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KNA International | OSV NewsNovember 27, 2023
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops' conference, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops' conference, are pictured in a combination photo. (OSV News photo/Harald Oppitz, KNA/Paul Haring, CNS file)

WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) -- Tensions have flared between the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of Germany and Poland over Germany’s reform course, according to a media report.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Germany, has written a letter to his Polish counterpart, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, accusing him of “unbrotherly behavior” and of an “enormous overstepping of his authority.” The Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita published Bishop Bätzing’s letter, dated Nov. 21, on Nov. 27.

In it, the German bishops’ conference president complained vehemently about Archbishop Gadecki’s letter of protest to Pope Francis against key reform ideas of the “Synodal Path” of the Catholic Church in Germany.

In talks during the Synod on Synodality in the Vatican, Archbishop Gadecki did not mention he had written a letter to Pope Francis at the beginning of October, criticizing the German Synodal Path, Bishop Bätzing wrote. Instead of engaging in dialogue, the archbishop had decided to make “false claims” to the pope about the German reform path, he continued.

“The Polish bishops’ president had a right to write to the pope, given the synod is all about that -- a discussion on the church’s future,” Tomasz Krzyzak, the journalist at Rzeczpospolita who broke the news about the German letter in his paper, told OSV News.

“What is, however, surprising, is the form of making it public -- both presidents of the bishops’ conferences were there at the synodal hall for a month and indeed Archbishop Gadecki could just tell his German counterpart about his concerns and that he’s letting the pope know about them,” Krzyzak said. “What apparently made Bishop Bätzing so upset was the form -- and publishing Archbishop Gadecki’s letter by the media,” Krzyzak told OSV News.

Archbishop Gadecki’s letter to the pope only became public in mid-November when it was published by Poland’s Catholic news agency KAI. In it, the archbishop criticized several resolutions of the “Synodal Path” as “extremely unacceptable and un-Catholic.”

The German church reformers, Archbishop Gadecki had written, appeared intent on a revolution that was “inspired by left-liberal ideologies” rather than the Gospel. He specifically condemned resolutions such as one on blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

According to the Rzeczpospolita newspaper, Bishop Bätzing told Archbishop Gadecki: “I expressly reject this approach by the Archbishop, the tone of your letter and also the way in which the facts are presented.” He himself had chosen a different path by writing directly to the archbishop and informing the pope, he added.

Bishop Bätzing questioned in his letter whether a president of a national bishops’ conference had the right to pass judgment on the catholicity of another local church. “Let me therefore make it clear that I consider the Archbishop’s letter to be an enormous overstepping of his authority.”

Father Thomas Schwartz, the head of the Eastern European aid organization Renovabis, a foundation of the German bishops’ conference, attended the plenary assembly of the Polish bishops’ conference at the Jasna Góra shrine Nov. 20-21.

He said that more visits and discussions are needed between representatives of the Catholic Church in Poland and Germany in view of the current differences on church reform in Germany.

“We’re inviting people to do so, providing suggestions and continuing to promote initiatives that counteract alienation,” Father Schwartz said. Many more people in the church needed to work towards this, he added.

He admitted that there were considerable differences over reforms between Germany and Poland. “They are certainly of a fundamental nature. But they invite dialogue.”

The next opportunity for Bishop Bätzing and Archbishop Gadecki to meet in person was Nov. 27, when the plenary assembly of the Council of Bishops' Conferences of Europe started in Malta, which both bishops planned to attend.

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