Vatican-Copenhagen (kath.net/pl) In an interview with KATH.NET, Sr. Anna Mirijam Kaschner, CPS, the General Secretary of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference, declared, “Yes, I share this concern in a very personal way—and of course I can also speak for our Bishops’ Conference in this regard. After all, in 2022 we even expressed this concern in an open letter to Bishop Bätzing,” chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. With these remarks the Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood, a delegate at the Synod of Bishops that took place in October at the Vatican, reacted to the Letter by Pope Francis to four Catholic women in Germany, among them three professors.
kath.net: Sister Anna Mirijam, Pope Francis has now admitted in a letter that he too is concerned “about the numerous tangible steps with which large portions of this local Church [in Germany] continue to threaten to move further away from the common path of the universal Church.” Do you—and does the Nordic Bishops’ Conference—share his concern?
Sr. Anna Mirijam: Yes, I share this concern in a very personal way—and of course I can also speak for our Bishops’ Conference in this regard. After all, in 2022, we even expressed this concern in an open letter to Bishop Bätzing. This letter—along with the letters of other Bishops’ Conferences and bishops from other parts of the world—was noted and answered in a way, but in reality it was not taken seriously.
The reactions were rather defensive, claiming that we had no idea what the real purposes and concerns of the Synodal Way are. This, incidentally, is a narrative that the Synodal Way uses over and over again whenever criticism is voiced.
Another narrative that is brought up again and again, especially now after the World Synod of Bishops in Rome, says: The World Synod of Bishops showed that the topics of the Synodal Way are not exceptional topics at all, but rather are of current interest everywhere in the Universal Church. And that gives them a free ticket, so to speak, to go ahead now in Germany and to implement everything that they had resolved to do—together with a rather presumptuous attitude: The Universal Church is capable of learning, and we in Germany feel that we have been confirmed.
As a participant in the World Synod in Rome, I can verify that many topics that the Synodal Way discusses certainly are topics of current interest in the Universal Church, for instance the role of women, dealing with people from the LGBTQ community, the question about the role of bishops, etc. And we never disputed this, either.
But it was a completely different way of dealing with these topics. In Rome we listened first of all to each other. We gave one another—even and especially to those who had a different opinion—a space in which everyone could express their views, without being interrupted, without someone cutting them short. It was an atmosphere of deep, mutual respect, characterized by prayer and the search for God’s will.
The Synodal Way, in contrast—according to my observation of it—was all about getting one’s opinion accepted, building majorities, which could then outvote the minorities. This is precisely what Pope Francis wanted to prevent at the World Synod. This is why the Synod really was a spiritual process, in which silence, prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit had priority.
kath.net: In his recent letter, the Pope refers explicitly to his “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany” from the year 2019, which had plainly been written in blood. Is it your impression that the earlier letter was widely received in the German Church that is agitated by the Synodal Way, or was at least widely read?
Sr. Anna Mirijam: On several occasions now Pope Francis has referred to his “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany”—and also lamented the fact that this letter was unfortunately not well received. And in my opinion that is true, too. The only thing that happened is that some excerpts from the letter were used to confirm the direction that the Synodal Way was taking, while other passages that were certainly critical of the Synodal Way were downplayed or ignored. In his letter to the four women, which has now been published, the Pope again considers the details of this letter [from 2019], which he himself had drafted and written.
I am very grateful to these women for having the courage to turn to the Pope directly with their questions and concerns. In his answer he emphasizes again that salvation is not to be sought “in constantly evolving committees”, nor “in self-absorbed dialogues rehashing the same themes”, but rather in the necessity of prayer, repentance and adoration. One looks in vain, however, for these concepts in the documents of the Synodal Way.
kath.net: The President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Gądecki, said just a few days ago that he had “serious misgivings” about almost all the demands of the German Synodal Way. He thinks “that the Church is Germany is in its worst crisis since the Reformation.” In your estimation can Archbishop Gądecki see the Pope’s new letter as validating his concerns?
Sr. Anna Mirijam: I can imagine that the Pope’s most recent letter is a validation for the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference.
Of course there are, in my opinion, differences too, in the ways that Archbishop Gądecki and the Pope evaluate the Synodal Way. While Archbishop Gądecki rejects on principle the demands for changes that the Synodal Way makes, the Pope seems to criticize instead the fact that these demands came about as the result of a voting process involving a few Catholics, in other words, as the result of parliamentary procedures.
While the Pope, for instance through the World Synod of Bishops, shows openness to changes in the Church—changes which of course must result from a spiritual process—it seems to be the case that Archbishop Gądecki regards any kind of change as a threat.
I do agree with him 100 percent that Catholic doctrine cannot be changed by majority decisions. But he has likewise made very critical statements about the World Synod. For instance, that there was no opportunity there for genuine discussions.
Personally, my experience of it has been different. And many other bishops and cardinals, too, who were present and have already experienced several Synods, reported that this Synod had made much more discussion and dialogue possible.
kath.net: Well, you yourself, Sister Anna Mirijam, were a delegate at the most recent Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. Were concerns about the Church in Germany a topic of conversation among the delegates—even in the non-official discussions?
Sr. Anna Mirijam: Yes, this happened mainly during the breaks and outside of the Synod Hall. For in the Synod Hall the Synodal Way in Germany was not a topic.
In personal conversations, as soon as I mentioned that I originally come from Germany, very often questions came up about the Synodal Way in Germany, and worries, too.
The concern most often expressed then was that it might lead to a schism.
But the vehemence of the demands made by the Synodal Way, which leave almost no room for compromises or changes, strikes non-Europeans as incomprehensible, as well as a certain presumptuousness of the Catholic Church in Germany.
One African bishop told me very clearly: “I do not understand why the Universal Church should accept these demands. The Church in Europe has grown old and weary. There are hardly any vocations. It seems to be a slowly dying Church. On our continent we have a lively Church, a young Church that is growing. Why should we have to accept for ourselves the demands of this dying Church?”
kath.net: How do you yourself actually view the goals set by the Synodal Way?
Sr. Anna Mirijam: The goal of the Synodal Way is to set up a Synodal Council [Rat], in order to perpetuate the Synodal Way. The Synodal Commission [Ausschuss] that has now been founded in Essen is designed to prepare for the Synodal Council. The Synodal Council, as it is planned, was regarded as incompatible with the sacramental structure of the Church and hence was forbidden by the Holy See—with the explicit approval of the Pope.
To tell the truth, the arrogance with which the majority of the German bishops have disregarded this document, too, is incomprehensible to me.
I fear, however, that even this communication from the Pope will be acknowledged with thanks, along with the assurance that these concerns are nevertheless altogether unfounded.
(Translated by Michael J. Miller. Reprinted in English with the kind permission of the editors of kath.net.)
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