German “synodal path” extended to 2023 as assembly abruptly ends after votes on sexual morality and priesthood


The German Catholic Church’s ‘synodal path’ will be extended until 2023 after its plenary session ended abruptly on Saturday following votes in favor of a text endorsing homosexual blessings and a discussion on the need to the priesthood.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, and Thomas Sternberg, president of the Lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), announced the extension on October 2, at the end of the second synodal assembly in Frankfurt, in southwestern Germany. , reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The Synod assembly is the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Path, a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main themes: how power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The synodal path, launched on December 1, 2019, was originally scheduled to end in October 2021, but was extended until February 2022 due to the pandemic. The latest extension means the controversial process will take more than three years.

The Church in Germany is facing an exodus of Catholics following a crisis of clergy abuse. More than 220,000 people officially left the Church in 2020. Only 5.9% of German Catholics attended Mass last year, up from 9.1% in 2019.

The synod assembly ended earlier than expected on Saturday afternoon after Bätzing asked organizers to count whether the meeting had a quorum of 154 attendees after many left early.

They determined that there were only 149 participants, five less than the two-thirds majority required for a quorum.

CNA Deutsch reported that the decision to suspend proceedings was met with disbelief among attendees at the assembly, which was plagued by technical issues.

Speaking at the closing press conference, Bätzing said he saw the sudden end as a “learning moment” which he hoped would sharpen participants’ awareness that the Synod Path was entering a period. “important phase”.

The synod assembly consists of 230 participants, including the German bishops, 69 members of the Zdk and representatives from other parts of the Church in Germany.

During the three days of meeting, they discussed 12 of the 16 texts of the four synodal forums, as well as two founding documents: a preamble and a theological orientation text.

On October 1, 168 participants out of a total of 214 voted in favor of a document challenging the Church’s traditional teaching on sexual morality after its first reading.

The text of Synod Forum IV on “Living in Successful Relationships” calls for the development of blessings for same-sex couples.

CNA Deutsch reported that the forum’s chair, Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, argued that the assessment of sexuality should in future start “from the person”, rather than from natural law.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said in March that the Church does not have “the power to bless same-sex unions,” describing its reasoning in an explanatory note and a accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, released with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops have expressed support for the blessings of same-sex couples, while churches have displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors have signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

Priests and pastoral workers in Germany organized a day of protest in May during which they held blessing ceremonies in the presence of same-sex couples.

On September 30, the opening day of the synod assembly, participants voted by a narrow majority of 95 to 94 to discuss “whether the priesthood is really necessary,” CNA Deutsch reported.

But during the closing press conference, Bätzing criticized media reports suggesting that the Synodal Way would debate the “abolition” of the priesthood.

“No one can say that the German Church is going to do away with the priesthood. This is not true, ”he insisted, arguing that the vote instead gave the synodal priesthood forum the mandate to“ positively recall the reasoning once again why and where the position of the priestly ministry lies. in the midst of the people of God ”.

While the synod assembly voted to discuss the need for the priesthood, the intricate procedures of the synodal path mean that it is not clear whether there will be a formal debate on the subject.

As the Synodal Path approaches, the German bishops’ conference clashed at the Vatican after initially suggesting that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes – raising fears in Rome that the resolutions would call into question the Church teaching and discipline.

CNA Deutsch noted that the bishops of Germany will have no obligation to implement the resolutions of the Synodal Way in their dioceses.

He added that it remained uncertain how Pope Francis and the Vatican would respond to direct challenges to Church teaching.

Pope Francis expressed his concerns about the Synodal Way in an interview with Spanish radio station COPE broadcast on September 1.

When asked if the initiative had given him sleepless nights, the Pope recalled that he had written a detailed letter expressing “how much I feel for the German Synod”.

Responding to the interviewer’s comment that the Church had faced comparable challenges in the past, he said, “Yes, but I wouldn’t be too tragic either. There is no ill will in many bishops with whom I have spoken.

“It is a pastoral desire, but which perhaps does not take into account certain things which I explain in the letter and which must be taken into account.”

Bätzing said the documents discussed at the synod assembly were “not just texts, but dreams put into words about how we want to change the Church in Germany: a participatory, gender-equitable and walking with the people “.

“Here, we have shown that we listen to each other in calm work and in a good and objective debate. Here in Frankfurt, the texts have been improved. Now it is the task of the forums to further develop the models so that they are ready for adoption next time, ”he explained.

“The forums have a mandate to continue working. We are waiting for the content to be brought to the third synodal assembly and we think we still need a good little time, ”he added.

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