08 March 2023, The Tablet

German bishops double down on reform plans

The majority of the bishops support plans to establish a “synodal committee” to prepare for a “synodal council” within three years.

German bishops double down on reform plans

Bishop Georg Bätzing rings a bell to begin the German bishops plenary meeting on 27 February.
DPA Picture Alliance/Alamy

The majority of the German bishops decided to proceed with their plans for reform after spending a whole day of their four-day spring plenary discussing the German synodal path initiative.

“The broad majority of the bishops support the reform proposals of the German Synodal Path and want to see change but a small minority share the Vatican’s harsh criticism of the initiative”, conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing said on 2 March.

In mid-January, the Vatican informed the German synodal path initiative that it did not have the competence to establish a nationwide permanent “synodal council” in which bishops and lay Catholics would share in decision making as such a governing body would inadmissibly restrict each individual bishop’s authority.

But the majority of the German bishops intend to proceed with plans to establish a “synodal committee” which will prepare for the establishment of a “synodal council” within three years.

It is not yet clear whether all 27 German diocesan bishops and archbishops will decide in favour of these plans to establish a “synodal council”. Five diocesan bishops are known to be critical. Every bishop was free to decide, Bätzing said.

Admitting women to sacramental offices is one of the most controversial issues being discussed by the German reform initiative.

On the question of women in the Church, Bätzing distanced himself from Pope Francis’ view that women did not belong to either the Petrine or the Marian dimension but were particularly suited to the “administrative way” in the Church. “The Pope cannot demand that one accept that [explanation]”, he said.

The German reform initiative will meet for the fifth and final time in Frankfurt from 9-11 March.

“We must and want to remain in dialogue with Rome – that is the bishops’ conference’s express wish,” Bätzing emphasised.

Meanwhile, the emeritus president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has called on the German bishops to take criticism of the German synodal path by other bishops’ conferences seriously.

In several media interviews to mark his ninetieth birthday on 5 March, Kasper said he thought it “absolutely impossible” that resolutions in favour of women’s ordination or “the concept of democratic participation in Church leadership” would prevail at the global level.

“The Church just simply isn’t a democracy. That’s a fact. And one cannot invent a new Church”, he pointed out.

Pope Francis did not want “fundamental church reform” but reforms within the Church, Kasper explained.

While Francis certainly shared many of the German synodal path’s concerns, some of the reforms the initiative was in favour of would “massively endanger the unity of faith in the world Church”, he pointed out and recalled that it was the Pope’s duty to curb such “wrong reforms” as he bore the responsibility for the unity of the faith.

The cardinal also said he thought it wrong that Bishop Bätzing had publicly criticised Pope Francis. “Public criticism of the Pope is something that I do not like,” Kasper said.

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