Self-confident and demanding – this is how the ZdK, the highest body of German lay Catholicism, is likely to position itself on reforms in the church. Nearly 230 members will deliberate at the spring plenary meeting in Mainz.
Now the Catholic “laity” have their say. After the German bishops, under the impression of the abuse scandal, formulated their ideas on reforms in Lingen in March, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) meets for its spring plenary session on 10. and 11. May in Mainz.
The 230 delegates want to take a position on the “synodal way” announced by the bishops, in which power reduction, celibacy and sexual morality are also ies. So far, the Catholic Committee had expressed itself rather cautiously on this ie. For many details of this path, which is designed by the bishops as a joint discussion process of clergy and laity, are still open.
At plenary session, ZdK will decide whether and how to participate. ZdK press spokesman Theodor Bolzenius names some criteria for this: This process must take place “on an equal footing, transparently and with a focus on results”. ZdK President Thomas Sternberg, who has been in office since 2015, had already emphasized in recent weeks that he sees a “real will to reform” among most German bishops. But he also warned of “frustration” if concrete decisions are not made. “People want to see reform now,” he said.
Women's diaconate and “viri probati
Sternberg advocates the admission of women to the diaconate and of "viri probati," i.e., of married men who have proven themselves, to the priesthood – which would partially relax mandatory celibacy for priests. The church in Germany must make full use of its leeway, Sternberg said. It will set the tone for the Mainz conference with its "Report on the Situation.
"Women in church offices" is also "Top 7" on the agenda of the ZdK plenary, which is made up of 94 women and 133 men. They come mainly from Catholic associations and diocesan councils, but there are also more than 40 elected individuals from politics and society in the plenary assembly.
In Mainz, ZdK members are also likely to make a clearly audible demand for "legitimized lay participation" in church committees from the diocesan to the federal level – for example, for committees on church finances or pastoral care reform. It is eagerly awaited what the Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hebe, in his function as "Spiritual Assistant to the ZdK", will report on the consultations in the Bishops' Conference on the "synodal way".
Europe in the spotlight
Sternberg has already described the introduction of administrative jurisdiction in the church in Germany as an important step on the way to overcoming clericalism. The President of the Federal Administrative Court, Klaus Rennert, will speak about this in Mainz. In the view of the ZdK, there must be a possibility of legal action in the case of decisions by church administrations. According to Bolzenius, this also involves cases in which the "Nihil obstat," the ecclesiastical declaration of no objection, is denied to Catholic theology professors by the diocesan bishop.
The ZdK Plenary Assembly also discusses the situation in Europe. After a keynote speech by Rhineland-Palatinate's Minister-President Malu Dreyer (SPD), a call for the European elections is to be decided on. This should focus on strengthening a democratic Europe.
Move possibly 2021 or 2022
On 10. A decision by the plenary assembly on whether the ZdK General Secretariat, which has been based in Bonn since the 1950s, should move to Berlin is also expected on May 1. A large majority of the ZdK main committee has already voted in favor of a complete move to Berlin, by 18 votes to 4. The removal would not take place immediately, there is talk of the end of 2021 or 2022. It is also expected that the ZdK, as the responsible organizer, will decide that the 103. German Catholic Congress to be held in Erfurt in 2024.
As period is the 29. May to 2. June 2024 planned. Even if the Catholic "laity" do not hold an ordained office in the church – this does not shake their self-confidence. ZdK spokesman Bolzenius says: "We are not amateurs. In terms of faith, we are all professionals."