for a synodal committee; and there are reports that the synodal committee will meet again in June.