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Pope Francis Urges Faithful Course for the Church in Germany
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In a letter dated November 10, Pope Francis expressed deep reservations about the direction of the Catholic Church in Germany, cautioning against steps that could undermine unity with the universal Church. The pontiff's primary concern is the establishment of a permanent "Synodal Council," a mixed body of laity and bishops proposed by the German Synodal Way. This initiative, advocating significant changes in Church structure and teaching, has raised serious concerns within the Catholic hierarchy.
Photo credit: Dieter K
Pope Francis emphasized that the proposed "consultative and decision-making body" does not align with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church. He referred to a January 16 letter from high-ranking Vatican officials, explicitly prohibiting the establishment of the Synodal Council, which he had authorized. Despite this, the Synodal Way leadership aims to establish the council no later than 2026, prompting eight out of 27 German ordinaries to be absent from a recent meeting.
In response, Pope Francis proposed an alternative path for the Church in Germany, urging a focus on "prayer, penance, and adoration" rather than relying on "constantly evolving committees" or "self-absorbed dialogues rehashing the same themes." He called on German Catholics to engage with those on the margins, including the sick, imprisoned, and those at the thresholds of church doors.
Addressing the theologians Katharina Westerhorstmann, Marianne Schlosser, journalist Dorothea Schmidt, and religious philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, to whom the letter was directed, Pope Francis urged them to pray for him and for the common cause of unity. These four laywomen had resigned from the Synodal Way in February, expressing their concerns about the Church's direction in Germany.
The pope's letter is seen by some, like German theologian Martin Bruske, as a clear signal to halt the work of the synodal committee. Bruske emphasized that those who disregard this signal bear responsibility for potential division within the Church. Notably, the pope had previously criticized the Synodal Way in January, describing it as "elitist" and "neither helpful nor serious."
The leadership of the German Synodal Way has framed its push for the Synodal Council as consistent with Pope Francis' emphasis on increased synodality in the Catholic Church, citing the recent Synod on Synodality assembly at the Vatican as confirmation. However, the pope's recent letter underscores his concerns and suggests a different, more traditional approach for the Catholic Church in Germany.
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