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Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Nov. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In a letter published on Tuesday (Nov. 21), Pope Francis expressed his apprehension about the proposals made by the Synodal Path in Germany, a series of meetings by local bishops and laypeople between 2020 and 2023, which embraced progressive positions in the church.

“I also share in this concern over the numerous concrete steps that are taking place,” the pope wrote in a letter dated Nov. 10 and published in the German news outlet Welt on Tuesday. In the letter, the pope wrote that parts of the German church are “threatening to move even further away from the common path of our universal church.”

The letter was addressed to four German women, including two theologians: Katharina Westerhorstmann, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus in Austria; Marianne Schlosser, professor of theology at the University of Vienna; philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz; and journalist Dorothea Schmidt.

All four resigned from the Synodal Path in February 2022 after objecting to some of its conclusions and methods.

The Synodal Path has supported the blessing of same-sex couples in the Catholic Church. While the Vatican officially pushed back against the proposal in a doctrinal decree in 2021, some clergy in Germany continued with the practice. It also promoted a reconsideration of the church’s teaching on homosexuality and allowing women to be ordained as priests.

The Synodal Path has moved forward with the project of creating a permanent synodal council, which would continue to address the questions raised by the synodal assemblies.

The Synodal Path has moved forward with the project of creating a permanent synodal council, which would continue to address the questions raised by the synodal assemblies. The pope’s letter was dated the same day Synodal Path participants approved the creation of a synodal committee, composed of bishops and lay delegates, which critics fear might challenge the authority of bishops. The synodal committee has the responsibility of creating the permanent synodal council by 2026.

In the letter, Francis explicitly wrote that the synodal committee, “as outlined in the corresponding resolution, is not in alignment with the sacramental structure of the Catholic Church.” In January, the Vatican stated that the German church does not have the authority to create an institution that could exceed the power of the bishops’ conference.

 

The letter isn’t the first time Pope Francis has pulled the brakes on the German Synodal Path. In 2019, Francis wrote a document addressed to the “Pilgrim People of God in Germany,” which urged participants in the Synodal Path to remain in communion with Rome and to avoid the “temptation” of creating or destroying institutions based on ideology.

“I sought not to find ‘salvation’ in constantly evolving committees, nor to persist in self-absorbed dialogues rehashing the same themes,” the pope wrote in the letter on Tuesday. “Rather, I aimed to reemphasize the importance of prayer, penance, and adoration,” he wrote, adding that the church should meet people on the streets, in hospitals and the public square.

“I am convinced the Lord will show us the way,” the pope said, thanking the theologians and experts for their work.

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