German bishops at stalemate with Vatican over women and homosexuality

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VATICAN CITY (RNS) – German bishops left the Vatican over the weekend with mixed feelings of “relief and concern” after renewing their loyalty to Rome, but with questions about sexuality, the role of women and how to reform power structures in the church still unanswered.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday (November 19th), the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said that despite the Vatican’s ban, he plans to personally continue to bless same-sex couples.

“For me as a bishop, those blessings for people who ask God’s blessing for their committed relationship, I wouldn’t take that away from them,” he said.

Sixty-two German bishops came to Rome last week (November 14-18) for the traditional “ad limina” visits with members of the Vatican departments and offices that make up the Roman Curia. The bishops also had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and an extraordinary meeting with all Vatican department heads on Friday, November 18.

It was the first time the German bishops had visited the Vatican since they began their synodal journey in 2018, a series of nationwide talks between clergy and laity to address clergy sexual abuse in the country. A report published the same year, known as the MGH study, showed that a pervasive culture of cover-up and clericalism had led to numerous abuse scandals in the church.

The German synodal path included discussions questioning Catholic Church teachings on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and the role of clergy and laity in the Church. It passed a number of resolutions but met with pushback from Rome as the Vatican tries to rein in the German bishops.

In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal department banned the blessing of same-sex couples in the German church. That summer, in July, the Vatican Secretariat of State reminded the German bishops that the synodal way “does not have the power to compel bishops and the faithful to assume new modes of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals”.

While conversations between the bishops and Vatican officials have been “difficult but civil” over the week, Bätzing insisted that “it is wrong to speak of a so-called ‘confrontation’ in Rome “.

On Friday, the German bishops had the opportunity to express their concerns to Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the department supervising the bishops; and the Vatican Doctrine Czar, Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer. Bätzing said the bishops described the meeting as “a serious test of synodality,” where topics of power structures, priestly life, female leadership and sexuality were openly discussed.

In his address to the Vatican Curia, Bätzing said he was “amazed” that some within Vatican departments continue to fail to recognize the need for renewal in Church practice and teachings. He singled out clericalism, understood as the “use of power and exploitation of dependency” of the faithful, as the main culprit in the sexual abuse crisis and called the issue of the role of women in the Church ” decisive question for the future”. .”

The bishop stressed that “the synodal path of the Church in Germany does not seek a schism nor does it lead to a national Church,” fending off criticism. Within the synod there are tensions, Bätzing said, and it – like in many families – “it gets noisy at times,” but the German church seeks to participate in “a better Catholic Church” where “we will stay together”.

A joint statement between the German bishops and the Holy See says Ferrer and Ouellet spoke “frankly and clearly” about their reservations about the German synodal path. Ouellet suggested that the synodal process in the country be halted to allow for further reflection, but the proposal was rejected, according to the statement.

Parolin emphasized the unity of the Church in the context of synodal discussions and said the conversations that took place in the Vatican “cannot be ignored” in the future. Pope Francis was notably absent from the meeting, a move Bätzing described as characteristic of an “intelligent Jesuit” who let the prelates “discuss like brothers.”

The bishop said he was “encouraged” when he met the pope the day before, but “if we had known that he would not come to our meeting, we would have presented all the themes that are important to us in our process synod”.

Pope Francis has been ambivalent about the German synod discussions, which are taking place as part of a global consultation of the lay and religious faithful, which will conclude in 2024. While promoting open discussions and ideas, the pope , in a 2019 letter to the German Church, also reinforced the need to avoid becoming too polarized or political.


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Bätzing said he asked the pope about the situation in the Archdiocese of Cologne, where its cardinal, Rainer Maria Woelki, has come under the spotlight for his alleged failure to deal with sexual abuse cases in his diocese. Pope Francis has yet to accept Woelki’s resignation in March, and Bätzing called the wait “unbearable” for the country’s clergy and faithful.

The German synodal path will continue, Bätzing said, pointing to the 5e general assembly in the country scheduled for March. He added that the German Church embraces the synodal discussions promoted by the Vatican.

“The follow-up phase begins now, as does the reflection phase on what has been said and heard: our concerns, which we raised in Rome, and the considerations that Rome gave us to take away,” he said. declared.

“I am convinced that we will continue this dialogue well, and I hope that we will soon be able to intensify this dialogue even more with those people in Rome who constitute the largest part of the people of God: the laity”.


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