Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, June 24, 2021. / Vatican Media.
Vatican City, Jun 14, 2022 / 04:55 am (CNA).
Pope Francis said in an interview published on Tuesday that he told the leader of Germany’s Catholic bishops that the country already had “a very good Evangelical Church” and “we don’t need two.”
The pope recalled his remark to Bishop Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German bishops’ conference, during a conversation with the editors of Jesuit journals.
The dialogue, which also touched on the war in Ukraine and opposition to Vatican II, was published in La Civiltà Cattolica on June 14 but was conducted on May 19.
The pope was asked what he thought of the German “Synodal Way,” a controversial multi-year gathering of bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; the priesthood; the role of women; and sexual morality.
Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts, prompting accusations of heresy and fears of schism.
The Evangelical Church in Germany, a federation of 20 Lutheran, Reformed, and United regional churches, ordains women as priests and bishops and permits the blessing of same-sex unions.
Both the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church in Germany are seeing an exodus of members.
Pope Francis told the editors: “To the president of the German Episcopal Conference, Bishop Bätzing, I said: ‘In Germany, there is a very good Evangelical Church. We don’t need two.’”
“The problem arises when the synodal path comes from the intellectual, theological elites, and is much influenced by external pressures. There are some dioceses where the synodal way is being developed with the faithful, with the people, slowly.”
The Synodal Way’s critics
Bätzing, who has led the German bishops’ conference since March 2020, expressed disappointment with Pope Francis in an interview published in May.
“The pope, even in the Catholic Church, even with all the powers vested in him, is not someone who could turn the Church from its head onto its feet, which is what we would like,” the bishop of Limburg said.
Bätzing has rejected concerns — expressed by Church leaders from Poland, the Nordic countries, and around the world — that the Synodal Way could lead to schism.
Pope Francis wrote an extensive letter to Catholics in Germany in 2019. Addressing what he called the “erosion” and “decline of the faith” in the country, he called on the faithful to convert, pray, and fast, as well as proclaim the Gospel.
The pope referred to the letter in his conversation with the editors.
“I wrote it myself, and it took me a month to write it. I did not want to involve the curia. I did it by myself.”
“The original is Spanish and the one in German is a translation. That is where you will find my thoughts,” he said.
The future of Cologne archdiocese
Pope Francis also discussed the future of the embattled German Cardinal Rainer Woelki, who has faced intense pressure to step down as head of the Cologne archdiocese.
In September 2021, the pope confirmed Woelki in the post after an apostolic visitation of the archdiocese and permitted him to take a period of leave. When the 65-year-old cardinal returned in March this year, the archdiocese announced that he had submitted his resignation.
The pope said: “When the situation was very turbulent, I asked the archbishop to go away for six months, so that things would calm down and I could see clearly. Because when the waters are rough you cannot see clearly.”
“When he returned, I asked him to write a letter of resignation. He did and he gave it to me. And he wrote a letter of apology to the diocese. I left him in his place to see what would happen, but I have his resignation in hand.”
Pope Francis went on: “What is happening is that there are a lot of pressure groups, and under pressure it is not possible to discern. Then there is an economic issue for which I am considering sending a financial team. To be able to discern, I am waiting until there is no pressure.”
“The fact that there are different points of view is fine. The problem is when there is pressure. That does not help. I do not think Cologne is the only diocese in the world where there are conflicts, though. I treat it like any other diocese in the world that experiences conflict. I can think of one where the conflict has not yet ended: Arecibo in Puerto Rico has been in conflict for years. There are many dioceses like that.”
Pope Francis removed Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres of Arecibo from office in March. The bishop, who had led the diocese since 2010, described the decision as “totally unjust.”