Stop sign from Rome – is the synodal path coming to an end? | free press

In a brief statement, the Vatican has just made it clear that the German faithful can forget their reform efforts. But the brothers and sisters from Luther’s country continue.


The Germans were warned. Sometimes Pope Francis babbles, and on such an occasion the 85-year-old Argentine recently revealed what he thinks of the reform plans of the dear brothers and sisters in “Alemania”: “There is a very good Protestant Church in Germany,” he said . he. “We don’t need two of them.”

On Thursday, the Vatican surprisingly published a statement that, as canon expert Thomas Schüller puts it, caused all German dreams of renewal to “burst at the Roman walls.” The synodal path in Germany is simply “not authorized” to develop new forms of leadership or even to adapt church teachings and morals. In its terse brevity and harshness, the unsigned letter could only be seen as an open insult. The Erfurt theologian Julia Knop translates the message to the German believers as follows: “It is no use interfering. In the end you will bite into concrete.”

The two presidents of the synodal path, the president of the German bishops’ conference, Georg Bätzing, and the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, are similarly irritated. The Vatican’s actions are “not in good style”, they criticize. Much to Bätzing’s chagrin, the Vatican steadfastly refuses to speak to Stetter-Karp at all. It is believed that, from the Vatican’s point of view, it has two decisive disadvantages: first, it does not belong to the clergy. And secondly, she is not a man.

Structures encourage crime

The synodal path of the German Catholics is a consequence of the priests’ sexual abuse of children. Criminologists and other outside experts have repeatedly pointed out that the structure of the church encourages such crimes. This is because the all-male decision-makers can do whatever they want. At the same time, they are bound by celibacy to celibacy and “chastity”. If you want to prevent abuse in the future, then something urgent must change in these conditions, reads the almost unanimous recommendation from experts.

This is exactly what the German bishops’ conference and the ZdK – the representation of the so-called lay people – have been trying to implement since 2019. For this purpose, they have set up a kind of church thing, the Kirkemødet, which prepares proposals for all problem areas and votes on them. But because the “synods” also know that the Catholic Church is not a democracy, all decisions must ultimately be approved by the bishops with a two-thirds majority. And even then, the individual bishops are not bound by it.

The Roman Curia follows all this with the eyes of Argus. A reform of the Catholic Church was eventually tackled from Germany, but it ended in a split: Martin Luther’s Reformation. And if the oldest institution in the world is vindictive about one thing, it’s this.

belief in success

Does this mean that the Synodal path is dead? No, the fourth and fifth synodal assemblies would take place as agreed in September and March 2023, Stetter-Karp assured the German Press Agency: “Of course we will stick to this plan.”

Julia Knop, one of the most committed reformers in the assembly, continues to believe that the synodal path can be a success – even if the desired reforms ultimately do not get the necessary two-thirds majority of the bishops. “However, if the entire synod adopts the resolutions by a large majority, it will still be a very important signal.”

In addition, it should be noted that the synod assembly decides on texts from three different categories, says Knop. For category 1, approval from the Roman central administration is required. Here she assumes “that many things simply disappear in the drawer”. The second category will be passed on to the world synod that Pope Francis has invited to Rome next year.

But there is also a third category of resolutions, and these fall within the exclusive competence of the German Church. This includes, for example, changing the Catholic Labor Code so that no one can be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Another point is participation in the appointment of bishops. “Believers can be included in the pre-selection of candidates,” says Knop.

The question is whether it will be enough to stop the emigration of German believers – last year alone, 359,338 German Catholics turned their backs on their church, more than ever before. The vast majority probably expect much more, for example the admission of women to the priesthood. But according to the general opinion, it would border on a miracle. And it is only found – apart from in fairy tales – in the Bible. (dpa)

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