The dispute between the German bishops and the Vatican over the "synodal path" has become even more acute.
A few weeks before the final plenary session of the reform project, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and two other key Curia cardinals informed the German bishops that they were not authorized to set up a "Synodal Council".
In this new governing body, the establishment of which the bishops also approved with a two-thirds majority during the fourth plenary assembly of the “Synodal Path” in September, the 27 diocesan bishops, together with an equal number of lay people, are to make “fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan importance” on an equal footing from 2025 or 2026 onwards. meet.
The body is a central reform project of the "Synodal Path".
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Neither the synodal path "nor any body set up by it nor a bishops' conference" would have the "competence" to set up such a body, according to the Vatican letter that the German Bishops' Conference published on Monday.
The "Synodal Council" would create a "new leadership structure" for the church in Germany, placing itself "above the authority of the bishops' conference" and appearing to actually replace it, write the cardinals.
In addition to Parolin, the letter was signed by the heads of the Doctrine of the Faith and the bishops, Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
Together, the three claim the authority of the Pope.
Francis, the letter states, expressly approved the form and content of the intervention.
Five German bishops have approached the Vatican
According to the three cardinals, the reason for the Roman letter was a letter from the bishops of Cologne, Augsburg, Eichstätt, Regensburg and Passau.
Shortly before Christmas, they are said to have asked for clarification as to whether they would have to participate in the "Synodal Committee", which is to prepare the establishment of the "Synodal Council", because the Synodal Assembly had decided so, and whether they should be allowed to participate at all.
The Vatican denies any obligation to join this body, the question of legitimacy remains pending.
It remains unclear why they did not raise this question during the German bishops' ad limina visit to the Vatican in November, when the German bishops had a conversation with the three cardinals.
Irrespective of the recent Vatican intervention, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, wants to stick to the planned "Synodal Council".
According to the press office of the bishops' conference on Monday evening, Bätzing pointed out that the Vatican objections were not valid because the applicable church law was expressly not to be called into question by this body.
The concern expressed in the Vatican letter that a new body could stand above the bishops' conference or undermine the authority of the individual bishops is therefore "unfounded", according to the Limburg bishop.
"The Holy See sees the danger of a weakening of the episcopal office - I experience synodal consultation as a strengthening of this office."
Bätzing also revealed his astonishment that the Vatican spoke about the "Synodal Council", although the German bishops "have not yet been able to talk to Rome at all about the content and objectives of synodal consultation at all levels in the church in our country".
The majority of German bishops who were willing to reform justified their participation in the "Synodal Way" and the associated loss of power by saying that it was an expression of their episcopal authority to voluntarily renounce power.
The Vatican letter does not take up this argument.
Instead, its concrete condemnation goes beyond the earlier Roman and papal criticism of the “synodal path”, which was usually quite general.