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Synodal Committee formed in Germany 

Despite the Vatican's prohibition, a Synodal Committee has been established in Germany for the purpose of organizing a Synodal Council. It will make its decisions by a two-thirds majority, eliminating the bishops' veto.

José M. García Pelegrín-November 13, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes
synodal journey

Photo: Voting at the constitution of the Synod Committee ©Evelina Sowa

On November 11, in Essen, Germany, the so-called "Synodal Committee of the Catholic Church in Germany"The committee has unanimously approved its statutes and rules of procedure. According to a press release issued Saturday, this committee "will meet periodically until 2026 to further develop the synodality of the Church." 

Prohibition of Rome

The three-year duration is established in order to prepare a "Synodal Council" to extend the work done during the "Synodal Council".Synodal Path"carried out between 2019 and 2023. However, the establishment of this "Synodal Council" was explicitly banned by the Cardinal Secretary of State and the cardinal prefects of the dicasteries for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, with the express approval of Pope Francis, and communicated in a letter dated January 16, 2023: "Neither the Synodal Path, neither a body appointed by him, nor a national bishops' conference" are authorized to create such a body. This is because such a council would be "a new governing structure of the Church in Germany, which (...) seems to place itself above the authority of the Bishops' Conference and to replace it de facto."

Despite this prohibition, 19 of the 27 titular bishops of the German dioceses participated in the constitutive meeting, together with 27 representatives of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and 20 other persons elected by the assembly of the German Catholic Church (ZdK). Synodal Path. According to the press release, all of them "jointly discuss the future of the Church".

A remarkable aspect of the discussed statutes was highlighted by Irme Stetter-Karp, President of the ZdK, at the end of the meeting: "I am pleased that the committee has agreed, among other things, to make future decisions with a two-thirds majority of all members present. This implies a major step forward in promoting synodality." In addition, this means the elimination of the veto power that bishops had in the assemblies of the Synodal Way, where decisions required the support of two-thirds of the bishops present.

Further steps

However, for the statutes to become effective, they still need to be approved by the organizers of the Synodal Way, i.e., the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) and the ZdK. There seems to be no doubt that the ZdK will approve them; however, it remains to be seen how they will be treated within the DBK, considering that eight of the bishops have not participated in this constitutive meeting of the Synodal Committee.

At the end of the meeting, Msgr. Georg BätzingDBK President, expressed optimism: "The Synod Committee has gained momentum. I am grateful to have entered a new phase. I am therefore pleased to take up words from the World Synod: 'Church on the move', a sentiment we experienced in Rome and now also in Essen. The decisions on the statutes and rules of procedure are a clear indication that we have learned and practiced synodality, with its fundamental requirement: mutual trust." 

At the beginning of the meeting, Irme Stetter-Karp emphasized that the Synodal Way in Germany is closely linked to the universal Church: "Pope Francis encourages us to stand firm on our word. We are making progress with perseverance. He added: "The consultations in Rome have made clear the need for concrete and visible changes in the Church." Bishop Bätzing emphasized the connection between the universal Synod and the German Synodal Way: "Synodality must be strengthened and concretized as a 'modus vivendi et operandi' for the whole Church. Only from this perspective can the Synodal Way of the Church in Germany be seen as a genuine effort to develop precisely the synodality that is so important for the whole Church in the 21st century."

Lack of clarity

It is striking, however, that although representatives of the Way - or now the Synodal Committee - continually refer to the encouragement of the universal Synod and the Pope to continue, they do not adopt the clear words of the Pontiff on synodality: "We are not here to conduct a parliamentary meeting or a reform plan," Francis said at the beginning of the General Congregation of the Synod in early October. Nevertheless, the Synodal Committee follows the same pattern as the Synodal Way: with votes on proposals and amendments, and, of course, with a "reform plan."

The President of the ZdK expressly referred to this by excluding the "format" of the universal Synod: "We do not consider it appropriate to limit ourselves to listening for one week, and then another". Irme Stetter-Karp does not believe that "we need to learn anything from the Universal Synod in terms of working methods".

Opposition of theologians and lay people

In mid-week, the initiative "New Beginnings" (Neuer Anfang), a group of theologians and lay people who support reform projects in the Catholic Church, concerned about the direction of the Synodal Way, issued a note of protest against the Synodal Committee, stating that it "could fragment the Catholic Church in Germany and endanger unity with the Pope and the universal Church." According to the initiative, the renewal of the Church "cannot consist in creating a Church in the German way".

It describes the creation of the Synodal Committee as a "scandalous and illegitimate act in every respect" that seeks to usurp power over the Church. In the note it expresses its protest "against the presumption of this group to speak in the name of all Catholics in Germany."

Quoting the President of the ZdK, who pointed out that the goal is to find a "permanent form in which bishops and laity, that is, the ministry and the people of God together, not only consult each other, but also make decisions," they indicate that this would reduce, and even destroy, the apostolic office of leadership of the bishops. Only the bishops, advised by the faithful, have the authority to lead the Church, concludes the "New Beginnings" note.

The constitutive meeting of the "Synodal Committee" was held behind closed doors. However, according to Irme Stetter-Karp, it was agreed in its rules of procedure that, in general, the meetings will be open to the press in the future. "This will create a transparency that I consider crucial," she said. 

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