13 March 2022, The Tablet

Germany seeking dialogue with Rome over reforms

Germany seeking dialogue with Rome over reforms

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, vice president of the German bishops’ conference.
CNS photo/Julia Steinbrecht, KNA

The vice-president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, spent five days in the Vatican at the end of February expounding the demands for church reform that are being debated at the German synodal procedure with the heads of the Vatican dicasteries and with Pope Francis in a private audience.

It was most important that the German Church intensify its talks with the Vatican authorities, he told the Osnabrück church paper Kirchenbote on his return. “You can talk to Rome. In future, we must try harder to seek dialogue and talk together.”

He had discussed all the hot-button issues that were on the German Church’s synodal procedure’s agenda such as the Church’s sexual morality, women’s role in the Church and the priestly ministry quite openly, he said.

“A few years ago it would have been quite unthinkable for a Catholic bishop to speak out openly about such desires for church reform in the Vatican,” Bode said.

The cardinals and the Pope had encouraged him to bring up the German reform issues at the worldwide synodal process. He had received “no halt signs, commands, condemnations or threats” but it was “no secret” that many of those responsible in the Curia had difficulties with the German Church’s demands for reform.

The climax of his visit had been his private audience with Pope Francis. Again he had been able to discuss all the hot button issues quite openly. He had, for instance, told the Pope that as far as women’s ordination was concerned, the German Church wanted “to keep the discussion open” and that Pope St John Paul II’s stance on the subject had become less and less understood.

They had also discussed homosexuality, admission to the priesthood and the high number of people leaving the Church in Germany. Francis had not taken a clear position on any questions but had made it clear in his reactions that it was most important to stay close to people.

“Canon law comes after that. He is a pastor on the papal throne and open for dialogue,” Bode said. Germany’s synodal way groups 230 people who gather to discuss what they see as the most pressing issues facing the Catholic Church in Germany. The group includes every German bishop, along with representatives from religious orders, lay movements, dioceses and parishes, universities, consultants from other churches and chosen experts in the fields being discussed.

It has settled on four study areas: power and the separation of powers in the church; relationships and sexuality; priestly ministry, including conversations about celibacy; and women in ministries and offices in the church.

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