Participants at the start of the synodal assembly's deliberations © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
Criticism of principles, points of order, debates and votes – the first Catholic synodal assembly in Frankfurt began its work. There was talk of opportunities and orders, nervousness and cheerfulness could be felt.
The plenary assembly of the Synodal Way began Friday in Frankfurt's former Dominican monastery with prodding from internal critics. Three flaws in the reform experiment, which is unique in the world, were openly discussed in this context. But they did not cause the Synodal Way to break off before the substantive discussions began.
Instead, the committee, consisting of 230 clergy and lay people, continued its work to decide on appointments to the working groups ("forums"), which are to develop proposals on content until the next synodal assembly in the fall.
Soding speaks to opportunity and mission
One shortcoming of the Synodal Way was addressed in his introductory speech by Bochum theology professor Thomas Soding, who is one of the supporters of the reform dialogue. He acknowledged that the Synodal Way is moving on terrain not defined by church law, but at the same time sees it as an opportunity and a mandate.
He drew comparisons with the situation of early Christianity, when the apostle Paul sought to justify theologically his missionary task in Greece, which was pagan at the time. The Synodal Way must compensate for its ecclesiastical deficits with theological strength, was the message of the New Testament scholar.
Critical words from Bishop Voderholzer
The first critical intervention of the day came from Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg. He cast doubt on one of the most important foundations of the Synodal Way, stating that it had by no means been scientifically proven that Catholic sexual morality or priestly celibacy had led to the sexual abuse of minors by clergymen. Exactly this simplified connection is produced however in the public again and again. Voderholzer therefore called for comparative research with other areas of society.
Although some participants shared Voderholzer's fundamental criticism – he received applause from about a tenth of the participants – this did not lead to a bitter fundamental debate. Several speakers said changes in church practice are urgently needed even if the abuse scandal is understood only as a trigger of the church crisis and not as its cause. The fundamental need for further scientific study was nevertheless agreed to by most speakers.
Advance by city dean Picken
A group around Bonn's city dean Wolfgang Picken launched another initiative with fundamental criticism. They were concerned with the question of what rights those participants have who are neither members of the Bishops' Conference nor ZdK participants.
Their rights in the "forums" had not been clarified. These 60 or so "others" were named through various councils and associations. With their demand for a change in the statutes, they expressed a fundamental unease that goes far beyond this circle.
It results from the observation that the composition of the Synodal Way was determined in recent months by little transparent negotiations between the two major organizations, the Bishops' Conference and the ZdK. The move by the "independents" was not admitted as a motion because it challenged the current statute. However, it led to a commitment by the Executive Board to ensure greater transparency and balance in the composition of the forums.
Strengthening women's rights
In addition to fundamental criticism, the meeting addressed a number of motions to amend the Rules of Procedure. It adopted by a two-thirds majority two motions justified as strengthening women's rights: In the future, the conference presidium must always be composed of equal numbers of men and women. In addition, if a motion to that effect is made, a resolution of the meeting is considered adopted only if a majority of the participating women have approved it.
Despite the at times nervous debates on the rules of procedure, there was also much joviality and contemplative moments on the first day of the meeting. The latter was provided with meditative impulses by a spiritual companion duo consisting of the Jesuit priest Bernd Hagenkord and the theologian Maria Boxberg from the Community of Christian Life.