24 May 2022, The Tablet

German bishops' president 'disappointed' in Pope Francis

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said he was concerned that Francis had adopted a “certain circular discussion culture”.

German bishops' president 'disappointed' in Pope Francis

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops' conference, pictured in Berlin in September 2021, where he gave an address criticising the Vatican's attitude towards same-sex blessings.
CNS/Fabian Sommer, KNA pool

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg has said that while he still firmly believes in the Church’s capacity for reform, he doubts whether Pope Francis will be the person to carry out those reforms. 

For this reason, he is “disappointed” in him, Batzing told Deutschlandfunk in a 26-page interview on 22 May.

Francis was doing what he could by setting the 2023 World Synod in motion where all the reform issues would be on the table, Bätzing admitted. “All groups, including LGBT groups, will be able to participate at the 2023 World Synod”, he said.

However, he was concerned that Francis had adopted a “certain circular discussion culture”.

Bätzing recalled that at the Amazon Synod, when priestly celibacy was being discussed, a majority of dioceses in the region had, under certain circumstances, been in favour of ordaining married men. In the final instance, Francis had decided not to take up the issue. 

“Discussion of the issue has not, however, ceased and it will not cease just because the Pope didn’t take it up. Neither will there be less discussion of women’s ordination just because the Pope is of a different opinion. I’ve spoken to Pope Francis several times now and I know he has a decidedly different opinion [on these issues],” Bätzing said.

For this reason Bätzing did not foresee fundamental reforms on such issues as women’s ordination or priestly celibacy within the next five years. That meant that “those who only have their eyes on the priestly celibacy issue or on the question of women’s ordination are certainly in for a disappointment. Neither of these issues will be resolved within the next five years.”  

Bätzing was “firmly convinced” that present church teaching on homosexuality must be changed and that it would change in the foreseeable future as it was seen as discriminating against gays.

As for gay blessings, he would never discipline any priest who blessed a gay couple, but he had never done so himself. That was because, on the one hand, he felt obliged to obey the Pope and secondly because if he did, it would attract public attention. “And then attention would be concentrated on what I was doing and not on what the couple being blessed desired.”

This meant he himself was having to perform a balancing act between Church teaching and his own reading of the sensus fidelium (the intuitive beliefs of the body of the faithful). He claimed the two did not make a good fit. 

“I'm proclaiming Church teaching – which is my duty – but at the same time I'm fully aware that this teaching is no longer accepted by the faithful. The sensus fidelium has gone further,” he claimed.

“That is something that we must take up theologically and it will lead to changes. That is what I am committed to. I am fully convinced that things will change."

Bätzing also went into the Vatican’s relations with the German Church. The Reformation was still “firmly stuck in the Vatican’s bones”, he explained. Whenever the words “German synodal path” or “together at the Lord’s table”, cropped up, certain Vatican officials immediately cried “Oh dear – the Reformation!” That had narrowed the view of many in Rome, Bätzing claimed.

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