German Bishops’ President Asserts ‘The Need to Develop the Church’s Teaching’

The assembly of the synodal path has voted in favor of documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to teaching on homosexual acts.

Bishop Georg Bätzing at the closing press conference of the spring plenary meeting of the German bishops’ conference.
Bishop Georg Bätzing at the closing press conference of the spring plenary meeting of the German bishops’ conference. (photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV)

LIMBURG, Germany — The president of the German bishops’ conference has expressed his belief that Church teaching needs further development, in response to critique of the synodal path in that country.

The statement came in the latest instance of epistolary exchange between Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg and Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver.

“Our Church needs change in order to faithfully carry out her mission and take the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of our time. And the urgent need for change also includes the need to further develop the Church's teaching. Such is my conviction,” Bishop Bätzing wrote in a May 5 letter to Archbishop Aquila.

The assembly of the synodal path has voted in favor of documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to teaching on homosexual acts.

Germany’s “Synodal Path” is a process that brings together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: how power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women. When the German bishops launched the process, they initially said that the deliberations would be “binding” on the Church in Germany, prompting a Vatican intervention that rejected such claims.

In May 2021, Archbishop Aquila wrote that the synodal path’s first text put forward “untenable” proposals for changes to Church teaching. He was among the drafters of an April 11 open letter that warned the synodal path may lead to schism, now signed by more than 100 bishops, six of whom are cardinals. And on May 2 he wrote to Bishop Bätzing reiterating that the synodal path challenges, and even repudiates, the deposit of faith.

In his May 5 response, the Bishop of Limburg maintained that the synodal path is an appropriate response to clerical sex abuse.

“Based on intensive discussions with those affected and intensive scientific studies on the occurrence of abuse of children and young people by clerics in our country, we had to painfully accept that there are multi-dimensional systemic factors in the Catholic Church which favour abuse. Uncovering these and doing our utmost to overcome them is the starting point of the Synodal Path in Germany, and it is reflected in the four priority areas to be worked on,” he wrote.

“Your argumentation that bishops have made mistakes in dealing with abuse and instead of taking responsibility for it, they now want to fundamentally question the doctrine of the Church in Germany, is, from my humble insight, frighteningly one-line and unfortunately does not do justice by far to the complex reality of the structures in the Catholic Church that facilitate abuse,” Bishop Bätzing wrote to Archbishop Aquila.

He added, “I am glad and appreciate the fact that your opinion is by no means shared by all the faithful and bishops, even in the Church in the United States. This is clearly communicated to me again and again.”

“I take your objections seriously,” he said, “because they indicate concern and at the same time that we also in the Catholic Church worldwide live in a thoroughly plural situation of different social life worlds and theological assessments.”

These situations “require exchange, critical dialogue and a new understanding and communication with each other, of course on the basis of what belongs to the revealed unchangeable heritage of the Church's faith,” Bishop Bätzing wrote. 

“That is why I am so extraordinarily grateful for the open way in which Pope Francis has designed the World Synod on Synodality. Everyone should be able to participate, have their say and contribute their views. This is a great approach we in Germany support very much.”

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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