The two-year German “synodal procedure” for church reform was officially launched on the first Sunday of Advent.
Working together with the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the bishops will seek a way forward following the devastation caused by the clerical abuse crisis and the ensuing massive exodus from the German Church.
Special synodal candles were lit before Mass in all 27 German cathedrals and the four co-cathedrals. Conference president Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and the vice-president of the ZdK, Karin Kortmann, who are both members of the synodal procedure’s presidium, lit the synodal candle together in Munich Cathedral at the 10am Mass.
In his sermon Marx underlined how important it would be to listen to one another and reach consensus despite differences of opinion. “After the ghastly experience of discovering that clerical sexual abuse occurred in the Church, it is now crucial to examine systemic dangers like bad governance organisations. In order once again to become credible witnesses of joy and hope, we will have to remove certain obstacles."
In their video message after Mass, Cardinal Marx and ZdK president Thomas Sternberg said: “Credibility is an absolute must and we want to regain it through self-critical discussion.”
In the coming two years, the synodal procedure will discuss how to solve those systemic problems in the Church which had fostered abuse and which stood in the way of credibly proclaiming the Gospel message.
In their letter to the German Faithful of 1 December, conference Cardinal Marx Mr Sternberg said the time had come to admit “self-critically” that the Gospel message had been “obscured and even terribly damaged” particularly by the clerical sexual abuse of minors. “We must take the consequences and make sure the Church is a safe place,” they emphasised.
Four days before the synodal procedure was officially launched, a group of diocesan press spokesmen from 12 German dioceses called on the media to accompany the procedure critically. “Particularly as far as scandals, crises and conflicts are concerned, the only thing that helps is as much transparency as possible. We would be grateful if the media were to accompany this crucial debate on the future of the Catholic Church in Germany,” the spokesmen said in a public declaration on 26 November. The declaration is signed by the spokesmen of the following archdioceses and dioceses: Aachen, Bamberg, Berlin, Essen, Freiburg, Limburg, München/Freising, Münster, Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Speyer, Würzburg and the spokespersons of the Zdk and the German aid organisation “Adveniat”.
Several bishops also spoke of their hopes and fears regarding the procedure in sermons and interviews.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, told domradio.de that he hoped that the participants in the four synodal procedure forums on “power and checks and balances”, “sexual morality”, “the priestly lifestyle” and “women’s place in the Church” would “earnestly listen to one another and not just exchange maximum demands, otherwise the whole project will go wrong”. He himself was still “somewhat sceptical”, he said.
The discussions would certainly not be easy, Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Essen, at 58 one of Germany’s youngest bishops, told the Augsburger Allgemeine: “ I am sure that the German Church will be a different Church afterwards (after the procedure). It will be certainly be more participatory and more feminine”. In order to avoid cases of sexualised violence in future checks and balances and cooperation with the public and the state were absolutely necessary, he said.