German Catholic Bishops’ Leader Responds to Polish Archbishop’s ‘Synodal Way’ Criticisms

CNA Deutsch reported that excerpts from Bishop Bätzing’s letter to Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki were published on the German bishops’ conference website on March 24.

L to R: Bishop Georg Bätzing and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki
L to R: Bishop Georg Bätzing and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki (photo: Bistum Limburg/ / Bistum Limburg/

The chairman of Germany’s Catholic bishops’ conference has responded to a strongly worded critique of the “Synodal Way” by his Polish counterpart.

Bishop Georg Bätzing said in a March 16 letter that he sought “a real theological exchange” with Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki over the direction of the controversial multiyear process bringing together Germany’s bishops and laypeople.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that excerpts from Bishop Bätzing’s letter were published on the German bishops’ conference website on March 24. 

The bishop of Limburg, in western Germany, was responding to an almost-3,000-word letter published on Feb. 22, in which Archbishop Gądecki questioned whether the “Synodal Way” was rooted in the Gospel. 

“Faithful to the Church’s teaching, 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,” the archbishop of Poznań, in central Poland, wrote.

“Let us avoid the repetition of worn-out slogans, and standard demands such as the abolition of celibacy, the priesthood of women, communion for the divorced, and the blessing of same-sex unions.”

On March 9, Bishop Bätzing also received a letter from the Nordic Catholic bishops, expressing alarm at the direction of the “Synodal Way.”

According to the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Bätzing recalled in his March 16 letter that he and Archbishop Gądecki had a long discussion about the initiative and the global synodal process during a meeting in Poznań on Nov. 30, 2021.

Bishop Bätzing explained that the “Synodal Way” was intended as a response to an analysis of clerical abuse in the German Church known as the MHG study

“To us, this starting point in abuse, which you do not mention in your letter, is very important,” he wrote. “Only if we address the systemic causes of the unspeakable suffering brought upon people by representatives of the Church, mostly priests, will it be possible at all to reopen the space in which a proclamation of the Good News meets with open ears.” 

He went on: “Yes, only in this way will we achieve new credibility and new trust in the public and among the faithful, which we have squandered.” 

“In this sense, the Synodal Way is a ‘way of conversion and renewal,’ as it says in its statutes, a way that also lets us learn anew as we walk.” 

“Here, too, an exchange seems helpful to me. I would like to learn from you how you confront the systemic causes of the thousands of abuses that we have to perceive here in Germany, with you in Poland, but also worldwide.”

Bishop Bätzing was referring to the abuse crisis that has shaken the Church in Poland in recent years, leading to Vatican disciplinary action against a series of mostly retired bishops accused of negligent handling of abuse cases.

The 60-year-old bishop said that German Catholics were pursuing the “Synodal Way” as Pope Francis had asked them to in a 19-page letter in 2019. 

He added that the initiative was a “spiritual path” that was open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  

“In this, we are always looking for the next, hopefully right, step,” he wrote.

Responding to Archbishop Gądecki’s suggestion that the “Synodal Way” was placing too much emphasis on psychology and the social sciences, Bishop Bätzing referred to the initiative’s orientation text, which sets out its underlying theological principles.

“In this, it becomes clear that the Synodal Way is by no means simply dependent on current developments in psychology and the social sciences,” he argued, “but rather that Holy Scripture is the highest guideline, but that alongside this, living tradition, the signs of the times emphasized by the Second Vatican Council, the sense of faith of the faithful, the Magisterium and theology in mutual connection are also fundamental.”

Bishop Bätzing included with his letter the draft texts endorsed at a “Synodal Way” meeting in February. 

Members of the Synodal Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the “Synodal Way,” voted in favor of documents calling for married priests in the Latin Church, the ordination of women priests, same-sex blessings, and changes to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

Bishop Bätzing told Archbishop Gądecki: “I would be interested in a real theological exchange with you about the argumentation of these texts, since they try to pave ways to make evangelization possible. This must be our common concern.” 

“In the Lenten penitential season, we can look at this together. Despite all guilt, entanglements, and shortcomings, the Church has a great message to proclaim, but one that cannot make her arrogant: the message of our God who allowed himself to be crucified to save the world.”