ROME – Late Friday evening, the Vatican announced that after holding an all-day working session with members of the German bishops, the latter have assured their national reform process will be in keeping with Canon Law and will not move forward without the Holy See’s approval.

In a statement published at 8 p.m. local time, the Vatican announced that earlier that day, representatives of the Roman Curia and the German Bishops Conference (DBK) met at the Vatican to continue a process of dialogue that began in 2022 over controversial reforms in the local German Church.

“Today’s meeting, which lasted the entire day, took place in a positive and constructive climate,” the statement said, saying discussion touched on “some open theological questions raised in the documents of the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany.”

In the course of the conversation, it said, “differences and convergences” of opinion and perspective were identified, “according to the method adopted in the Final Synod Report” of the October 2023 Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which heavily emphasized dialogue and “conversation in the spirit” as a means of communally discerning a path forward on various issues.

The Vatican said that representatives of both the DBK and the Holy See agreed to hold regular exchanges on the work of the German Church’s controversial Synodal Path, as well as the creation of its contested Synodal Committee.

In this regard, the Vatican said the German bishops clarified that their work “will seek to identify concrete ways of exercising synodality in the Church in Germany, in conformity with the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, the provisions of Canon Law, and the fruits of the Synod of the universal Church, then submitting them to approval of the Holy See.”

Representing the Roman Curia at Friday’s meeting were Cardinals Victor Fernandéz, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith; Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity; Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State; Robert Prevost, prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops; and Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship.

Archbishop Filippo Iannone, prefect of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, was also present.

German prelates attending the meeting included Georg Bätzing of Limburg, Stephan Ackermann of Trier; Michael Gerber of Fulda; Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz; Bertram Meier of Augsburg; Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who respectively hold the positions of president of CET, and presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for Liturgy, Vocations and Ecclesial Services, for Pastoral Care, for the Universal Church, and for the Faith.

The secretary general of the DBK, Ms. Beate Gilles, and its spokesman, Matthias Kopp, were also present.

Friday’s statement came after the Vatican earlier this year ordered the German bishops to halt a vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee, and threatened canonical action if they did not comply.

As part of their current Feb. 19-22 general assembly in Augsburg, the roughly 60 members of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) attending were scheduled to address the results of their recently concluded “Synodal Path” reform process and vote on the statutes of a “Synodal Committee” that has the task of establishing a new national “Synodal Council.”

However, the bishops refrained from holding the vote after receiving a letter from the Vatican threatening punitive measures if they moved forward.

The idea for the Synodal Council, a governing body composed of both bishops and laypeople that would permanently oversee the Church in Germany, was approved during the fourth plenary assembly of Germany’s “Synodal Path” in September 2022, with the purpose of making “fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan importance.”

That assembly also approved of a “Synodal Committee,” to be co-chaired by Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, and a layperson, which had the specific task of establishing the Synodal Council so as to be active by 2026.

In January of last year, the heads of several Vatican major departments wrote a letter to the German bishops vetoing the Synodal Council on grounds that it constituted a new form of ecclesial authority not canonically recognized, and which would essentially usurp the authority of the national bishops’ conference.

At the time, the German bishops ignored the Vatican’s warnings, announcing during their March 2023 spring assembly that plans for establishing the Synodal Committee were still moving forward.

Pope Francis and several dicastery heads within the Roman Curia have repeatedly directly intervened in the German bishops’ synodal process since it was launched in 2019, with the aim of reforming Church structures to better respond to the national clerical abuse scandals.

The process quickly became controversial over proposals to end priestly celibacy, allow women’s priestly ordination, broadly approve blessings for same-sex couples, and to give women the authority to administer baptisms.

In 2019, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the German bishops warning that their reform process risked fracturing church unity, and he later criticized proposals for both the Synodal Committee and the Synodal Council in a November 2023 letter to German theologians critical of the national reform process, saying these bodies “cannot be reconciled with the sacramental structure of the Church.”

Among the primary concerns with the Synodal Council is that it would constitute a new governing Church body not recognized by canon law and would essentially usurp the power of the national bishops’ conference.

Part of the Synodal Committee’s powers enable it to pass resolutions with a simple two-thirds majority. With just 23 bishop-members on the committee, after four refused to participate, over half of the body’s 70 members are laypeople, meaning resolutions could theoretically be passed without the approval of any of the country’s bishops.

When the German bishops visited the Vatican for their regular ad limina visit in November 2022, members of the Roman Curia proposed a moratorium on the process, however it was instead agreed that an ongoing dialogue be established with regular meetings.

An initial meeting took place at the Vatican on July 26, 2023, and further discussion of major reform topics took place during the October 2023 first session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, with the second and final session set to take place this year.

Friday’s statement from the Vatican implies that they drew a hard line in the sand after this year’s kerfuffle over the Synodal Committee, assuring that German Church reforms would not breach canon law and that no measures would be adopted without prior approval from the Holy See.

The statement was published simultaneously on the German bishops’ website.

Another meeting between representatives of the Roman Curia and the DBK is expected to take place before summer, though no specific dates were provided.

Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen