Amid an ongoing back and forth between the Vatican and the German bishops conference over a controversial new ecclesial body, four of the nation’s prelates have refused to participate in the planning process, opting instead to wait for direction from Rome.

In a statement released simultaneously April 24, Bishop Gregor Maria Franz Hanke of Eichstätt, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said they wish “to continue on the path to a more synodal Church in harmony with the universal Church.”

The reference is to Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, launched in 2021 and set to conclude this October with a second Rome-based gathering, and which is touching on several of the same issues as Germany’s own national synodal process, referred to as the “synodal way.”

In their statement, Hanke, Woelki, Oster and Voderholzer said that Vatican objections to the German Synodal Way have repeatedly made it clear that a proposed Synodal Council, a new governing body for the church in Germany consisting of both bishops and laypeople, is not acceptable.

Specifically, they said the proposed Synodal Council, “as envisaged and formulated in the resolution of the Synodal Way, was not compatible with the sacramental constitution of the Church.”

On these grounds, the bishops said they “still do not want to take part” in a special Synodal Committee, whose goal is to formally establish the Synodal Council, and the statutes for which were set to be voted on earlier this year, until the vote was halted at the request of the Vatican.

The four bishops who signed the statement also cast doubt on the German Bishops’ Conference’s status as the official sponsor of the Synodal Committee, since four of its members do not support the entity.