The World

The Synodal Way and the policy of fait accompli

With the adoption of a series of resolutions, the German Synodal Way departs from the doctrine of the Catholic Church and intends to start implementing some of them already. It asks the Pope to reconsider celibacy, to allow women to be deacons, to allow the laity to preach at Mass and to administer various sacraments. He also breaks with Christian anthropology to introduce "sexual diversity" and the blessing of homosexual couples.

José M. García Pelegrín-March 13, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes

Photo: March 2023 Synodal Pathway Assembly ©OSV News photo/Heiko Becker, Reuters

One of the most eagerly awaited questions at the fifth Assembly of the German Synodal Way, held March 9-11, was how the bishops would position themselves in relation to the so-called "Synodal Council": initially planned to perpetuate the Synodal Way - since it would be a governing body made up of clergy and laity that would direct the diocese together with the bishop, being able to control the ordinary and even impose itself on the latter -, the The Holy See warned in a Note dated July 2022 that "it would not be licit to introduce into dioceses new official structures or doctrines that would constitute a violation of ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church before agreement has been reached at the level of the universal Church".

For this reason, at the Fourth Assembly in September 2022, a compromise formula was reached by approving the creation of a "Synodal Commission" to prepare the "Synodal Council".

Synodal Councils

However, on the agenda of the Fifth Assembly, the text on the creation of "synodal councils with advisory and decision-making capacity at the diocesan and parish levels" reappeared.

Between the Assemblies of November 2022 and March 2023, significant pronouncements were made by the Vatican during the ad limina visit of November 2022 (Cfr. Dossier on the Synodal Way published in the February 2023 issue of Omnes magazine) and subsequently in a letter, dated January 16, 2023 and signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Cardinals Luis Ladaria and Marc OuelletThe Pope's express approval, in which it was again stated that the Synodal Way does not have the competence to create a "Synodal Council".

Moreover, in words of greeting to the Bishops' Conference on the occasion of its Spring Assembly, which took place from February 27 to March 2, the Apostolic Nuncio Nikola Eterović repeated once again the illegality of creating synodal councils, also at the diocesan or individual parish level.

This insistence and clarity led several bishops to take the floor at the Assembly, among them the three auxiliary bishops of Cologne: Dominik Schwaderlapp ("I feel bound by the Pope's instruction and therefore cannot agree with the text"), Rolf Steinhäuser and Ansgar Puff. In view of the fact that a two-thirds majority of the bishops would not be obtained, it was decided not to vote on this text, but to pass it on to the "Synodal Commission", whose members were elected at the Fifth Assembly, which will be responsible for updating or modifying the text.

According to Msgr. Georg BätzingPresident of the German Bishops' Conference and Co-Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference. Synodal WayThis will be done "on the basis of current Canon Law", which - in view of Vatican pronouncements and the comments of well-known canonists - seems to be squaring the circle.

Reconsider celibacy, diaconate for women

The rest of the documents presented in the Assembly did obtain the necessary majority; in a first basic text on "Priestly Existence Today" it was said that it is "impossible to continue as before", also because of the high number of priests who have committed sexual abuse and "the systemic causes that favor acts of sexual abuse and power". For this reason it "asks the Holy Father, in the context of the process of the universal Synod, to examine the link between the administration of Orders and the obligation of celibacy". In the meantime, the Pope is asked to "promptly" admit to the priesthood the so-called "viri probati".

The Assembly also voted for the diaconate of women: although several participants had advocated that the text should refer not to the diaconate but to the priesthood - "we need to be on the same level at the altar", "the Catholic Church has a responsibility for the image of women in the world" - the definitive text refers to the diaconate: "The Assembly of the Synodal Way requests the highest authority of the Church, that is the Pope and the Council, to examine whether the doctrine of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis definitively binds the Church or not." However, this should not lead us to think that the assembly members have abandoned the idea of demanding the priesthood for women. Although Nuncio Nikola Eterović, in the aforementioned words of greeting to the Bishops' Conference at the Spring Assembly, recalled that the doctrine contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is definitive, the text of the Synodal Way said, "Theological argumentation in Germany has shown that the doctrinal texts presented have not reached the degree of definitive binding." For this reason, it was approved that a commission be created in Germany to deal with "the subject of sacramental ordination for persons of either sex.

Preaching and administration of the sacraments by laypersons

The text on "Women in services and ministries in the Church" dealt with a greater participation of women; in short, it dealt with preaching in the Eucharist and the administration of certain sacraments by lay men and women. After, at the request of the Bishops' Conference - against a majority of women - the introduction of "the administration of confession by lay people within the framework of spiritual accompaniment" was removed, a text was approved in which the bishops were urged to draw up a particular norm on the preaching of the laity in the Eucharist and to request the permission of the Holy See. The administration of Baptism and Anointing of the Sick by lay people "in cases of necessity" was also approved, although the auxiliary bishop of Cologne Ansgar Puff does not consider that there is a need for this in Germany. In this context, the Bishop of Augsburg Betram Meier spoke of a "certain tendency in Germany for more and more women and men to be able to administer the sacraments"; thus the question could end up being asked: "Why do we need consecrated persons?

Although the text speaks of situations of necessity, at the press conference at the end of the Assembly, Bishop Bode of Osnabrück referred to the fact that, after a period of formation of a few months, the preaching of the Eucharist by laymen and laywomen, as well as the administration of Baptism by "non-consecrated persons", would be introduced in his diocese. According to this, it seems that he does not consider necessary the permission that, according to the text, must be requested from the Holy See.

At the origin of the Synodal Way was the desire to prevent sexual abuse, following the shock produced by the study conducted by three universities in 2018. Now, the fifth Assembly has approved a text with measures on "Prevention of sexual abuse". It is significant, however, that just two days before the start of the Assembly, the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper published an interview with the German Jesuit Hans Zollner, director of the Institute for the Protection against Abuse at the Gregorian and one of the leading experts in the field, in which he criticized "the slowness and lack of standards for dealing with abuse in Germany", in contrast to the measures adopted by other countries. Such statements corroborate repeated criticisms that by speaking exclusively of "systemic or structural causes", the guilt of individual persons in committing and covering up these crimes is not being pursued. It has also been widely criticized that the sexual abuses have been instrumentalized by the Synodal Way ("abuse of the abuses") to introduce modifications to Catholic doctrine.

Sexual diversity, blessing of homosexual couples

Among these modifications is "the recognition of sexual diversity", which means a break with Christian anthropology based on Genesis 1, 27: "And God created man in his own image. He created him in the image of God; he created them male and female". Although for example Stefan Zekorn, Auxiliary Bishop of Münster, expressed that he could not assent to a text "which is practically based entirely on gender theory", it was approved, and it states that "the current positivistic Christian anthropology of natural law, as it underlies current ecclesiastical texts, legitimizes and promotes the exclusion, violence and persecution of people whom the Church should actually protect". Instead, "Church doctrine and law continue to assign highly precarious and vulnerable positions to trans and intersex persons." For this reason, the Synodal Assembly makes a series of recommendations to the bishops, including the appointment of "LGBTI* responsible persons" in all dioceses to oversee "spiritual accompaniment marked by acceptance of trans and intersex believers." Among other things, it is requested that transgender believers be able to change their gender in the baptismal register without bureaucratic red tape.

In relation to the priesthood, the text says that "the determination of external sexual characteristics should be suppressed wherever it is still practiced in the course of the acceptance of a person as a candidate for the priesthood". Along these lines, the Synodal Assembly demands of the Pope that "access to the ministries of the Church and to pastoral vocations must also be examined in each individual case for intersex and transsexual baptized and confirmed persons who intuit a vocation for themselves; these must not be excluded in a generalized way."

Related to this is also the Assembly's approval of the blessing of couples "who love each other" and who cannot or do not want to go to the sacrament of marriage - that is, homosexual couples or divorced couples who have contracted a new civil marriage - because it recognizes "that in the common life of couples who live together in a committed and responsible way there is a moral good". Although the text refers to the Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 2021 in which it was said that it is not possible to bless homosexual couples, "the refusal to bless the relationship of two people who want to live their partnership in love, commitment and mutual responsibility and with God is ruthless or even discriminatory in a society that has conquered human dignity and free self-determination as maxims of moral normalization".

At the final press conference, Bishop Bätzing said that in his Limburg diocese the blessing of couples "who love each other" would be introduced "immediately".

How will the Synodal Way continue?

Although this fifth Assembly is theoretically the last - a sixth is planned for three years from now to evaluate the implementation of the resolutions - the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics and co-chair of the Synodal Way, Irme Stetter-KarpIn that press conference, he pointed out that the Synodal Way was really beginning now. For his part, Bishop Bätzing declared that he will send, in those questions that do not fall under the competence of a particular bishop or Episcopal Conference, "our questions to the space of the universal Church", and that he will not be satisfied with "bureaucratic answers to these questions from any office of the Curia, and even less from dark rooms, but expects synodal processes at the level of the universal Church that address such weighty questions, debate them and lead to decisions".

To this end, he has asked the Holy See for a meeting in Rome, with the entire Presidency of the Synodal Way; that is, also with the laity. And he added that he had told Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: "They have to learn also in Rome to follow synodal processes in which many participate".

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising