This Thursday marks the beginning of the long-awaited Synodal Way, which was met with both great hopes and fears in the run-up to the event. What is at stake? Where could the way lead? Where not?
Of the 30. January to 1. The 230 members of the synodal assembly met in Frankfurt/Main on February 3 to define the content of the reform dialogue in the Catholic Church in Germany. One goal of the two-year initiative, which has never been seen before in this form in the Catholic Church, is to regain trust lost not least as a result of the abuse scandal. "One can expect priests, bishops and lay people to think together about how we go into the future in this difficult time of upheaval and crisis," says Cardinal Reinhard Marx (Munich), president of the Bishops' Conference (DBK), in an interview with the diocesan newspapers. He emphasizes: "We do not want to reinvent the church. But we have to recognize what is necessary and possible and then do it. We can't dodge the ie and gloss over the situation." (Overview of the program)
The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, is "quite sure" that at the end of the dialogue there could be a different constitution of the church. He is not sure, however, "whether this will be a uniform process throughout the world. In our latitudes, the comprehensive rule of bishops will decline and, at least for the questions of the social form of the church, a stronger democratization will take hold.".
Concern about overburdening
Shortly before the first synodal assembly, which includes, among others, the 69 local and auxiliary bishops from the 27 dioceses as well as 69 delegates of the ZdK and which is the highest decision-making body of the Synodal Way, the presidium has received more than 1.000 submissions from Catholics before. Topics in it are, in addition to the four priorities that have been set – sexual morality, the priestly way of life, power and the division of powers, and women in the Church – also questions about ever-larger parishes, about contemporary pastoral care, or about the Church and environmental protection, as Sternberg explains in the KNA interview. "We have to see that we don't overload the synodal way. That is why we will not be able to discuss many things now. But the submissions show how great the prere to reform is among many Catholic believers," Sternberg said.
In the end, Cardinal Marx hopes for "greater unanimity and motivation, greater clarity as to how we should proceed". It is important to talk to each other, to listen to each other and to be attentive. "Opinions can also change," said the DBK president, and where no common path is found, "we can let it stand that unanimity is not yet possible.". ZdK President Sternberg defends the Synodal Way against criticism. These voices should not be overestimated. Sternberg: "We are in a historically remarkable situation. (…) Now, with Pope Francis, we have someone who is stirring things up and initiating discussions."The project is not about a special German path. He also praised the "very trusting cooperation" with the bishops, which had not been possible in this way a few years ago.
Woelki wants a new orientation to Christ
The Archbishop of Cologne, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, one of those in the episcopate who are rather skeptical about the Synodal Way, says in an interview with "Herder Korrespondenz" (February) that he is now engaging in the process "in all openness". It is good to struggle honestly with each other for a way into the future. This also included controversies.
From his point of view, it should be above all about a new "evangelization" and a "reorientation to Christ". "We must learn again to live from the Word of God and from the sacraments. We must also reacquaint ourselves with the tradition and teaching of the Church."
An important goal is to help shape society on the basis of the Christian faith. In addition, Woelki recalled that each diocesan bishop is free to decide whether and how to implement the deliberations and resolutions of the Synodal Way in his diocese: "I feel completely free here, committed only to my conscience and the faith of the whole Church." Resolutions of the synodal assembly, it says in the statutes of the Synodal Way, "do not of themselves have legal effect". The "authority of the Bishops' Conference and the individual diocesan bishops" to ie legal norms and exercise their teaching office within the scope of their respective competence remains "unaffected by the resolutions".
Voderholzer: "Wrong accents"
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg) sees the wrong accents in the debate: "We are circling around ourselves."Symptomatic of this is that "the talk of the vocation of the laity is exclusively about the question of participation, of involvement in the ministry of bishops and priests". This tendency has been evident since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and was reinforced by the Wurzburg Synod (1971-1975). Voderholzer describes the decline of lived faith practice and the dwindling knowledge of the message of the Bible as the greatest challenge. Some see a way out in adapting elements of the Catholic profile in the spiritual ministry and the view of the coexistence of men and women to the majority opinion of society. But he does not believe "that this will result in a more lively church, a more intimate practice of faith, a deeper love for Jesus.".
Bishop Franz Jung (Wurzburg) urges patience. The Synodal Way is "first of all about forming an opinion of the church in Germany". It is still open, it said, "which decision-making latitude will be granted to individual local churches and how much regional diversity Catholic unity can tolerate, and whether there could be different speeds on the way to a renewed church.". His brother bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen) hopes for a "new departure". The Synodal Way, it says, must be linked to a consent to "become smaller and humbler as a church". He sees a need for discussion on the topics of power in the church, which needs to be controlled, and celibacy, which is a heavy burden for many priests. In addition, they said, it was no longer acceptable to many people to keep women out of the most important offices of the church.