Germany rejects Vatican criticism of its synodal path

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Bonn/Vatican City (KNA) The Vatican has warned Catholics in Germany against any unilateral action for reform. The reform project of the Synodal Path initiated by the bishops and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) representing the laity “does not have the ability to oblige the bishops and the faithful to assume new forms of governance and new approaches of doctrine and morals,” See said in a statement released Thursday.

The Synodal Presidium rejected the criticism. “We will not tire of emphasizing that the Church in Germany will not follow a ‘special German path,'” she said in a joint statement by the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, and the President of the ZdK, Irme Stetter-Karp. . This was also indicated in the statutes of the Synodal Way, they added.

“Nevertheless, we consider it our duty to make it clear where we believe changes are needed. In doing so, we already feel that the problems and questions we name are similar all over the world,” said the two presidents of the consultations on the future of the Church in Germany launched in 2019.

The Vatican said “it is to be hoped that the proposals for the path of the particular Churches in Germany will converge on the synodal path taken by the universal Church.”

The statement surprised many observers. It is not yet clear who is responsible for this, but it refers to earlier statements by Pope Francis.

“We see it as our duty to make it clear where we believe change is needed. By doing so, we already feel that the issues and issues we name are similar around the world.”

Baetzing and Stetter-Karp emphasized that they would of course “contribute to the synodal process of the universal Church with the experiences and results of the Synodal Way.” At the same time, they complained of a lack of communication with Vatican leaders. “Since the beginning of the Synodal Way, we have endeavored on the part of the presidium to find direct lines of communication with the Roman authorities,” they said. This would resolve the open questions. “Unfortunately, the Synodal Presidium has not been invited to a discussion to date.”

In the Synodal Way, bishops and lay representatives focus on issues of power, priesthood and sexual morality, as well as the role of women in the Church. Topics include a reassessment of homosexuality, the division of power in the church, and lay participation in church decision-making processes.

The process was sparked by the crisis of confidence in the church following the abuse scandal. The project met with mixed reactions in Germany and abroad. While progressive Catholics welcome the reform proposals, there have also been criticisms. More recently, several cardinals, as well as open letters from bishops around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe, America and the southern hemisphere, have expressed concern about a possible schism following German demands for reform.

The professional association of pastoral assistants and the progressive group “Wir sind Kirche” (We are the Church) echoed criticism of the Vatican’s position. The Catholic initiative “Neuer Weg” (New Way) welcomed the statement, saying the church in Germany was called to “stop its own special ways and focus on the global synodal process”.

The Catholic initiative “Neuer Weg” (New Way) welcomed the statement, saying the church in Germany was called to “stop its own special ways and focus on the global synodal process”.

Theologian Julia Knop, who teaches in the eastern German city of Erfurt, said the Vatican’s concerns were unfounded: She said no one considered themselves entitled to “do alone in the affairs of the national Church which require the agreement of the universal Church”.

ZdK Vice President Thomas Soeding said there was no reason to end the synodal path. He told the Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper that the project “does not claim a mandate for doctrinal changes”. He added, “But where things get stuck, for example in sexual ethics, there are positions that need to be discussed and decided by the universal Church.” He said he hoped those positions would be heard. The changes were late. “Rome wants more involvement from local churches – so the headquarters must also enable local initiatives,” Soeding added. All proposals for church leadership reform were fully consistent with Church law.

Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg welcomed the Vatican document. “I think it is good that the Holy See has decided to make this statement,” he said. “First of all, it shows that Rome is very interested in what is happening in Germany. The risk for the unit is virulent. He added that the Vatican had clearly stated that the paths taken by different countries and dioceses should be integrated into the global synodal process. “I can only welcome this as a supporter of the universal Church and also as a bishop of the universal Church.” The Bavarian bishop added that the Vatican is not holding back the synodal path but “trying to channel it and have it enriched by the universal Church”.

Bonn city dean Wolfgang Picken also welcomed Rome’s statement. “It was necessary to point out the limits of the synodal path in Germany and to contradict the self-understanding of some synodal members,” he said.

Bernhard Anuth, an expert on church law, said he was not surprised by the Vatican’s statement. He said the document only clarified what was in the statutes of the synodal path. On issues that concern the Church worldwide, “every resolution can only be a request to the pope,” Anuth said Friday. “However, many statements by prominent representatives of the synodal way could be understood, and probably have been, as if Germany is currently pursuing concrete structural reforms and changes in Church doctrine.”

The Roman statement “should reassure all Catholics around the world who watch the synodal journey with concern, while among Germans filled with hopes of reform, the disappointment to be expected has come only a little more early,” Anuth said.

The Synodal Assembly, supreme authority of the Synodal Way, will meet again in September to take the first decisions. Knop, Soeding and Picken are members of the Synodal Assembly, which also includes Bishop Meier. It will also discuss the ordination of women and a shift in Catholic sexual morality. This includes calls for the blessing of same-sex partnerships.

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