29 May 2024, The Tablet

Reform vital if Church is to survive, says German synod response

by Renardo Schlegelmilch

The document repeated several calls made by the Synodal Path initiative, which have put the German Church at odds with Rome.

Reform vital if Church is to survive, says German synod response

The German bishops have clashed with the Vatican over some of proposals from the Synodal Path initiative.
Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The German bishops’ conference’s summary of responses to the Synod on Synodality reported that “96 per cent of Catholics in Germany believe that the Church must change fundamentally if it is to have a future”.

The document was published on 22 May, as part of the consultation ahead of the second session of the Synod in Rome in October.

Although it repeated several of the calls for far-reaching reform made by the Synodal Path initiative – which have put the German Church at odds with the Vatican – the document advanced them in a less confrontational tone, with gender equality and lay participation central to its calls.

German Catholics felt a “desire for the sacramental diaconate to be opened up to women” and for discussions of women’s ordination to the priesthood, it said. “Gender equality is long overdue and women should not be [excluded] any longer.”

The responses also called for greater independence for local churches, arguing that not every decision need be made on a universal level. “Without crossing the ‘red line’…there has to be a corridor where the local churches may be active and develop themselves,” according to the Diocese of Eichstätt’s consultation.

The bishops‘ summary did not draw further conclusions from the responses, although they echoed documents from the Synodal Path which led to the call from its assembly in March 2023 for a “Synodal Council”, a new national decision-making body where laypeople and bishops would have the same rights and voting privileges.

Critics of the Synodal Path, including the Pope, have said its processes were closer to a parliament than a spiritual gathering. In their submission to Rome the bishops insisted the committees and democratic structures of their dioceses were “an integral part of the Church” and “positive and important”. However, they also said that after their experience of the Synod in Rome last year “there is now a ‘taste’ for this method of ‘conversation in the Holy Spirit’” in Germany.

How far the responses will affect relations with the Vatican will depend on the conduct of the “Synodal Committee”, due to meet in June to begin preparations for a “Synodal Council” despite Rome’s opposition to its formation in the past.

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