German Catholic bishops meet Vatican on homosexuality and women

VATICAN CITY — German bishops have left the Vatican with mixed feelings of “relief and concern,” after renewing their loyalty to Rome over the weekend, but leaving questions over sexuality, the role of women and how to reform the power structures in the church still unanswered.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said that despite the Vatican’s ban, he planned to personally continue to bless same-sex couples.

“For me, as a bishop, these blessings for people who ask God’s blessing for their committed relationship, I wouldn’t take that away from them,” Bätzing said.

Sixty-two German bishops came to Rome last week for traditional “ad limina” visits with members of the Vatican departments and offices that make up the Roman Curia. The bishops also had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and an extraordinary meeting with all heads of Vatican departments.

It was the first time German bishops had visited the Vatican since they began their “synodal journey,” a series of nationwide clergy-laity talks to address sexual abuse in the country, in 2018 A report published the same year showed that a pervasive culture of concealment and clericalism had led to numerous abuse scandals in the church.

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The German synodal path included discussions questioning Catholic Church teachings on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and the role of clergy and laity in the Church. It passed a number of resolutions but met with pushback from Rome as the Vatican tries to rein in the German bishops.

In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal department banned the blessing of same-sex couples place in the German church. Some German priests continued to bless the unions in any event. That summer, the Vatican Secretariat of State reminded the German bishops that the synodal way “does not have the power to compel bishops and the faithful to adopt new modes of governance and new approaches to doctrine. and morality”.

While conversations between the bishops and Vatican officials were “difficult but civil” last week, Bätzing insisted that “it is wrong to speak of a so-called ‘confrontation’ in Rome.”

On Friday, the German bishops had the opportunity to express their concerns to Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the department supervising the bishops; and the Vatican Doctrine Czar, Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer. Bätzing said the topics of power structures, priestly life, female leadership and sexuality were openly discussed.

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In his address to the Vatican Curia, Bätzing said he was “amazed” that some within Vatican departments do not recognize the need for renewal in Church practice and teachings. He singled out clericalism, understood as the “use of power and exploitation of dependency” of the faithful, as the main culprit in the sexual abuse crisis and called the issue of the role of women in the Church ” decisive question for the future”. .”

The bishop stressed that “the synodal path of the Church in Germany does not seek a schism nor does it lead to a national Church,” fending off criticism. There are tensions, Bätzing said, and, like in many families, “it gets noisy at times.” But the German Church, he said, seeks to participate in “a better Catholic Church” where “we will stay together”. A joint statement between the German bishops and the Holy See says Ferrer and Ouellet spoke “frankly and clearly” about their reservations about the German synodal path.

Francis was notably absent from the meeting, a move Bätzing described as characteristic of an “intelligent Jesuit” who let the prelates “discuss like brothers.” The bishop said he was “encouraged” when he met the pope the day before.

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Francis has been ambivalent towards the German synod discussions, which are taking place within the framework of a global consultation of lay and religious faithful, which will end in 2024. While promoting open discussions and ideas, the pope, in a letter from 2019 to the German Church, also reinforced the need to avoid becoming too polarized or political.

The German synodal path, however, will continue. A fifth general meeting is scheduled for March.

“The follow-up phase begins now,” Bätzing said, “as does the reflection phase on what was said and heard: our concerns, which we raised in Rome, and the considerations Rome gave us to take home. we”.

— Religious News Service

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