VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Defiant German bishops claim that Pope Francis is backing them in their rebellion against Church teaching on homosexuality, women's ordination and the abolition of priestly celibacy.
"The Holy Father made it clear to us that tension is necessary," Bp. Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops' Conference, told reporters in Rome on Saturday at the conclusion of the prelates' ad limina visit to the Vatican.
"The audience with Pope Francis encouraged us," Bätzing maintained, explaining that the pontiff "also spoke of the tension he experiences and the fact that courage and patience are needed to find a solution."
"Our discussions in Rome were tough but civil, and we sensed that dialogue can — and indeed did — succeed in this way," the recalcitrant prelate insisted. "I am also grateful that the worries and opinions of our bishops' conference on the full range of topics were heard."
Bätzing told the press conference he remained firm on offering blessings to homosexual couples and would "not take away the possibility for same-sex couples who believe and ask for God's blessing to be blessed."
"You cannot continue as before. It is about transmitting the message of the gospel here and now and not always looking to the past, even at the risk of a bruised Church," he remarked.
However, "schism is not an option" for any of the German bishops, he clarified. "We are and continue to be Catholics, but we want to be Catholics in another way."
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, hit back at Bätzing, noting that the pro-LGBT German prelate was finally admitting that the Germans were "seeking some sort of alternative Catholicism."
"There is no such thing. If they don't want the truth the Church teaches, they are free to reject it as so many have, but you can't reject Catholic and embrace Catholic all at the same time," Strickland tweeted Monday.
The 62 German bishops also met with various dicasteries of the Roman curia to defuse the escalating saber-rattling over the German Synodal Way, which has declared its approval of homosexual relationships, female deacons and married priests.
A joint statement released by the German bishops and the Vatican said that Cdl. Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, and Cdl. Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, "had expressed reservations regarding the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Path."
The cardinals insisted that the controversial proposals for changing Church teaching on sexuality and holy orders should still be included in the synod of the universal Church "for the benefit of the unity of the Church and its evangelizing mission."
"In the perspective of open and fraternal sharing," the statement said, "some proposals were put forward, such as that of applying a moratorium to the German Synodal Path, which was not accepted, and that of favoring an additional reflection and mutual listening in light of the perplexities that have emerged."
"He [Ouellet] said he was very worried ... that the synod in Germany could be a forest fire that spreads everywhere," Bätzing revealed.
The defiant bishop also told reporters the possibility of expanding women's ministries "is the most urgent question and the one that separates us most" from the Curia officials.
"Women have put up with so much and are getting impatient. Many younger women say that a church that denies all of this cannot be my church," hinting that the German church would press ahead with the ordination of women despite the Vatican's moratorium.
"A moratorium would mean stopping; it would mean not continuing work on these themes and texts. Here it was very clear, and I'm glad it was in the communique, that this is not an option," he added.
Explaining how the pope himself seemed to be greenlighting the German synodal experiment, Bätzing characterized Francis as "a shrewd Jesuit" who "allowed us to have this debate among brothers."
"I wonder if priestly celibacy should be laid down as a basic condition for every priest. I think things, as they are, can't go on like this," the bishop said on the anti-celibacy moves of the German church.
Observers noted that Francis seemed to favor the German bishops by adding "an extra element to the German ad limina program, which the Dutch did not have last week: Namely, an extra meeting with the Pope plus all prefects of all Vatican dicasteries to talk about the subject of 'synodality.'"
So far, both German and Dutch bishops have asked the Vatican to approve blessings for same-sex couples, with the Flemish bishops even publishing a liturgical rite to be used for blessing unions declared to be gravely sinful by the Church.
German bishops have widely defied a 2021 Vatican ruling categorically prohibiting same-sex blessings. The ruling emphatically stated that "God does not, and cannot, bless sin."
Church Militant earlier reported how Pope Francis banished the CDF's second-in-command, Abp. Giacomo Morandi, to the bishopric of Italy's Reggio Emilia diocese as punishment for taking the lead in issuing the responsum against same-sex blessings.