Action Alert!
Catholic World News

Synod, October 21-22: German bishop says apostolic Tradition needs to be set aside

October 23, 2023

On October 21, participants in the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops concluded their discussion of the Synod’s fourth topic: “Participation, governance and authority. What processes, structures and institutions are there in a missionary synodal Church?”

Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, revealed that participation in the Synod was waning: only 329 out of the 364 voting members attended the afternoon session on October 20 (21 less than the previous afternoon), and only 310 attended the session on the morning of October 21 (33 less than the previous morning). 15% of the Synod’s voting members, then, were absent from the October 21 session.

Press conference

At the October 21 press conference, Ruffini said that there were “some very strong, passionate, and profound testimonies from places of war or suffering such as the Middle East, Ukraine, the Amazon, and beyond.” Ruffini and other participants said that the following topics were discussed:

  • “discernment in decision-making relationships between authorities and co-responsibility”
  • synodality “does not eliminate but contextualizes authority”
  • those with authority should not “fear seeking to discuss or to be in disagreement”
  • the importance of mutual listening, “starting with those who feel they cannot be welcomed in the Church or have been told that they do not belong to the Church,” such as “migrants belonging to other religions,” the poor, those who suffer discrimination, people with disabilities, and indigenous people
  • the “duty to welcome” and reject violence against “LGBTQ individuals”
  • the importance of “communion with the Pope”: those who are not “in fundamental communion” with the Pope “wound the body of Christ, which is the Church”
  • “the role of women and consecrated individuals, with particular emphasis on the possibility of having their voices heard in decision-making processes”
  • “clericalism was once again at the center of reflections, with recommendations for ongoing formation that also allows for addressing the issue of abuse”
  • “the need for appropriate structures to combat abuse”
  • gratitude to Pope Francis for “introducing new structures to address the tragedy of abuse”
  • “the importance of promoting initiatives at every level to protect all individuals, both adults and children”
  • “mission in the digital age, which should not be purely virtual because it involves people in their real lives”
  • “the reaffirmation of the Church’s mission to serve the poor, with the awareness that the Lord will judge us based on how we have loved the least among us, not on accumulated knowledge”

Bishop Overbeck

Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, SJ, of Huancayo (Peru), president of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon; Bishop Jean-Marc Eychenne of Grenoble-Vienne (France); Sister Maria Nirmalini, Superior General of the Apostolic Carmel Congregation (India); and Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen (Germany) spoke about their experiences of synodality. Cardinal Barreto Jimeno spoke of the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon—the first in the Church’s history—a structure in which non-bishops are full members, unlike episcopal conferences.

Bishop Overbeck said that in his 13 years as bishop, he has buried 300 priests and ordained only 15, and that he currently has no seminarians.

“Many people have asked me, ‘Are you still Catholics and part of the Catholic Church?’” Bishop Overbeck said in reference to Germany’s Synodal Way, which has called for changes in Catholic doctrine and discipline. “And I say, ‘Yes, of course, we are Catholics, and we are here to stay.”

“The reason we started this path,” he said in reference to the Synodal Way, “was the large number of abuse cases found in the country.”

Germany’s “post-secular” context “changes the entire framework for the questions we are carrying out,” said Bishop Overbeck, who added that if Catholic teaching is in contradiction with “the signs of the times,” then “nobody is going to be convinced” by the Church’s guidance.

Bishop Overbeck called for a “return to the sources of theological knowledge, beginning with the testimony of the Bible and Catholic tradition, through the findings of scholarly theology, to the faith of the faithful and the signs of the times to be interpreted in the light of the Gospel to make the Christian proclamation credible.”

“If theology, the Magisterium, or tradition and the signs of the times,” he continued, “have unmediated and irreconcilable contradictions, this will not convince anyone and cannot provide guidance to Catholics.”

Bishop Overbeck also said that “we always place Christ at the center of our faith, but we set aside tradition and habits,” according to Edward Pentin, who is covering the Synod for the National Catholic Register. “What is important is the hierarchy of truths.”

Journalist Diane Montagna, who was present at the press briefing, tweeted:

Summing up Bishop Overbeck’s statement (and inviting him to correct me if I had misunderstood his meaning), I asked him what he meant by “tradition”, and if he meant Apostolic Tradition?

I was not quite clear on what Bishop Overbeck meant in his response, so as soon as the briefing had ended, I went up to him and twice asked explicitly if he meant we need to set aside Apostolic Tradition—and twice he said “yes”, that this is what he meant.


On the evening of October 21, Synod participants were invited to take part in an outdoor Rosary.

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Cape Coast (Ghana), who prays the Rosary twice daily, told the Pillar:

In this first phase [of the Synod], we are listening to each other. And hearing from each other the worries, the challenges, the difficulties, everywhere in the world—I believe that we will go back home with this knowledge and pray for each other better. Maybe then we can see what kind of healing we need in the Church.

“I don’t think we must change the Church to fit us,” he added. “We must rather fit ourselves to Jesus Christ and what he wants of us, through the help of the Church.”

No Synod meetings took place on Sunday, October 22.

Earlier coverage


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 24, 2023 4:07 PM ET USA

    The Roman Canon includes a prayer for "all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith." Dissension from Apostolic Tradition is the definition of heresy.

  • Posted by: fsj - Oct. 23, 2023 7:26 PM ET USA

    The hierarchy of truths refer to the interconnection among all the dogmas of the Christian Faith (CCC #90). The dogmas infallibly express content of the deposit of the Faith transmitted through Apostolic Tradition, which includes the Scripture of the New Testament Therefore to set aside Apostolic Tradition is to set aside the revealed content of the Faith!