The Synodal Way has been running for a year. A majority of participants want concrete resolutions to change the Catholic Church in Germany. Four forums play a key role.
Actually, a plenary meeting of the Synodal Way should have taken place now. Because of Corona, however, the highest body of the Catholic reform dialogue adjourned until the fall. Instead, at an online conference that ended Friday evening, the so-called forums gave insights into their work. The four working groups set the direction of travel on the Synodal Way on key ies: Power, priestly way of life, sexual morality and the role of women.
Basic long paper in the forum on power
The forum on the topic of power made the most progress, coming up with a long basic paper and three action texts. This is the name of those contributions that provide templates for concrete decisions. They deal with lay preaching, more transparency in financial matters and arbitration boards for conflicts.
The discussion focused on how power can be limited and controlled in a hierarchically structured institution. Because the Catholic Church is not democratically constituted, the term "synodal" is highly significant.
A distinction was made as to which questions could be clarified at the diocesan level, which at the national level, and which only at the global level. The topics were ecclesiastical labor law, the preaching order and the filling of leadership positions – all areas that have to do with power. In the calm and objective discussion, there was a consensus that the use of power must be transparent and that there must be a "guarantee of legal recourse" so that decisions can be reviewed.
Discussion in the women's forum
The women's forum, which like the forums on sexual morality and the priestly way of life, did not yet present any finished papers, was also objective. In several "hearings" in small groups, there was still considerable need for discussion, for example, on the question of the access of women to ecclesiastical ordination offices.
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, a representative of the conservative minority, stressed that from his point of view such a step would be incompatible with church teaching and biblical tradition. At the same time, he referred to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Council decision "Lumen gentium" distinguishes between the priesthood of service and the priesthood of all believers. This also shows that the priest's ministry is different in nature.
What the future life and education of Catholic priests should look like is also disputed at the relevant forum. In addition to radical demands such as the abolition of seminaries and celibacy, there are moderate reform proposals that advocate more cosmopolitan education and more possible exceptions to celibacy. Agreed that the loneliness of fewer priests is a major problem. But opinions already differ on the question of whether and how celibacy and sexual abuse are connected.
Divergent positions in forum on sexual morality
Also very different are the positions in the forum on sexual morality, where two papers circulated in advance. One focused on marriage between a man and a woman and magisterial texts on the subject. Covering the other end of the spectrum is a text that looks at "perspectives of trans, intersex and same-sex loving people".
During the debate, it became clear that, on the one hand, many Catholics expect the Church to speak more liberally about couple relationships, contraception and homosexuality. But at the same time, the opinion prevailed among the synod members that the church had already lost touch with the lifeworld of many people, especially young people.
How does it go on now? In the fall the synodal assembly wants to meet – it is still open whether physically or virtually. By then, if possible, all working groups should deliver drafts that are ready to be voted on. Among the participants of the dialogue there is a growing desire to reach concrete decisions.
Whether this is a realistic goal seems far from certain after the long online debate. Towards the end of the event, some participants said that the forums on the women's ie and the priestly existence in particular still needed additional moderation in order to achieve tangible results.