Pope Francis has given countless interviews, but over the past few years he has rarely spoken to the public at large about the ongoing synodal process that he initiated in 2021. One exception is the January 25 interview he gave to the Associated Press, in which he talked about the Synodal Path in Germany. He didn’t delve into the specifics of the calls for reform the German bishops are addressing, such as the teaching on sexuality, new roles for women in Church leadership and ministry, or new structures of governance. The pope said that while dialogue in the Church is good, “the German experience does not help.” He continued: “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 added: “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.”
This wasn’t Rome’s first warning to the German synod. Indeed, it’s just the latest round of pointed and polemical exchanges between the Vatican on one side and the president of the German bishops’ conference and the leaders of the Synodal Path on the other. Church and synodal leaders in Germany are facing opposition from a small group of five German bishops voicing the resistance of a minority of German Catholics to the structure and results of the synodal process so far. Tensions between Rome and the German synod reached a recent high point with a January letter from Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Cardinal Marc Ouellet (prefect of the dicastery for the bishops), and Cardinal Luis Ladaria (prefect of the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith)—and approved “in forma specifica” by Francis—in which they told the German Synodal Path that they do not have the competence to establish a nationwide permanent “synodal council.”
The interview and the letter reflect Pope Francis’s anti-elitist social, political, and ecclesiological culture. There have been previous examples. Visiting the University of Roma Tre in 2017, he excoriated so-called elite education while advocating popular education. In the 2018 exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, he called Gnostic and Pelagian religious elites “enemies of holiness.” In a 2018 book interview, he emphasized the importance of connection to a real, concrete people. Without those connections, the pope said, a sin can arise that “Satan, our enemy, likes so much: the sin of the elite…. The elite do not know what it means to live among the people. And when I speak of elite, I do not mean a social class: I speak of an attitude of the soul.”
Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.