Pope Francis “appreciates” the German Church’s “Synodal Way,” the president of the German bishops’ conference said after a meeting with the Pope Saturday.
In a statement following his private audience with the Pope on June 27, Bishop Georg Bätzing said: “I feel strengthened by the intensive exchange with the Holy Father to continue on the path we have taken. The pope appreciates this project, which he associates closely with the concept of ‘synodality’ which he coined.”
He continued: “It was a matter of concern to me to make it clear that the Church in Germany is following this path and always knows that she is bound to the universal Church.”
Bätzing travelled to the Vatican the day after the German Church released figures showing that it lost a record number of members in 2019.
The statistics, issued on June 26, showed that 272,771 people exited the Catholic Church last year, a significant increase on the 2018 figure of 216,078.
In Bätzing’s own diocese of Limburg, 9,439 people left the Catholic Church in 2019, 1,459 more than in 2018.
Bätzing said Saturday: “We must find answers to urgent challenges facing the Church, ranging from coming to terms with sexual abuse of minors to the dramatic numbers of people leaving the Church.”
Referring to a 28-page letter that Pope Francis wrote last year to German Catholics, Bätzing said: “With his letter to the pilgrim people of God of the Church in Germany in June 2019, he encouraged and gave indications. He will continue to accompany us attentively.”
The pope’s letter was prompted by the German bishops’ decision to launch a two-year “Synodal Way,” bringing together lay people and bishops to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.
The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes — raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.
In his letter, the pope suggested that participants in the “Synodal Way” faced a particular “temptation.”
“At the basis of this temptation, there is the belief that the best response to the many problems and shortcomings that exist is to reorganize things, change them and ‘put them back together’ to bring order and make ecclesial life easier by adapting it to the current logic or that of a particular group,” he wrote.
Saturday’s private audience was Bätzing’s first meeting with Pope Francis since he was elected bishops’ conference president in March, succeeding Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising.
A press statement from the German bishops’ conference said that the bishop and the pope discussed the situation of the Church in Germany, the impact of the coronavirus, and the progress of the “Synodal Way.”
The first synodal assembly took place in Frankfurt at the end of January. The second meeting is expected to go ahead despite the coronavirus crisis in September.
The press statement added that Pope Francis urged the “Synodal Way” and the German Church to be attentive to the poor, the elderly, refugees and others in need.
“The Pope specifically asked that the implications and experiences of the coronavirus pandemic be considered as we continue to move forward,” said Bätzing.
During his two-day visit to Rome, Bätzing met with Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and his successor, Archbishop Mario Grech.
He also had meetings with Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
In May, Bätzing expressed the hope that the results of Germany’s “Synodal Way” would be discussed at a synod in Rome.
He said he was “very much in favor of transporting to Rome, to the level of the whole Church, the insights and decisions that we garner from the Synodal Process — also with regard to [the role of] women and ecclesial ministry.”
After his meeting with Pope Francis, he said he looked forward to a meeting of the world’s bishops in Rome in October 2022, which will be dedicated to the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”
He said: “I hope that with the experiences of the Synodal Way we can make a contribution to the world Synod of Bishops in October 2022, which will deal with the question of synodality.”
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