The German synodal path initiative for church reform is continuing with its plans to establish a nationwide permanent “synodal council” in which bishops and lay Catholics will share decision-making.
Despite repeated prohibitive warnings from Rome, on 4 April the German bishops’ conference announced that a 64-member “synodal committee”, consisting of 27 diocesan bishops, 27 lay members of the Central Committee of German lay Catholics and 20 elected members. will meet in Essen on 10-11 November this year and begin preparing for a “synodal council” in 2026.
In January, in a letter approved by the Pope, the Vatican informed the German synodal path initiative that it did not have the competence to establish a nationwide permanent “synodal council” but the “synodal committee” to prepare for such a council has not been prohibited yet.
The “synodal committee” will discuss the concept of synodality in depth so that synodal structures and a synodal culture of acting together can be developed. The rules of procedure and statutes have yet to be published and it is not known whether the committee sessions will be public or not.
On principle, the German bishops want to hold on to the plans to establish new synodal bodies. “The ‘synodal council’ which is to be prepared by the ‘synodal committee’ will remain within canon law,” conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing underlined in his reaction to the Vatican prohibition.
Meanwhile Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz has joined a growing number of German bishops who, while they are in favour church reform, have warned against polarisation.
He had voted in favour of the reform texts as the issues were “burning issues”, he recalled in a sermon in Holy Week but the whole style of the debate and the language being used was “alienating”. There was a lot of violence in the thinking, speech and actions of church groups at the moment – both on the right and on the left, he said. Violence had many faces and was occurring daily in the Church. People were being humiliated in word and deed.
An example of this was when a church group chanted, “Deliver us from Bishop Bätzing (the German conference president who is in favour of reform) Oh Lord!” outside the hall in Frankfurt during the last session of the German synodal path initiative, Kohlgraf said.