Bishop Ackermann at the opening of the synod © Elisabeth Schomaker (KNA)
Synod in the Diocese of Trier © Elisabeth Schomaker (KNA)
The final document of the Trier Synod is about 40 pages long. Germany's only diocesan synod struggled intensively until the end to find new perspectives and individual formulations.
The people of Trier like to compare themselves to greater things. 1.Their city is 300 years older than Rome, claims an inscription on the historic market square, and the bishops of Trier remind us that their cathedral is older than many basilicas in the Pope's diocese. Now there is another point of comparison for legends and history books: the most recent Trier diocesan synod lasted – calculated in years – twice as long as the worldwide synod of bishops in Rome, which met roughly in parallel: from 2013 to 2016, the deliberations and votes in the diocese of Trier stretched out.
And while in Rome Pope Francis already summarized and bindingly interpreted the results in the letter "Amoris laetitia" a few weeks ago, this step is still to come for Trier Bishop Stefan Ackermann. After all, since late Saturday night, after long debates, he, too, has called out with "Heraus gerufen.
Dare to take steps into the future" presented a comprehensive final paper. The governing bodies of the diocese will work out a binding "implementation program" from this by October 2016 and thus – in German thoroughness – at least catch up with Rome even in the "post-synodal phase".
If one disregards the comparable duration of the proceedings, however, the two synods differ fundamentally: while in Rome, in two compact session periods of three weeks, discussions were held on what constitutes Christian family in the 21st century, and what constitutes Christian family in the 21st century. The seven plenary sessions in Trier, Saarbrucken and Koblenz dealt with very different, often very specific ies at the regional level.
The "big" questions about the role of the sexes and the future of the family could not be put to a vote locally, in accordance with church law; they were debated in non-binding form in separate forums on the fringes of the synod. All the more extensively around the "small", decidable topics one wrestled. At the same time, during the synod of this old diocese with its many small parishes, it became clear, as if through a burning glass, what a break with tradition the Catholic Church has been going through for a generation, especially in western Germany.
Times of the people's church over
"Taking leave" and "paradigm shift" were two frequently used terms. They are meant to describe what every adult Catholic in this region has long felt: the times of the popular church, which still permeated society in villages and towns until the 1980s, determined festivals and traditions, shaped customs and morals – they are irretrievably over. The grandiose priestly ordinations in the cathedral, which sent 20 and more new pastors into the diocese every year, are also over.
Many of those who now shaped the debates of the Trier Synod as theologians and practitioners still come from these "strong vintages". The old dioceses in the west and south of Germany are still a step away from a real chaplaincy emergency, as is permanently known in most dioceses in the German east (or even in Latin America).
All the more urgent is the desire not to wait until after the impending crash to find a completely different, dynamic perspective. No one wants ever more sophisticated shortage management with even more complex parish conglomerates and stressed-out itinerant chaplains. The desire for a new beginning ran like a thread through the debates.
Farewell to small parish structures
With the painful farewell to the old small parish structures decided by the synod, an important step has been taken. The search for strong spiritual talents among clergy and laity (the paper speaks of "charism orientation") is promising, but cannot guarantee success so far. The same applies to the idea of seeing spiritual places like churches and monasteries in the future more like lighthouses on the open sea or like mountain huts in the high mountains – and not as headquarters for the comprehensive care of a pastoral territory.
Trier synod members struggled to name new perspectives and even harder to find terms that would be understood outside church circles. Nevertheless, the only German diocesan synod of this century to date has achieved something remarkable. Future synods can learn from this and perhaps do a few things better.