An American perspective on the situation of the Church in Germany

A primary reason for the suspicion of the direction of the Church in Germany is that the same efforts to embrace the zeitgeist failed in the United States forty years ago and continue to fail today.

The bishops of Germany and a number of heads of Vatican offices listen to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, during a meeting Nov. 18, 2022, at the Augustinianum Institute for Patristic Studies. The German bishops were making their "ad limina" visits to Rome. Seated next to Cardinal Parolin is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

How does the Catholic Church in the United States evaluate the situation of the church in Germany?

The answer to this question obviously depends on whom you ask, but it is fair to say that for many bishops, priests, religious, and engaged laity paying attention in the United States, there is deep suspicion of what the German Catholic Church is doing with respect to synodality. At times this borders on despair, since it is clear that the German bishops have no interest in listening to the universal Church, leaving little hope that the Germans will self-correct. The impression is that they have an agenda to change the Church, and they want to force their vision on the universal Church.

The German bishops have received rebukes from Cardinal prefects of key Vatican dicasteries (Cardinals Ouellet and Ladaria and Parolin), an open letter of 103 Cardinals and Bishops from around the world, a very public exchange with one Archbishop from the United States, along with countless other calls for caution, including from the Polish and Scandinavian bishops, not to mention deep reservations expressed by the Holy Father himself.

And yet the Germans carry on as if none of this has occurred and act as if they are endowed with a special mission to save the Church. This reveals a level of arrogance that suggests a rejection of the spirit of synodality as promoted by the Holy Father. The Germans, in this respect, have rejected the Holy Father’s vision of a humble, listening church that remains Catholic.

It is also telling that none of the more than 270 bishops from the United States have expressed support for the German bishops. Apart from a few exceptions in northern Europe, the worldwide episcopate has also offered no encouragement. This silence is significant. The German church has largely isolated itself and yet does not seem to care.

One of the deepest concerns that I have heard from key voices here in the United States is that the Germans will undermine a potentially important initiative from the Holy Father. While there are serious concerns over the emphasis of process and the initial documents produced by the Synodal Way, the movement toward a more synodal Church has possibilities that are being hijacked by an ideologically driven cohort of bishops from Germany. Should they continue to dominate the conversation, the good that is potentially within reach will be lost to the self-centered interests of the German church. Whatever opportunity there is of the Church widening her perspective in a fruitful and genuinely Catholic way will be lost to the noise around the efforts of the German bishops to fundamentally change key teachings of the Church.

The impression here is that the German Church is motivated by a desire to attract more people back to church through an accommodation of the zeitgeist. More secularization is the path to growth, so the Germans propose. And yet this is the exact opposite experience of the church in the United States. The local churches and communities that are growing here are the ones that are uncompromisingly faithful to all the Church’s teachings. This seems to be the case in other continents as well, most especially Africa. It is a shame that the German bishops do not wish to learn from the experience of others.

The liberalization of the United States Church in the 1970s and 1980s led to a mass exodus from the pews, but this trend has been reversed in those pockets of faith where an evangelical spirit, rooted in a personal relationship with Jesus, and the fullness of the Church’s teachings is celebrated. It is in the parishes that teach the faith lovingly and unapologetically that are filled with young families, not those who have succumbed to the spirit and values of the age.

This is a primary reason for the suspicion of the direction of the Church in Germany. These same efforts failed in the United States forty years ago and continue to fail today. Liberalizing the faith does not bring people back into the pews. What works is a counter-witness to the zeitgeist—one that is loyal to the faith in all her beauty, which is ever ancient and ever new. It is the mystery of the fullness of the faith that is attractive. I wrote about one example of this recently that perhaps can be instructive to the German bishops.

Others here in the United States question the financial relationship between the German Catholic Church and the government. The arrangement of a faith tax is not familiar to the American experience, and there is naturally great distrust of government involvement in church affairs here in the United States. It seems that there is at least a smell of practical compromise by the German church to maintain the sizable flow of tax dollars. Whether or not this is the case, it is an impression that exists and makes the motivations of the Germans suspect.

It has also been observed that the German bishops frequently use their experience of clerical sexual abuse as a reason for an aggiornamento that walks away from key teachings of the Church. Again, here in the United States, the answer has not been to accommodate the values of sexual liberalization but to hold onto the teachings of the Church more fully. Using the failure of German episcopal leadership to aggressively push the universal Church to follow their judgement regarding moral law is, well, curious. It takes a level of arrogance that will surely lead to more leadership failures.

Some have argued that the German church more closely reflects the mind of the Holy Father with respect to synodality. This, too, is a curious claim, almost laughable, since it is the German bishops who have been rebuked by the Vatican. It is the Germans who have been single-minded in pursuit of heterodoxy through their Synodal Path. In fact, the poll commissioned by the German bishops revealed that their efforts do not reflect even those around the world closest to the German Church. There is a theological and ecclesiological imperialism coming from Germany that threatens the global Church.

The fear regarding the German efforts is real, but there is hope that the Holy See will intervene. Only the Holy Father can bring the crisis created by the Germans to an end, and there is an expectation here in the United States that in time he will act decisively to stop the confusion the German bishops have created. It will come at a cost of confusion being sowed, but there is an expectation that the Germans will be corrected.

How they take that correction is another question altogether.

• Related at CWR: “The Church in Germany is on the path into total insignificance” (February 6, 2023) by Birgit Kelle

(Editor’s note: This essay was posted originally in German in Die Tagespost in slightly different form, and is posted here with kind permission of the author.)

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About Jayd Henricks 1 Article
Jayd Henricks is the former executive director of government relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has a STL in systematic theology from the Dominican House of Studies.


  1. “Excellent” Batzing is the sort of “false shepherd” condemned by Jesus as “robbers and thieves.”

    The same Jesus warned his Church: “I am the vine, ye are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

    It is important to note that what the sex-synod-sleep-walkers are asserting is countermanding Jesus, and asserting that “apart from Jesus, the Church will grow.”

    As most participants and observers realize, to embrace the sexually polluted Church manufactured by the counterfeit “synod” is to cut the cord with Jesus the Vine.

    Or as Fr. Robert Imbelli has pointed out, in his essay “No Decapitated Body,” the apostates in the Church hierarchy (Batzing and McElroy and Hollerich et al) want to decapitate the Body of Christ, and remove Jesus as head of the body, and to complete the picture painted by Fr. Imbelli, the apostate hierarchs want to perform a grotesque “head transplant,” and offer their ugly selves as the transplanted and grotesque head on the decapitated Body of Christ.

    Ugly and evil…

  2. While the present instance of the Church in Germany not listening to the universal church with its national level Synod on Synodality in its view on homosexuality is highlighted in this article, we of the Church in the U.S. need to be humble to acknowledge and recall that recently we, especially our bishops, also did not want to listen to the universal church (only corrected and stopped by the Nuncio) by weaponizing the Eucharist and desire to deny the sacrament to Biden and Pelosi for not following the church’s teaching (abortion) and yet letting Barr receive communion although he also did not follow church teaching (death penalty).

    • No one was “weaponizing” the Eucharist. You’re being hysterical here. What most of us who believe in the Real Presence think is that abortion is a grave evil and supporting abortion by advancing legislation to promote it is similarly as grave, and anyone who does the latter ought not to receive Communion as it gives scandal and is condemnatory. And, by the way, notwithstanding Pope Feckless I’s position on capital punishment, it is NOT in all instances to be equated with abortion – especially when there is a chance that someonone accused and found guilty of capital offenses might do so again. Same goes for just wars.

      • Also, what does one do with a convicted murderer who commits another murder while in prison, put them solitary confinement for the remainder of their life? By the way, this happens more often than one might expect.

  3. The only hope for the Church in Germany is to begin replacing their bishops with ones from Africa. Why not, after all in the USA we have had bishops who were born in Ireland, Germany, Poland, etc. An argument could be made for doing so because the majority of immigrants to Germany come, after all, from Africa.

    • My father, a non-Catholic, had many Catholic co-workers who stopped going to Church after the introduction of the Novus Ordo after Vatican II. Vatican II “changed” the Church, so they no longer believed I guess.

  4. True, as Jayd Henricks says, we learned from the post VatII debacle that radicalism disintegrates the moorings of both Church and culture. Henricks’ literal bottom line, “Only the Holy Father can bring the crisis created by the Germans to an end” is the only answer to resolving Germany’s Synodaler Weg. Although [inevitably an although in all these Church issues] the searing question is does the relatively mild objections virtual hands off papal policy indicate the German Synod has some useful value for the pontiff?
    It’s not complex. How often is the scapegoat a pretense to shift the focus away from one’s more foul sins? A famed televangelist did that with voracious aplomb against his competitors. Until one of his victims exposed his treacherous hyprocrisy.

    • It would have been better said if the purpose is to shift the focus away from one’s [lesser] sins. The Synod on Synodality is not as vagrant as the German, at least not yet. And an excuse to correct my spelling, the correct hypocrisy.
      So likely as does Hendrick I pray a miracle for a pope’s conversion.

  5. “Only the Holy Father can bring the crisis created by the Germans to an end”.
    I don’t think so. The Pope will rather aggravate the crisis by promoting homosexuality
    and condoning abortion.

    • Exactly, as is evidenced by his two – not one, which is bad enough, but two private meetings with James Martin SCH. Francis has had more than enough opportunities to address the situation decisively but has elected not to do so.

  6. “The fear regarding the German efforts is real, but there is hope that the Holy See will intervene.” There is always hope, but so far it has only been words, not action, from Pope Francis.

    RE:Aida C: Abortion is intrinsically evil, the death penalty is not. Even Pope Francis did not use the word “immoral” but rather “inadmissible” (a legal term, not a theological term).

  7. There is an expectation the Pope will act decisively to stop the confusion??? Really??? When, exactly? After the horse walks out the barn doors? Then its a little too late to salvage the situation. The time for the Pope to ACT is NOW. Endless talking to this bunch has resolved nothing, and done nothing to divert these German Bishops from their course. Their Hubris is sadly obvious to everyone but themselves.When soldiers in an army disobey orders, they are punished. Period. They are not “talked to”, reasoned with or persuaded. In this, the Bishops have at least been given warning they are off course and cannot claim surprise if the boom falls. Surely a breech of this significance requires ACTION, not more talking. These Bishops should be told to recant, and if they refuse to do so immediately, they should be removed from ministry. Immediately. The pope seemed to have no issue at all doing this to Father Pavone. I fail to see why he is having a problem doing it here, when the very unity of the church is at stake.This is an issue where action and discipline by the Vatican could have resolved the problem long before it got to such an extreme place.

  8. I find it interesting that many German Cardinals and Bishops who fought against Humanae Vitae [HV] in the late 1960s are again resorting to “science” — agenda-science, to be more precise — to battle against Church doctrine relating to LGBTQ issues. History does repeat itself to those who ignore the past. The German episcopate must not have gotten their fill of teetering dangerously close to the cliff of heresy.

    Let’s examine the history of that time. Resistance to HV was fierce, both inside and outside the Church. Science was one of the main arguments used to criticize HV. Antagonists would say, “let us not repeat the errors the Church made in the matter of Galileo. But, of course, this tactic is like comparing apples to oranges. The Galileo debate was not about science. It was a question of whether his scientific hypothesis was an accurate hermeneutic for his attempt at biblical exegesis. It wasn’t. The appeal to modern-day junk science seems a well-worn tactic for the German bishops and the ZdK.
    Participants in the German Synodal Way use the same highly questionable scientific approach to justify normalizing a “criminal outrage” (God’s precise wording to describe the **unnatural** sex act to St. Catherine of Siena). The unnatural sex act represents the inherent sterility of homosexual relations.

    I have long made the case that the “crack” in the Church through which the smoke of Satan entered is the overwhelming rejection of Humanae Vitae by the Church’s episcopate, including (maybe even especially) the German episcopate. The Germans were so close to the crack that their ability for accurate theological reasoning had been severely clouded by so much smoke in their mind’s eyes.

    Cardinal Karl Lehmann was a famous “neo-Modernist Dissenter” who vehemently opposed Humanae Vitae. At the time of HV’s promulgation, Lehmann was the President of the German Bishops’ Conference. He significantly shaped (not for the better) the Catholic Church in Germany. He is known to have promoted the idea of giving Holy Communion to the “remarried” divorcees and argued in favor of the Church’s taking a more lenient attitude toward the use of contraceptives. His tenure as President of the German Bishops’ Conference helps us understand their openness to the most severe form of Artificial Birth Control — abortion.

    For six years, the German bishops refused to accept John Paul II’s strong admonishment to their Catholic counseling organizations; to stop issuing so-called Beratungsscheine (counseling certificates). The certificates would thereby allow women in Germany to have a legal abortion.[1] I suggest that the Germans submit all of their so-called science to critical review by unbiased scientists, such as the Principia Scientific International’s PROM (Peer-Review in Open Media) process. If the Germans want to change doctrine, we should at least ensure that the studies they are using to support their changes are reproducible. Don’t proposed changes to dogmatic and doctrinal matters deserve the utmost scrutiny? C’mon Hollerich, Marx, and Batzing. Of what are you afraid? Are you more invested in your agenda than in seeking Truth?

  9. The German Church is attempting to take a shovel to the entire Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and throw it all out the window. They are a schismatic Church and need to go form their own Church and quit trying to destroy the Roman Catholic Church..

  10. I am sure there are many faithful Catholics in Germany but the German Church as whole is shipwrecked, and has been for a long time.

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