“It turned out quite differently than expected”

One year ago, the Catholic Church began the Synodal Way on the first day of Advent. Father Bernd Hagenkord, spiritual director of the reform process, looks back on an eventful calendrical stage.

Interviewer: First birthday is a cause for celebration, isn't it?

Father Bernd Hagenkord SJ (Spiritual Director of the Synodal Way): In any case. When we started, we didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into. Now, on the first anniversary, we have realized that our fears were justified. Things turned out quite differently than expected. But I think a first birthday is definitely a reason to celebrate.

Interviewer: What has come differently?

Hagenkord: The Corona pandemic. After all, we had a clear schedule of how something was supposed to happen, when what was going to be met, and what was going to be presented to you. All this could not have happened. We had to postpone all that.

Interviewer: So where does the synodal path stand right now? At what stage would you say it can be located right now??

Hagenkord: I do not know exactly. According to the original plan we are still at the very beginning. But I think we have to consider whether we should readjust the process and plan a different procedure, because it is not foreseeable that everything will change in the next few months.

From that point of view, I would say: We have made a good start. We have started working on texts and initiatives. These four forums were formed. Then there was the first feedback. There were regional conferences. There was intermediate feedback on this. There we are quite good. But we're nowhere near the point where I would say we're on the verge of passing any resolutions, adopting any texts, launching any initiatives.

Interviewer: An important topic of the Synodal Way is, of course, the scandal of sexual abuse in the church. One could get the impression that the church is getting more and more entangled rather than working its way out of it.

Hagenkord: What you can't do is to work out concrete problems with the Synodal Way. I also see this just as catchless as everyone else, although I only hear about it from the media, for example, what is happening in Cologne.

On the other hand, we are talking about authority in the synodal way. We're talking about power in the church, distribution of power, accountability, and so on. You can not do that without not at the same time also look at the abuse of power. Whether that's sexual violence or other forms of abuse, of authority and power. That's why it plays a very important role.

I would agree with you: Examples keep coming to light where this has not worked in the past or in the present. We have to talk about it very clearly, because it can't go on like this. That's not sustainable, what we want to be as a Christian community.

Interviewer: Let's take a look at Rome. One has the feeling that stonewalling is also taking place there. The pope, for example, said Wednesday that he doesn't think much of this "Synodal Way". Did you have to swallow there when you heard this?

Hagenkord: I had to swallow at first, because he also clearly says "synodal way". But the pope formulates sometimes also somewhat wood-cut-like. You have to look more closely at what he said there. And what he does not want is a decision-making process that is detached from the spiritual foundations. I also find it a bit strange that he criticizes democratic decision-making above all else.

But what he wants is that it's not just about majorities, it's not just about voting, it has to be a spiritual journey. It must be a spiritual process. It must have to do with prayer. When I look at what we are doing with the Synodal Way, then we are not that far away from the Pope's basic concern. That's where I would say, although he says "synodical way" and criticizes the. But that doesn't really reflect what we do in Germany.

Interviewer: So would you say that the spiritual process is still in good shape, that is, taking the Gospel seriously, for example, or the spiritual message behind it??

Hagenkord: In any case. When I look at the participants, when I talk to them, this is a huge concern behind everything we do. This is not a club that meets there, but in fact everyone comes with a deep spiritual concern. I would definitely say that.

On the other hand, it is of course lasting discussion, how we implement this and how this is implemented in the methodology. There, I don't think we're really at a point yet where I would say we're in agreement and the clerical is really an integral part of what we're doing. Coffee breaks and prayers always suffer terribly because something else important comes up. There we still have to learn that, for example, such things as interruptions are just as important as speeches. We are still working on it. But all in all, this is also part of the process. And I think it's good that it's a topic, that it's being talked about and that we're developing it further.

Interviewer: Are you still confident that this Synodal Way will steer the Catholic Church in Germany into a hopeful future??

Hagenkord: In the sense that we don't know at all where the synodal path is coming from. Especially with Corona, everything we had thought about was shot to pieces again. That is a risk. This is an openness. But I am very open, optimistic and confident about it.

The interview was conducted by Verena Troster.

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