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German bishops conclude tense gathering with all eyes on Synod on Synodality in Rome

Bishop Georg Bätzing addresses journalists on Sept 28, 2023. / Credit: Martin Rothweiler/EWTN Germany

CNA Newsroom, Sep 29, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

As German bishops wrapped up their plenary meeting on Thursday with a final press conference amid tensions over same-sex blessings and a whole host of underlying issues, the focus was clear: All eyes were turned toward the fraught relationship with Rome and the forthcoming Synod on Synodality. 

Bishop George Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, took public issue with the apostolic nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterović, for reminding the German bishops of statements by Pope Francis on anthropology, including gender ideology. 

Citing Pope Francis, the papal ambassador had addressed the German prelates at their plenary assembly with a reminder it was “necessary to reject ideological colonization, including gender ideology” while emphasizing “that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, should be respected in their dignity and welcomed with respect.”

When asked by CNA Deutsch about this reminder, Bätzing on Sept. 28 accused the pope’s envoy to Germany of engaging in a culture war with terms such as “gender ideology” or “ideological colonization.”

 “And when the Church engages in a culture war, it will always lose,” he said.

Bätzing used the German term for culture war — “Kulturkampf.” Given its bitter historical context, this is a loaded concept, amid the current concerns over the German Synodal Way, including its demand for blessing homosexual unions.

The alternative to a culture war, Bätzing added, was “not adaptation, not simply agreeing to everything and going along with everything,” but “the ecclesial principle” of “discernment of spirits.”

“This is precisely what we have tried to do in the Synodal Way,” the bishop claimed. 

“The spirit of the times — ‘Zeitgeist’ — is the spirit of the world. Signs of the times are signs that God gives to people through culture, through a current development [movement], so that we can better understand what the Gospel wants.”

The president of the German bishops’ conference added: “We have to differentiate.”

Asked by EWTN Germany program director Martin Rothweiler about irritation caused by individual bishops moving forward on issues such as the blessing of homosexual unions openly defying the Vatican, Bätzing said: “Many more believers are irritated that the Church is not moving on this issue.” 

Diversity, not division?

While Bätzing used the opportunity to double down on his approach, it is clear that not everyone in the Church in Germany shares his vision. For instance, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has frequently sounded alarms over doctrinal drift. His concerns mirror those of a minority of other bishops.

Augsburg Bishop Bertram Meier, who will attend the synod in Rome, offered a nuanced view on Thursday, stressing the need for the “wealth of different positions, opinions, and creative ideas.” 

Yet, the prudent prelate warned that diversity should not become division. “I also wish that from the diversity of opinions no threats stand, but that we discover the richness of what catholicity means,” Meier remarked.

Amid this diverse cacophony, Bätzing doubled down on his stance, declaring: “We are in a phase in the Church where perhaps it is not security that is the unifying and stabilizing element but rather a dynamic in certain directions.”

Conscious of mounting tensions and open defiance around issues like the blessing of same-sex unions, the assembly in Wiesbaden served as a charged prelude to more significant debates on Church governance and hot-button issues.

With the Synod on Synodality on the immediate horizon, the Catholic world will watch how Germany’s controversial Synodal Way integrates — or collides — with the global Catholic event. Bätzing’s assertion that “a dynamic in certain directions” holds the Church together now casts its shadow onto the upcoming synod.

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