German bishops assure the Vatican, but promise to continue with reforms

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Germany’s Catholic bishops on Saturday insisted their reform process will not lead to a schism and vowed to follow through after tense meetings with Vatican officials who want a moratorium on proposals to ordain women, make homosexual unions, bless and reconsider the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, briefed reporters on the week-long series of meetings he and 60 other German bishops had with Pope Francis and the heads of Vatican headquarters. The periodic visit of once every five years took on much greater significance this time, given the demands for change and reform among German ordinary Catholics following the German Church’s reckoning with decades of sexual abuse and clergy cover-ups.

Summarizing the German position, Baetzing said the German church would not make decisions that the Vatican should make, and said that outsiders feeding fears of the reform process leading to a secession from Rome did not know what was actually being discussed.

“We are Catholic,” Baetzing said at a press conference. “But we want to be Catholic in a different way.”

Germany’s church hierarchy and the country’s influential Catholic lay group launched the reforms after a 2018 report found that thousands of abuse crimes were being systematically covered up by German church leaders. It found that structural power problems in the church “promoted or made it more difficult to prevent sexual abuse of minors”.

Preliminary meetings of the reform process, known as the Synodal Path, have sought to address how power and authority are exercised in the Church. At these meetings, lay representatives and German bishops approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests, and the ordination of women as deacons, though the proposals require further discussion and approval before they can be adopted.

Conservative Catholics have criticized the moves, warning that the German reforms, if approved, could lead to a schism.

Baetzing assured the Vatican that the German Church “would not make decisions that would only be possible in the context of the universal Church,” such as changes to the Church’s core doctrine.

“However, the church in Germany wants and must provide answers to the questions that the faithful ask,” he said.

The main Catholic lay group involved in the reforms, the Central Committee of German Catholics, said the meeting made it clear that the German Church was right to continue dialogue in Germany because “it is not a solution to take responsibility for the see reform”. trial exclusively in Rome.”

The group’s president, Irme Stetter-Karp, disagreed with the joint statement by the Vatican and the German bishops, which urged the faithful to be patient.

A “patient people of God” no longer exists, she said.

A proposal emerging after the Vatican unsuccessfully sought a moratorium on the German trial calls for German lay representatives to be involved in roundtable discussions with Vatican officials as the trial progresses, Baetzing said.

The German lay group We Are Church said on Saturday it was fortunate that the idea of ​​a moratorium floated by some Vatican and German bishops was averted.

“But both bishops and Catholics in Germany have yet to await a clear word of appreciation for the German Synodal Way,” the group said.

One issue that was discussed, but not resolved, concerns the fate of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, a highly divisive figure in Germany who has faced strong criticism for his handling of sexual abuse cases.

Francis gave 66-year-old Woelki a “spiritual time-out” last year but did not accept the cardinal’s offer of resignation, which was submitted in March.

Baetzing said the Woelki case has been raised several times, including with Francis, with the German bishops telling the pope that the status quo was “unbearable for both the archbishop and the faithful” and that a decision needed to be made. taken.

Francis met individually with the bishops on Thursday and was scheduled to participate in a summit meeting between the bishops and the heads of the Vatican’s top offices on Friday. Francis did not show up for Friday’s meeting, leaving it to Vatican hierarchs to speak.

Baetzing suggested that the pope’s absence was the work of a “clever Jesuit.” Francis had made it clear a day earlier that he liked living with a certain “tension” as the German reform process is playing out, even though members of the Vatican bureaucracy were not.

Francis has launched a global reform debate that is happening alongside the German one, but is only a few steps behind.


Kristen Grieshaber contributed from Berlin.

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