German Catholics ask bishops to reconsider Synodal Way plans

The cross of the German “Synodal Way.” / Credit: Maximilian von Lachner/Synodaler Weg

CNA Newsroom, Feb 15, 2024 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Ahead of a high-stakes gathering of the German bishops next Monday, a lay group warned the prelates of moving “further and further away from the people of God” on their Synodal Way and its plan to establish a Synodal Council.

The German bishops are expected to discuss — and possibly vote on — the statutes for a Synodal Committee during their spring plenary assembly, which takes place Feb. 19–22 in Augsburg. 

The initiative “Neuer Anfang” (“New Beginning”), a group critical of the Synodal Way, on Thursday asked bishops to reconsider — and reminded them that Pope Francis and the Vatican have repeatedly intervened against the process and plans for a permanent body to oversee the Church in Germany. 

In their open letter published Feb. 15, the German Catholics also called on bishops to accept that the very foundations on which the Synodal Way’s controversial demands are based were “made of sand”: The claim that there was an allegedly “Catholic-specific dimension of sexual abuse” had been disproven by the Protestant abuse study. 

Given this lack of legitimacy and questionable premise, the Neuer Anfang argued, bishops should rather tackle the real challenges facing the Church in Germany. 

“Do you still realize that you, as courageous shepherds and bold leaders, are urgently needed somewhere else?” asked the signatories: publisher and author Bernhard Meuser, former participant in the Synodal Way Dorothea Schmidt, and theologian Martin Brüske.

“The country is facing a demographic, economic, and social catastrophe.” 

What is more, they added, the Catholic Church in Germany had “lost its spiritual substance, its intellectual relevance, and its prophetic luminosity.”

The letter warned bishops of wasting energy “in an unworthy tussle” with the co-organizers of the Synodal Way, the Central Committee of German Catholics, ZdK, since the inception of the process in 2019. 

The ZdK already approved the committee’s statutes on Nov. 25, 2023.

Pope Francis directly criticized the work of the preparatory committee. In a private letter, he described the committee as one of “numerous steps being taken by significant segments” of the Church in Germany “that threaten to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church’s common path.”

In January 2023, the Vatican asserted “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”

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