31 January 2023, The Tablet

German conference president criticises Pope’s leadership style

“I think carrying out Church leadership by means of interviews highly questionable,” Bishop Georg Bätzing told Die Welt.

German conference president criticises Pope’s leadership style

Bishop Georg Bätzing has criticised Pope Francis's comments on the German Synodal Way in unusually sharp words.
Sascha Steinbach/CNA

Pope Francis has once again personally criticised the German Synodal Path initiative, describing it as synodal in name only in a wide-ranging AP interview published last week.

“The German initiative is not helpful as it is not a genuine synodal path. It is synodal in name only – not an initiative in which the entire people of God are involved but rather one organised by an elite,” Francis said.

While it had begun at the grassroots it had now become elitist. The aim must always be unity, the Pope said, warning against ideological debate.

“There is the danger that something very, very ideological will flow into the debate. When ideology bores its way in, the Holy Spirit flees as ideology always prevails”.

Following the interview's publication in German on 25 January, the German bishops' conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing criticised the Pope’s comments in unusually sharp words speaking to the German daily Die Welt.

“I think carrying out Church leadership by means of interviews highly questionable. Why didn’t the Pope speak to us about this when we met him on our ad limina visit in November?” Bätzing asked.

He found it difficult to understand that Francis had given the controversy over priestly celibacy as an example of supposedly German ideology.

“Whether priestly celibacy should remain compulsory or not has been an issue of discussion in many countries for over 60 years now,” he said and recalled that Francis himself had allowed the question of priestly celibacy at the Amazon Synod.

“Calling it a German ideological discussion from which the Holy Spirit immediately flees the room – quite what is that supposed to mean?” he asked.

The Vatican is particularly worried about the initiative’s intention to establish a “synodal council” in which bishops and lay Catholics will discuss and decide basic Church issues.

Several German bishops have come out in support of Bätzing's intention to continue with the German Synodal Path reform project despite the Vatican’s resolute “No”.

“The [Vatican] letter states that neither the synodal path project nor a bishops’ conference can establish a synodal council. But it does not say that a bishop cannot do so”, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg countered.

He had therefore asked his diocesan episcopal council to collect suggestions for a synodal council for his diocese, he said.

And Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said that the synodal council the German synodal path intended to establish – which was causing the Vatican such concern –  would “naturally be based on Church law and on the basis of the Second Vatican Council”, otherwise more than two-thirds of all German bishops who had voted in favour it would not have done so.  

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99