The World

The German synodal path celebrates its fourth plenary assembly

From September 8 to 10, the Plenary of the Synodal Path will meet again in Frankfurt. The main proposals are in open opposition to the note of the Holy See sent in July, especially with regard to "new forms of government" of the dioceses, which are to be introduced.

José M. García Pelegrín-September 7, 2022-Reading time: 4 minutes

Photo: Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops' conference, celebrates Mass during the third Synodal Assembly . @CNS/Julia Steinbrecht, KNA

From September 8 to 10, Frankfurt will once again host an international Plenary Assembly of the German Synodal Way. This will be the fourth, following those of January/February 2020, September/October 2021 and February 2002. It was originally planned to be the last, but already in February it was decided that a fifth and possibly last Plenary Assembly would be held at the beginning of 2023.

Regardless of the specific topics proposed to be addressed, which we refer to on the occasion of the previous assembly -The "Forum on Power and Separation of Powers in the Church" in Frankfurt is presenting a new "assessment" of homosexuality and Catholic sexual morality in general; optional" celibacy for the priesthood or the "opening" for women of all ministries in the Church-, in Frankfurt the so-called "Forum on Power and Separation of Powers in the Church" presents for its second reading, that is, for its "final vote", two proposals aimed at perpetuating the synodal path, to give it a permanent character or, in the words of a responsible of this Forum, "a leverage effect far beyond the synodal path".

The proposal "To consult and decide together" foresees a "synodal council of the diocese" in order to "discuss and decide together on all questions of diocesan importance". In short, the idea is that decisions relevant to the diocese would be made jointly by the bishop and this "democratically" elected council. In the event that the bishop does not "agree" with a decision taken by the council, the council may "oppose the bishop's vote by a two-thirds majority".

The warning to the synodal path

This is precisely the most explicit aspect that was criticized by a note from the Holy See last July. Here it was recalled that the synodal path "is not empowered to oblige the bishops and the faithful to adopt new forms of government". The note makes explicit that "it would not be admissible to introduce new structures or official doctrines in the dioceses before an agreement has been reached at the level of the universal Church". It remains to be seen how the 4th Assembly of the synodal journey will attempt to resolve this contradiction. 

The same can be said of another of the texts proposed for approval by the Assembly, entitled "Strengthening Synodality in a Sustainable Way: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany". Such a "Synodal Council" would not only have the task of advising "on essential developments in the Church and society," but it is proposed that it would have the capacity to make "fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan importance on pastoral planning, questions of the future and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level." Its composition would correspond to that of the Assembly of the Synodal Way and it would have a "permanent secretariat, which should be adequately staffed and financed." 

Political categories

According to one of the leaders of the Forum, its function was to coordinate the work of the Bishops' Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics. Implicitly, therefore, it is being stated that the Central Committee is given the same level of decision-making within the Church as the Bishops' Conference. This explains the discomfort, expressed on several occasions by representatives of the "Central Committee of German Catholics", that the Vatican only invites bishops and not lay people for talks. Apparently, the categories by which they are guided are those of a political nature: what they would like are "bilateral negotiations" between the Roman Curia and the German synodal path or council.

Another aspect that is being emphasized in the days leading up to the celebration of the 4th Assembly is that the synodal path "is not a special German path". Georg Bätzing (President of the Bishops' Conference) and Irme Stetter-Karp (President of the Central Committee of German Catholics). In a publication on "synodal processes of the universal Church", "comparable considerations, dynamics and questions in other countries and regions of the world" are being sought. 

As reported by KNA ("Catholic News Agency"), Bätzing and Stetter-Karp conclude that "not only in Germany there is a demand for more transparency and power-sharing, for a more developed and better communicated sexual relationship and ethics, for a more open design for the future of priestly existence and for a more responsible and visible role of women in the Church."

Travel companions for the German synodal journey

Here seems to be the "answer" to the Holy See's July note: the German synodal path is looking for "fellow travelers" or even allies to emphasize that the issues discussed there also matter in "the universal Church", since "the universal Church is not simply the Vatican curia", in the words of a representative of the synodal path.

On the other hand, criticism of the synodal process continues: letters sent by bishops or by bishops' conferences, such as those of Northern Europe or Poland, as well as by associations of the faithful such as "New Beginnings" or "Mary 1.0", are joined by the criticisms of some theologians. Thus, the Swiss theologian Martin Grichting - former Vicar General of the Diocese of Chur - has recently published an article in the newspaper "Die Welt" with the title "You cannot vote on the substance of Christianity".

According to this theologian, the synodal path "imposes on the Church democratic structures that attack the substance of Christianity. It is not believed that the Church is something proper to Revelation, so it is left in the hands of people who have empowered themselves". With officials linked to politics and "social engineering" and with the majority of bishops "the Church has dethroned its King, Christ himself." According to Grichting, the synodal path "tacitly assumes that it is not the self-revealing God and thus the Gospel and the tradition of the Church that are decisive for the Church, but the contemporary, post-Christian worldview."

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