VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has warned there’s a risk that what could be a trailblazing process in the German church over calls for married priests and other possible liberalizing reforms might become harmfully “ideological.”
Francis, in an interview with The Associated Press at the Vatican on Tuesday, was asked about Germany, where Catholic bishops and representatives of an influential lay organization are engaged in a process that is addressing what would be revolutionary reforms for the church if they were to be realized. Under consideration in the process are married priests, female deacons, and church blessings for same-sex couples.
In the interview, the pope said that while dialogue is good, the process in the German church has been led by the “elite” because it doesn’t involve “all the people of God.” Francis says the goal must always be unity.
The German process, dubbed the “Synodal Path,” was launched in 2019 in response to the sex abuse scandal rocking the Church in Germany, where Christians are roughly evenly split between Catholics and Protestants.
Francis said the German process is neither helpful nor serious.
“Here the danger is that something very, very ideological trickles in. When ideology gets involved in church processes, the Holy Spirit goes home, because ideology overcomes the Holy Spirit,” Francis said.
Francis has called for a two-part synod that will bring bishops to the Vatican this October, and again in October 2024, to discuss the future direction of the Catholic Church and ways in which it can rejuvenate its mission. Earlier this month, the pope — in remarks to the faithful — linked the path to the unity of all Christians to the church’s synodal process.
While plainly critical of how the German bishops are engaging with representatives of the lay organization known as the Central Committee of German Catholics, Francis struck a hopeful note in the interview. “We must be patient, dialogue and accompany this people on the real synodal path, and help this more elitist path so that it does not end badly in some way, but so is also integrated into the church,” he said.
“Always try to unite,” the pope added.
In his nearly 10-year-old papacy, Francis has raised hopes among some liberal Catholics that he might revise the church’s teaching on moral or social issues such as homosexuality. Yet while Francis has exhorted parents never to “condemn” the gay children, he upholds the church’s assertion that homosexual activity is sinful. In 2021 the Vatican said the church won’t bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”
In the interview, Francis didn’t delve into specifics of calls for reform being addressed by the German bishops.
A few months ago, a Synodal Path assembly failed to approve a text calling for the liberalization of teaching on sexuality because it did not get the necessary support of two-thirds of the German bishops. That was indication the German church is conflicted over pressures to push for reforms and divisions in the church they could trigger.