70 Catholic bishops - including 4 cardinals - have signed an open letter sharing their "growing concern" about developments in the German Synodal Path.
More than 70 bishops have signed an open letter to the bishops of Germany – published April 12, 2022 on the U.S. media outlet Catholic News Agency – in which they express their “growing concern” about developments in the German Synodal Path, a process of reform currently underway in the German Catholic Church.
Germany’s Synodal Path is a controversial multi-year process to discuss the role of women, human sexuality, the priesthood and power in the Church. The process includes bishops, priests, religious and laity.
In their relatively brief letter, the episcopal signatories acknowledge the need for synodal momentum, and point out that the “The need for reform and renewal is as old as the Church herself.” However, they make seven criticisms of the synodal process in the Catholic Church in Germany:
First, the actions of the German synodal path “undermine the credibility of Church authority, including that of Pope Francis” through a lack of listening to the Holy Spirit, the signatory bishops believe. They cite in particular its harmful effects on “Christian anthropology and sexual morality” as well as the questioning of the “reliability of Scripture.”
The second argument deplores the predominance of “sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies” over the spiritual in the German approach. A reality that shows, according to the signatories, that it considers the mission of the Church “through the lens of the world” rather than through Scripture and Tradition.
Third, the synodal path, according to them, would diminish the meaning of “Christian freedom” by equating it with “autonomy.” “Authentic freedom,” the bishops say, “is tethered to truth and ordered to goodness and, ultimately, beatitude.”
The fourth argument is the total absence of the joy of the Gospel, so frequently emphasized by Pope Francis. The absence in the discussions and texts of the Synodal Path is “a revealing flaw” according to the bishops.
The fifth argument questions the synodal dimension of the process, denouncing a “work of experts and committees” that is “bureaucracy-heavy, obsessively critical, and inward-looking.” According to the bishops this is a sign of a widespread form of “sclerosis” marked by an “anti-evangelical tone” and a “submission” to the world and the world’s ideologies.
The bishops criticize in their sixth argument the Synodal Path’s emphasis on “power” in the Church, which reduces her to the status of an “institution.” “The reform of structures is not at all the same thing as the conversion of hearts,” they said.
Finally, “by its destructive example” the German Synodal Path could paradoxically lead some bishops and laity “to distrust the very idea of ‘synodality.'”
Assuring the Church in Germany of their prayers, the signatory bishops insist on the need to bring clarity “in these times of confusion.”
American and African signatories
Of the signatories, 48 are American, 18 are African (mainly from Tanzania). Only one signer is European and none are South American. Four cardinals signed the letter: Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier and Australian Cardinal George Pell.
The bishops’ move follows a critique of the German synodal path issued by current Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver on May 26, 2021.
Third letter since the beginning of the year
This is not the first open letter sent by bishops to their German colleagues. Recently, the Polish Bishops’ Conference and then the Northern European Bishops’ Conference each published a letter expressing their concern about the directions taken by the German synodal path.
The German synodal path – “Synodaler Weg” – began in 2019. The third synodal assembly took place from February 3 to 5.
This meeting resulted in the signing of draft resolutions calling for the ordination of women, the participation of lay people in the appointment of bishops, the blessing of homosexual unions, the modification of the catechism on homosexuality and the ordination of married men. Two additional synodal assemblies are planned for September 2022 and March 2023.
At the same time, the Vatican has initiated a worldwide synod in October 2021 to explore the synodal dimension of the Church in terms of communion, participation and mission. Its diocesan phase, unprecedented in its form, is scheduled to conclude on August 15. It will be followed by a continental phase and a final Roman phase in October 2023.