A Memo to the German Bishops

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Strong words from Pope Francis were met not with filial obedience, but with criticism from the president of the German bishops’ conference.

Bishop Georg Bätzing celebrates Mass at the synodal assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sept. 9, 2022.
Bishop Georg Bätzing celebrates Mass at the synodal assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sept. 9, 2022. (photo: Maximilian von Lachner / Synodaler Weg)

As events continue to spiral toward a potential disaster — the formal or informal schism of the Catholic Church in Germany from communion with Rome — it’s long past time to send a blunt memo to Germany’s dissenting bishops and lay Church leaders and their heterodox supporters in other countries.

Such a memo is urgently needed because of the continuing and brazen refusal of German Church leaders to heed the multiple requests from Pope Francis, from senior Vatican officials, and from bishops elsewhere to rein in their disastrous and fraudulently misnamed “Synodal Way” process. 

The most recent example was the contemptuous response of Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, to the Pope’s pointed criticisms in his recent Associated Press interview. The Holy Father stated bluntly that the agendas of dissent being shoved forward in Germany, despite numerous unsuccessful attempts at correction, are “neither helpful nor serious” and reflect an “elitist” and “ideological” mentality.

A loyal son of the Church should have been deeply chastened by this direct rebuke from the Successor to St. Peter. Bishop Bätzing wasn’t. 

He dismissed the Holy Father’s remarks out of hand, sniping back that if Francis had wanted to communicate his concerns about the Synodal Way he should have done so directly to the German bishops when they visited the Vatican collectively in November.

Equally, a memo is urgently needed to communicate to the dissenting majority of German bishops and to their supporters outside Germany — prominently including U.S. Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego — that it’s completely unacceptable to attempt a similarly ideological takeover of the ongoing worldwide synod in hopes of advancing these same dissenting agendas in that process too.

The dissenting Germans and their allies need to know two central points about synodal processes:

First, Church doctrine is not up for grabs at synods, including with respect to what the Church teaches about the truth and meaning of human sexuality, which is fulfilled only through the loving union of a man and a woman in marriage. Homosexual acts, and other sexual actions outside of an authentic marital bond, can never conform with God’s plan for humankind. 

Furthermore, synodal processes have no authority whatsoever to pass judgments on settled Church teachings, either locally or at the global level.

Second, the Church’s hierarchical structure, founded on the basis of apostolic succession and fidelity to the Pope and to the magisterium of the Church, is also not up for grabs. 

The supposedly “democratic” model being promoted as a replacement by the so-called Synodal Way, which would subordinate the German bishops’ teaching and administrative authority to a new centralized entity composed of both laity and clergy, is completely incompatible with an authentically Catholic ecclesiology. It’s transparent that the primary motive for this attempted hijacking of authority is to facilitate the imposition of innovations such as married priests, female deacons and priests — and above all the “LGBTQ” agendas that the German Church has become totally fixated on advancing. And this model is even more incompatible at the level of the global Church than it is at the level of local Churches such as in Germany.

The Vatican has already communicated these specific two points about ecclesiology and doctrine to the Germans, in a terse statement last July. The statement was likely provoked, in part, by the publication a few days earlier of comments by Marc Frings, the Catholic layman who serves as secretary-general of the Central Committee of German Catholics. 

Frings declared that the Synodal Way is “a conscious statement against the current Catholic catechism, which has been critical and disparaging of homosexuality since the mid-1970s and still reproaches homosexual activity as sin.” Dissent against a foundational Church moral teaching can’t get more blatant than that.

The subsequent Vatican statement advised that the Synodal Way “does not have the power to compel bishops and the faithful to adopt new forms of governance and new orientations of doctrine and morals.” But as with every other correction directed their way, Church leaders in Germany pridefully dismissed this guidance from Rome.

If they were capable of more humility, they would be forced to acknowledge — to themselves and to others — that their secular vision of the Church shouldn’t be perpetuated locally, or emulated abroad. There is nothing new in these German demands for heterodox changes. For the last six decades, ever since the Second Vatican Council concluded, without endorsement of many of their preferred agendas, Church leaders in that country have agitated continuously to attain their goals by other means.

In the process, although their local Church remains conspicuously wealthy due to the revenue it receives via the German government’s compulsory church tax, its churches have emptied, and it has become largely ineffective in terms of proclaiming the Gospel’s countercultural message of salvation. Instead, it has succumbed to Germany’s profoundly secularized and increasingly intolerant contemporary zeitgeist.

Pope Francis referenced this context in the letter he circulated to the faithful in Germany in 2019, as the Synodal Way process was beginning. Highlighting evangelization as the central goal of synodality, the Holy Father cautioned against believing that “the solutions to current and future problems would come only from purely structural or bureaucratic reforms” and against trying “to adapt the life of the Church to the prevailing logic or the logic of a particular group.” Pope Francis also pointedly observed that every synodal process must “ensure that communion with the whole body of the Church is alive and effective.”

Then, as now, the Holy Father’s words were disregarded by Bishop Bätzing and the like-minded bishops, priests and laity who control the pseudo-synodal German process. Instead, they continue to move forward with their dissent, ever more aggressively.

Possibly even more disturbing are the multiple indications that the managers of the Synod on Synodality endorse the Germans’ perspectives, especially when it comes to the promotion of homosexual activity, same-sex unions, and other “LGBTQ” agendas. 

Of particular concern is the stance of Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, the relator general of the global Synod on Synodality, who has openly advocated for changing Church teachings on homosexuality. Similarly concerning is the position of Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, who in August disparaged “public denunciations” of the Synodal Way as “polarizing” and expressed “confidence in the Catholic Church in Germany, and that the bishops know what they are doing.”

Suspicions that Cardinals Hollerich and Grech and the other synod organizers plan to incorporate the Germans’ agendas into the synodal process accelerated dramatically after America magazine’s Jan. 24 publication of an essay by Cardinal McElroy. 

In his essay, the San Diego bishop broadly endorsed the Synodal Way’s dissenting objectives, predicting approvingly that it’s “very likely that discussions of all of these doctrinal questions will take place at the synodal meetings this fall and next year in Rome.” The suspicions generated by these remarks were not dispelled by the joint letter Cardinals Hollerich and Grech hastily released two days later, disavowing any predetermined synodal outcomes.

At this point, there is only one action that might provide the necessary measure of protection against what Germany’s Church leaders are attempting to do, both locally and globally. These dissenters require a direct and explicit correction from Pope Francis himself instructing them, as Catholics who ostensibly are still in communion with the global Church, to cease and desist from their efforts to misinterpret his call for synodality as a mandate to rupture the Church’s unity — and overturn its doctrines and ecclesiology.

As for us, we can assist by praying that the hearts and minds of those who are promoting this false notion of synodality to advance their ideological objectives will become open to such a correction. As well, we can continue our prayerful support of the brave Church leaders inside and outside of Germany who are remaining true to the teachings of the Catholic faith.

God bless you!