Senior pastors look to the future after talks in the Vatican

Meeting with the Curia: A victory on points for the German bishops

Bonn - What is the next step in the dialogue on the future of the Church in Germany? The German bishops have now discussed this with high-ranking representatives of the Curia in the Vatican. However, some things remain unresolved.

Published  on 23.03.2024 at 16:13  – by Joachim Heinz (KNA)

In the latest joint press release from the Holy See and the German Bishops' Conference, the photo is particularly striking. It shows 14 priests, bishops and cardinals, the spokesperson of the Bishops' Conference, Matthias Kopp. And on the far left, Beate Gilles, Secretary General of the Bishops' Conference. A group picture with a lady - which also illustrates how women's participation in the Catholic Church is organised. This is precisely one of the things that the Synodal Path launched by the German bishops and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) wanted to change in 2019.

In the course of the initiative, however, differences became apparent between reformers and preservationists among Catholic laypeople and bishops alike. There were also disagreements between the German bishops and the Vatican. The Vatican repeatedly criticised the synodal path, sometimes clearly, and urged the bishops to maintain unity with the Church. The chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Georg Bätzing, in turn, repeatedly complained that, despite all efforts, there had been no real dialogue with those responsible in the Vatican.

On Friday, the Bishop of Limburg had the opportunity to do so. The German delegation also included his brother bishops Bertram Meier (Augsburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen), Michael Gerber (Fulda) and Stephan Ackermann (Trier). The five cardinals Victor Fernandez, Kurt Koch, Pietro Parolin, Robert Prevost and Arthur Roche as well as Archbishop Filippo Iannone took part on behalf of the Vatican."The meeting, which lasted the entire day, was characterised by a positive and constructive atmosphere," it was said afterwards.

Bild: ©Synodaler Weg/Ewelina Sowa

The constituent meeting of the Synodal Committee in Essen in November 2023.

What this means in concrete terms for the progress of the reform debate in Germany, however, remained unclear. "Differences and points of agreement" have been identified and a "regular exchange between the representatives of the German Bishops' Conference and the Holy See on the further work of the Synodal Path and the Synodal Committee has been agreed". The Vatican had strong reservations about the Synodal Committee in particular. The committee is to continue the work of the Synodal Path and prepare the establishment of a Synodal Council in which bishops and laity can jointly discuss and decide on important issues within the Church in Germany.

This had been rejected by the Roman Curia. The Vatican sees this as a possible violation of general church law and the doctrine of the church as a hierarchy in which the bishops and the Pope have the final and sole responsibility. The fact that the Synodal Committee is now mentioned in a joint document of the German bishops and the Holy See can certainly be seen by the bishops as a victory on points. At the same time, however, the declaration states that the committee and all other "forms of synodality" must be submitted to the Holy See for approval.

The bottom line is that both sides are saving face, at least on the outside. For the time being, the Vatican has given the green light for further work in the Synodal Committee. There should not be much standing in the way of the foundation of an association to finance this work. Nor should the adoption of the statutes of the Synodal Committee by the Permanent Council of Bishops, which is scheduled for mid-April. On 14 and 15 June, the committee will probably meet for its second meeting in Mainz as planned. However, everything that is decided there in terms of content is subject to Roman reservation. A further meeting between bishops and Vatican representatives is scheduled before the summer break.

by Joachim Heinz (KNA)