German Bishops gather online for a video conference in February 2021 German Bishops gather online for a video conference in February 2021 

Nordic Bishops ‘concerned’ about German Church’s synodal path

The Bishops of Scandinavia send an open letter to the Bishops’ Conference of Germany, and express their ‘fraternal concern’ over the direction and content of the German Church’s synodal process.

By Devin Watkins

As the worldwide Church continues along the path toward the Synod of Bishops in 2023, representatives of the Church in Scandinavian countries have reached out to the Bishops of Germany to express their concern over the local synodal journey.

The Nordic Bishops sent those concerns to the President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, in an open letter at the conclusion of their Spring Plenary Assembly.

The Synod of Bishops, focusing on the theme of synodality, is currently in the diocesan phase of a 2-year journey which will conclude with a month-long meeting of Bishops in Rome in October 2023.

Strong bonds between German and Nordic Churches

The 8 Bishops from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland noted the long-running ties between their Dioceses and Germany. They expressed their gratitude for the “strong bonds” uniting them, including the many German priest, bishops, and nuns who have served in Nordic countries following the Protestant Reformation.

At the same time, the Nordic Bishops said German Bishops risk reducing the Church to a visible communion at the expense of the “sacramental mystery.”

“The orientation, method and content of the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany fill us with worry.”

Concern for German Church direction

Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim, in Norway, told Vatican News’ Charlotta Smeds that the Nordic Bishops felt called to offer their thoughts on the direction the German Church is taking with the Synod on synodality.

“We simply wanted to express our anxiety and conviction that in order to make ourselves receptive to a newness of grace and a newness of life in the Church, what is needed is not simply deliberations and countless conversations, or majority votes, but also a rediscovery of the profound sacramental mystery of the Church,” said Bishop Varden.

Church both pilgrim people and mystical body

In their statement, the Nordic Bishops said they are worried the Church in Germany is focusing excessively on the image of the pilgrim People of God, almost at the expense of other theological conceptions of the Church, such as the Church as “corpus mysticum, as Bride of Christ, and as mediatrix of graces.”

Bishop Varden said the synodal path cannot forget that “the Church is not only the People of God on pilgrimage—which needs to be organized sensibly and needs an organized route map—but is also the mystical body and the Bride of Christ.”

The statement recalled that the Church is also a “mystery of communion: communion of humankind with the Triune God; communion among the faithful; communion of all the particular Churches with the Successor of Peter.”

Scandinavian Bishops pose for a group photo in Tromso
Scandinavian Bishops pose for a group photo in Tromso

Defending Catholic theology against spirit of the world

The Nordic Bishops pointed out that true reforms in the Church have always “set out from Catholic teaching founded on divine Revelation and authentic Tradition.”

Reform, they added, must always defend Catholic teaching and never “capitulate to the Zeitgeist” (‘spirit of the age’ – an 18th-century philosophical idea typically associated with Georg Hegel).

The Bishops called on the German Church to not focus only on structural change and thereby turn the Church into “a project, the object of our agency."

Rather, the Nordic Bishops said the Church’s life must be “rooted in Christ”.

“Only if we live out of the fullness of [Christ’s] revelation shall we measure up to this vocation. We can hardly expect a new fullness of Catholic vitality to follow from impoverishment of the content of our faith.”

Rich legacy for real renewal

Bishop Varden noted that the German Church has a “rich legacy of sanctity, of intelligent reflection, of tremendous contributions to theology, and pastoral charity”.

That legacy, he added, gives the German Church all the resources needed to “effect a real renewal.”

The Scandinavian Bishops’ letter to their German brothers, concluded Bishop Varden, was “a statement of solidarity but also of some fraternal concern.”

Listen to a clip of the interview

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11 March 2022, 16:06