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German bishops take Rome letter seriously, says Bätzing

Bishop Georg Bätzing said Thursday that the German bishops take seriously a recent Vatican letter urging them not to take a further step toward the creation of a permanent “synodal council” of bishops and lay people.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German bishops’ conference, speaks with the media on Feb. 22, 2024, at the end of the bishops’ spring plenary meeting in Augsburg. German bishops’ conference / Marko Orlovic. 

The German bishops’ conference chairman said Feb. 22 that this was shown by the decision not to hold a vote on the statutes of a body known as the “synodal committee” at the bishops’ spring plenary meeting in Augsburg, southern Germany.

In a Feb. 16 letter to Bätzing, three Vatican cardinals said that a vote approving the synodal committee’s statutes would “be contrary to the Holy See’s instructions issued by special mandate of the Holy Father.”

In response, a vote on the statutes was removed from the agenda of the Augsburg meeting on the eve of the assembly.


The synodal committee was inaugurated last November after participants in Germany’s 2019-2023 “synodal way” passed a resolution calling for the creation of a body of bishops and lay people to pave the way for a permanent synodal council in 2026.

The Vatican cardinals said that a synodal council with sweeping decision-making powers was “not provided for by current Church law and therefore a decision by the German bishops’ conference in this regard would be invalid — with the corresponding legal consequences.”

Bätzing said that the bishops “discussed intensively and in detail what the letter means” at their Feb. 19-22 gathering in Augsburg.

“We see the need for good and successful communication with those responsible in Rome and will soon take these talks, which began last July, a step further,” he said, referring to a meeting between German bishops and Vatican officials in Rome on July 26, 2023.

Bätzing said that the synodal committee would also be discussed at a session of the joint conference, which brings together bishops and members of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a lay body that co-sponsored the synodal way with the German bishops’ conference.

The bishop said that joint conference members would talk about “what the situation means for the work in the synodal committee.” 

Synodal committee members are due to attend a second plenary meeting in Mainz in June, but the lack of bishops’ conference approval for the body’s statutes is likely to overshadow the gathering.

“We must decide together how we can do this work on tasks that the synodal assembly has assigned to us,” Bätzing said, referring to the synodal way’s 150 pages of resolutions.

He added that the German synodal project would seek to incorporate developments in the global synodal process, which is due to culminate in Rome in October. 

“Our aim is to bring together all the strands of action and struggle for and around a synodal Church in a good way,” he said. “At this moment, our most important goal is to find a common path before we talk about content.”

He insisted that the German and global synodal processes were heading “in the same direction — the development of the Church.”

“There are different styles, tempos, and accents,” he said. “But they serve to bring the developments of the Church into a binding consultation with the faithful that is transparent and at the same time open and accountable, so that we can make better decisions.”

Concluding his remarks on the synodal committee, Bätzing said: “I would like to do everything I can to address Rome’s concerns, which are expressed in the letter: This is about the position of the episcopate. Synodality does not seek to weaken the episcopate, but to strengthen it.” 

“We are convinced that this is also what we want with the synodal way. We do not want to limit the authority of the bishop, of the bishops, in any way.”

At their meeting in Augsburg, the German bishops also discussed the political situation in Germany. In recent months, regional groupings of bishops have expressed alarm at the rise of parties widely described as far right, including the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which is surging in the polls.

The bishops unanimously approved the statement “Racial (völkisch) nationalism and Christianity are incompatible,” criticizing the rightward shift among German voters.

“We say very clearly that ethno-nationalism is incompatible with the Christian image of God and man,” they said.

“Right-wing extremist parties and those that run rampant on the fringes of this ideology can therefore not be a place of political activity for Christians and cannot be voted for.”

“The dissemination of right-wing extremist slogans — including racism and anti-Semitism — is also incompatible with full-time or voluntary service in the Church.”

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