Members of the Synodal Path Strongly Criticize the Vatican

October 04, 2021

As the second plenary meeting of the Synodal Path is due to open next Thursday, 57 members have criticized papal decisions regarding the resignation of Msgr. Stefan Heße, Bishop of Hamburg, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne and his two auxiliaries, Dominik Schwaderlapp and Ansgar Puff.

The Vatican has in fact refused the resignation proposed by these four bishops, just as Pope Francis had refused that of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising. All of these resignations were linked to the abuse crisis.

The Pope has not in fact judged that these bishops were guilty of embezzlement, but only of blunders, in particular in the field of communication. Cardinal Woelki was granted a sabbatical until Lent, and Bishop Schwaderlapp a full year that he will spend in Kenya.

In a statement released Tuesday by the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), these members say they are shocked by the reasons that led Pope Francis not to accept the offer of resignation made by the three bishops and the cardinal.

The fact that Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne is taking a “sabbatical leave” of several months while remaining in office is also a source of misunderstanding and anger among the signatories.

“In general, it is not only the intention to cover up, but also serious procedural errors that can undermine this confidence essential to the exercise of episcopal ministry,” the text states.

A “lack of care and sensitivity to those affected by abuse,” is incompatible with a bishop's ministry. “We also know, thanks to democratic politics and structures, the possibility of allowing a path of renewal by taking personal responsibility,” declared the members of the Synodal Path.

They want to show their determination to continue the dialogue on the future of the Catholic Church in Germany. “We expect our bishops to accompany and help shape this Path as a sign and an instrument for a true rediscovery of the Good News of God in our time.”

“And we expect the bishop of Rome, in communion with all the bishops, to examine without bias the impulses of our Synodal Path. Otherwise, any discussion of the synodal constitution of our Church would become a mere farce.”

Among the signatories are ZdK Vice-President Karin Kortmann, President of the Federation of German Catholic Women (KDFB), Maria Flachsbarth, Erfurt dogmatics professor Julia Knop, Bochum pastoral theologian Matthias Sellmann, and Gregor Podschun , Federal President of the German Catholic Youth Federation (BDKJ).

From Thursday, September 30, to Saturday, October 2, the Plenary Assembly of the Synodal Path meets in Frankfurt. After a one-and-a-half-year hiatus linked to the pandemic, the 230 participants will, for the first time, work on the preparatory plans. The initiative is expected to end in 2022.