Severe reprimand from the Vatican for the Church in Germany

To His Excellency The Most Reverend Bishop Dr. Georg BÄTZING

Bishop of Limburg and Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference

From the Vatican, on the16th January 2023

Excellency, Dear Bishop,

The letter of 21st December 2022, addressed by His Eminence the Archbishop of Cologne and the Most Reverend Bishops of Eichstätt, Augsburg, Passau and Regensburg to the signatories below, the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Prefects of the Dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops (copy), requires that the theme of the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany, which was already the subject of the inter-dicasterial meeting during the Ad-Limina visit of the German episcopate on 18 November, be taken up again.

With regard to this meeting, we would like to begin by thanking the bishops once again for the great efforts they have made in investigating the heinous crime of sexual abuse of minors by men (including clergy) and women of the Catholic Church and the often inadequate approach of some of the Church's pastors. In view of the suffering suffered by the victims and the obligations of justice towards them, we encourage the continuation of the necessary work of purification and transparency along the lines set out by the Holy Father Francis, in particular through the Apostolic Exhortation in the form of a "Motu proprio" of 7 May 2019 Vos estis lux mundi.

 We now turn to you, Excellency, in your capacity as President of the German Bishops' Conference, because the questions raised by your confreres concern not only them but all members of the same Conference.  We therefore kindly ask you to bring this letter to the attention of all members of the Bishops' Conference by 23 January.

This letter intends to answer the two questions raised by the above-mentioned bishops in connection with the establishment of a "Synodal Council" decided by the Synodal Assembly on 10 September 2022.  This Council, which is to be composed "according to the proportions of the Synodal Assembly", is envisaged as a "consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society", which is to take "fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance".  In preparation, a "Synodal Committee" was set up, consisting of the 27 diocesan bishops, 27 already appointed members of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and another 20 members to be elected by the Synodal Way at its next Synodal Assembly.  This "Synodal Committee" should begin its work in the course of this year.

In this context, the five signatory Archbishops and Bishops ask: "Do I have to participate in the “Synodal Committee” because the Synodal Assembly has decided so? May I participate?” The Holy See has expressly stated that the Synodal Way "has no authority to oblige the bishops and the faithful to adopt new forms of governance and new orientations of doctrine and morals", which would be "a violation of ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church" (Declaration of 21 July 2022).

According to this statement - the content of which we confirm here - the bishops are not obliged to participate in the work of the "Synodal Committee” , the main purpose of which is the preparation of the "Synodal Council” up until 2026.

The non-binding nature of participation in the work of the "Synodal Committee” is already covered by the Statutes of the Synodal Path, which state in Article 11, (5) that its "decisions cannot limit the authority of the Bishops' Conference and are not binding on the individual bishops.

The "Synodal Council” would then form a new governance structure of the Church in Germany which - on the basis of the action text published on the website "Strengthening synodality in the long term: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany" - seems to place itself above the authority of the German Bishops' Conference and de facto replace it.

Furthermore, a possible "Synodal Council of the Diocese” , which is envisaged in the action text "Consult and decide together" and has already been adopted in the first reading - and could thus be finally adopted in the next Synodal Assembly or in the "Synodal Committee” - seems to place itself above the authority of the individual bishop.

The Bishop's authority within his diocese should be given precedence over the authority of the individual bishop.

The most important doctrinal concern, which is already evident on the way to the codification of these new legal institutes with which the Church in Germany wishes to endow herself, concerns the mission of the bishop, as set out in No. 21 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium: "The Holy Synod teaches, however, that through the consecration of the bishop the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred.  In the liturgical custom of the Church, as in the words of the Holy Fathers, it is called the high priesthood, the totality of the sacred ministry. Episcopal ordination, together with the office of sanctification, also confers the offices of teaching and leadership, which, however, by their very nature can only be exercised in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college. In fact, on the basis of tradition, which is especially evident in the liturgical rites and in the practice of the Church of the East as well as of the West, it is clear that through the laying on of hands and the words of consecration the grace of the Holy Spirit is so conferred and the sacred imprint so conferred that the bishops eminently and visibly hold the office of Christ himself, teacher, pastor and priest, and act in his person."

This concern is based on the first of the main features envisaged for this planned "Synodal Council", namely that its composition should be analogous to that of the existing Synodal Assembly.

Beyond the decision which the individual Bishops will take with regard to possible participation in the "Synodal Council", and in the spirit of the above considerations, we wish to make it clear that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any Episcopal Conference has the competence to establish the "Synodal Council" at the national, diocesan or parish level.

The Holy Father has approved this letter in forma specifica and ordered its transmission.  We express the hope that the orientation given by Pope Francis in 2019 will be accepted as a guide for the Synodal Way and that it can be incorporated into the universal Synod on Synodality.  The dicasteries of the Roman Curia, acting in the name of the Pope with vicarious power in the exercise of his primary office (cf. Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, II, n. 5), remain always open to the continuation of a more extensive and deepening dialogue, which was begun at the aforementioned interdicasterial meeting. As agreed on that occasion, we are sending you with this letter the relevant minutes (annex).

Let us remain united in the fervent invocation of the Spirit of the Lord, so that he may make us discern the paths that the Church must follow in order to implement that pastoral conversion which reminds us that "evangelisation must be our guiding criterion par excellence" (Letter of Pope Francis to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany, n. 6). In unity with all the bishops and in communion and obedience to the Successor of Peter, we commend ourselves to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as the holy patron saints of the Church in Germany.

Thus we remain with fraternal greetings to you and through you to all confreres in the episcopate, to priests and religious, and to the faithful laity.

Pietro Cardinal Parolin

State Secretary

Luis Francisco Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer SJ

Prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith


Marc Cardinal Ouellet

Prefect for the Dicastery for the Bishops 


See also Pope warns German Church process elitist.  Cathcon would like to think he has seen the light. Saint Paul is a good model for Peter.


fr jim said…
Looks like "make a mess" by the current occupant of the chair of st peter is coming back to bite him in the papal tassel!