Pope warns German Church over Synodal Way


Southern Europe


Pope Francis presides a mass on World Day of the Poor at St Peter's basilica in The Vatican, on November 19, 2023. Photo AFP, Andreas Solaro

The Pope fears separation between the German Catholic Church and the world church. He sees bishops who continue on this path as disobedient.

According to the Pope, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany threatens to “undermine unity with the universal Church.” The head of the Church stated this in a letter published in German newspaper Welt on Tuesday. According to the Pope, several “significant segments” of the German Church are taking steps that “threaten to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church.”

Specifically, the Pope points to the Synodal Way. This movement was launched in 2019 by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. In a series of conferences, participants voted in favour of women priests, same-sex blessings and changes in doctrine around homosexuality. This course of events caused unrest, with accusations of heresy and fears of a schism.

However, according to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope’s main concern is the proposal to establish a permanent “Synodal Council”. This mixed body of laity and bishops would govern the Catholic Church in Germany. Establishing this council is a top priority for the German Synodal Way, a controversial initiative that has demanded significant changes in Church structure and teaching.


The letter, addressed to several German women who had left the Synodal Way earlier, led to much media attention in Germany. But, according to canon lawyer Bernhard Anuth, the letter does not contain any new information. An earlier letter, sent by three cardinals in January, already told Germans that neither the Synodal Way nor the Bishops’ Conference could establish such a Council.

However, prof. Anuth thinks that bishops who still want to establish such a council are in open disobedience to the Pope. “Bishops owe the Pope more obedience than all believers and have sworn this to him when they took office”, he says to Domradio. “Disobedience is very serious and can be sanctioned under canon law.”

Despite this, prof. Anuth finds it hard to imagine the Pope taking action against these bishops. “Nor can I imagine that the Pope simply watches when bishops verbally underline his authority. It is possible that the upcoming appointments of bishops will indicate in which direction the German Bishops’ Conference should develop.”



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