Picture: © Privat/KNA
Other senior pastors stayed away from the first meeting

Synodal committee launched - four bishops do not take part

Essen - A synodal committee is to advance the debate on possible reforms in the Church in Germany. Bishops and laypeople want to discuss structures for further steps. However, not all bishops are going down this path.

Published  on 10.11.2023 at 17:00  – 

The Synodal Committee has begun its work as the next step on the path to more reforms in the Catholic Church in Germany. The Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said at the start in Essen on Friday: "While the plenary meetings of the Synodal Path served to reach agreement on substantive issues, the Synodal Committee is focussing on procedural questions."

At the two-day meeting of bishops and laypeople, the statutes and rules of procedure for the committee are to be adopted. Its main task is to prepare a Synodal Council by March 2026 at the latest, with the declared aim of continuing discussions on the key topics of power, the role of women, sexual morality and the priestly way of life.

Bätzing explained that Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne) and Bishops Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Stefan Oster (Passau) and Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg) had cancelled their participation in the Synodal Committee as a matter of principle. "I regret that the cancellations mean that important impulses will not be discussed here, which makes us poorer here. But all the canvassing and bridges that were tried to be built were not successful," said Bätzing.

Other bishops not present

Due to other important scheduling commitments, the (arch)bishops Stephan Burger (Freiburg), Stefan Heße (Hamburg), Bertram Meier (Augsburg) and Heiner Wilmer (Hildesheim) are also unable to attend in Essen. The Synodal Committee nominally comprises the 27 local bishops, 27 representatives of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and a further 20 members elected by the Synodal Way's plenary assembly.

ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp said at the start of the meeting: "The euphoria of the beginning has faded and we are realising how difficult it is to establish the necessary structural and habitual changes in our church." In view of the challenges of recent months, she can "only regretfully recognise that we are too slow in the eyes of those who are leaving the church".

Bild: ©Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

"The euphoria of the beginning has evaporated," said ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp.

At the same time, she emphasised: "The Church needs further synodal progress." The deliberations of the Synod on Synodality in Rome in October had also made this abundantly clear. She also recalled the origins of the Synodal Path: the commitment of the German bishops to those affected by sexual abuse to consistently continue on the path of reappraisal and clarification.

Vatican against Synodal Council

The Vatican has repeatedly spoken out against the establishment of a Synodal Council as a governing body of bishops and laypeople. It sees the danger that this would unduly restrict the authority of the bishops. Referring to this, the Maria 1.0 group has now labelled the Synodal Committee an "illegitimate body".

The "We are Church" initiative, on the other hand, emphasised that the World Synod convened by Pope Francis had instead shown that the synodal path in Germany was not a special path, but had done important groundwork. The four bishops who refused to participate in the committee were causing "incalculable damage" to their dioceses and the entire Catholic Church in Germany.

With regard to the as yet unclear financing of the Synodal Committee, Bätzing said that four dioceses had prepared the foundation of an association in which the 23 dioceses wishing to provide money for the committee would pool their resources. A resolution in favour of joint funding by all dioceses had failed due to the opposition of Bishops Woelki, Hanke, Oster and Voderholzer. (KNA)