The German bishops’ conference has elected Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg as its new chairman. Bätzing replaces the outgoing chairman, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Münich and Freising, and will lead the conference for a six year term.
The election of Bishop Bätzing was confirmed Tuesday, following a vote by the German bishops at their spring assembly, which is currently underway in Mainz. CNA Duetsch reported March 3 that, after no candidate received the necessary two-thirds majority during the first two rounds of voting, Bätzing was elected on the third ballot with a simple majority of votes cast.
The bishop used his first press appearance as chairman to reaffirm the conference’s support for the ongoing “synodal way” being conducted in partnership with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).
“At the center of our considerations is the ‘Synodal Way.’ I fully support that,” Bätzing said Tuesday.
The so-called binding synodal process formally opened during the first week of Advent, 2019, but the first meeting of the synodal assembly was convened in January. The assembly’s working groups will offer proposed changes to various aspects of Church teaching and discipline, including on women’s ordination, clerical celibacy, and human sexuality.
The 58 year-old Bätzing was consecrated bishop by Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki on September 13, 2016.
Bätzing was asked Tuesday if some of the stated aims of the synodal process, in particular women’s ordination, had not been effectively ruled out by Pope Francis in his recent apostolic exhortation following the synod on the Amazon.
“On the contrary,” Bätzing said. The bishop explained that from his view the pope “did not take a position” on a number of questions posed in the final synodal document on the Amazon, and did not rule out any eventual conclusions of the German process.
Last year, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the whole Church in Germany, warning against allowing the Church conform to modern secular morals and thought. Pope Francis cautioned against “a new Pelagianism” which seeks “to tidy up and tune the life of the Church, adapting it to the present logic.”
The result of such errors, Francis said, would be a “well organized and even ‘modernized’ ecclesiastical body, but without soul and evangelical novelty.”
Vatican officials subsequently informed the German bishops’ conference that the synodal plans were “not ecclesiologically valid,” and called for them to be substantially revised.
As conference chairman, Bishop Bätzing will now co-chair the synodal assembly, along with the ZdK leadership.
Last month, Bätzing was elected to co-chair the synodal working group on “Life in Successful Relationships – Love Live in Sexuality and Partnership,” together with Birgit Mock, the ZdK spokeswoman on family policy.
The ZdK has called for a total revision of Church teaching on homosexuality and for the blessing of same-sex relationships in churches.
In September, 2019, Bishop Bätzing co-chaired an ecumenical working group of Catholic and Protestant theologians which produced a document, titled “Together at the Lord’s Table,” which concluded that “mutual participation in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper / Eucharist is theologically justified.”
At the time of the document’s release, Bätzing noted that he had joined the group late in the process and initially asked himself “whether [he] can agree to this or not.”
“But I have to say, the theological justification in this basic paper is so clear to me that I did not want to and could not escape.”
In the Catholic Church, only baptized Catholics in a state of grace are permitted to receive Communion. The Code of Canon Law outlines very narrow circumstances in which non-Catholics may be admitted to Communion. While bishops in several northern European countries have repeatedly called for Eucharistic intercommunion, this has been rejected by Rome.
Acknowledging this at the time of the report’s release, Bätzing said that his own certainty on the issue did not mean he was free to alter sacramental discipline.
“However, this does not mean that I am a bishop alone, but the theological discussion must now be raised to the level of a teaching reception, i.e. an acceptance by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. And this process is pending,” he said.
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