German synodal journey.

Both the blessing of same-sex unions and the sermons of the laity were given the green light. Rome is on the move

The raised finger from the Vatican only partially worked. The Church in Germany continues on its way.

Both the blessing of same-sex unions and the sermons of the laity were given the green light.  Rome is on the move

Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference Georg Bätzing and head of the Central Committee of German Catholics Irme Stetterová-Karpová on March 9, 2023, in Frankfurt. 

Pope Francis received a “gift” from Germany on the tenth anniversary of his pontificate. Over the weekend, the local church finished the fifth and last session of the so-called German synodal journey (different from the worldwide synod on synodality), which has been causing controversy and controversy for the past three years.

Pope Francis also addressed the German Synod critically and ironically, saying that there is a very good evangelical church in Germany and we don’t need two.

The reform of the Catholic Church in Germany from Thursday to Saturday in Frankfurt am Main by 210 delegates, including German bishops and representatives of the Central Committee of German Catholics and other delegates appointed by these bodies. About 20 foreign observers were also present at the conference center.

The leaders of the process are the Bishop of Limburg and the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, and the Chairman of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp.

The assembly voted on several sensitive issues, and although it did not cross the “red line” that was clearly defined by the Vatican in the area of ​​approving the so-called synodal council, some other agreed steps are clear proof that the German Catholics did not back down. Vice versa.

As reported by the Austrian Catholic agency Kathpress, the synodal assembly in Frankfurt spoke in favor of the Pope re-examining the mandatory celibacy of priests. In other topics, the assembly decided on specific reforms for the area of ​​the German Bishops’ Conference.

For example, women and non-ordained men should be able to preach at Catholic services in the future. Blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples were given the green light, and in the church, the behavior of people who consider themselves transgender or who do not consider themselves male or female should be more respected.

It was also decided to further tighten the standards for dealing with perpetrators of sexual abuse and for the prevention of such crimes.

The last text adopted was a vote calling for the opening of the diaconate to women throughout the Catholic Church.

Blessing of homosexual unions: opposed by nine out of 58 bishops

Delegates in Frankfurt approved that the Catholic Church in Germany will officially bless the unions of same-sex couples from March 2026.

According to the DPA agency, out of 202 members of the synodal assembly, 176 voted for the proposal, 14 were against and 12 abstained. The necessary two-thirds majority was thus achieved, while according to the participants, a clear distinction must be made between blessing and marriage. The liturgical format of the ceremony with the participation of the bishops is to be worked out in three years from the time the change takes effect.

Only nine out of 58 bishops were against the proposal, while 11 bishops abstained. During the discussion, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt, and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, a close friend of the late Pope Benedict XVI, spoke.

Members of the KFD group, which represents Catholic women in Germany, protest before the start of the fifth synod session in Frankfurt am Main. They demand equal rights for women in the Catholic Church. 

Bishop Bonny and other bishops in Belgium introduced the blessing of same-sex couples as early as September 2022. The bishop of Antwerp told synod delegates in Frankfurt that during the Belgian bishops’ ad limina visit in November 2022, Pope Francis neither approved nor rejected the blessing, but said he was going for the pastoral domain of the Flemish bishops, as long as they are all united.

The Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith declared in 2021 that the blessing of homosexual partnerships is not permitted.

Five reasons why the church cannot bless a homosexual union

How to understand the latest position of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which once again caused stormy reactions in the world.

Transgender resolution: seven bishops against

The other approved text is titled Addressing Gender Diversity and was approved with the support of 96 percent of the 197 voting delegates. It was also supported by 38 bishops and only seven members of the episcopate were against it. Thirteen bishops abstained from voting.

The approved material calls for “specific improvements for intersex and transsexual believers,” including changing baptismal records to match a person’s self-determined gender, banning gender identity in pastoral roles, and mandatory training for priests and church staff to “deal with the topic of gender diversity’.

The text also prohibits “external sexual characteristics” from being used as a criterion for “accepting a man as a candidate for the priesthood,” which could open the door to attempts to ordain women.

Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports that during the debate, a minority of bishops spoke out against the measure, stressing that the church should improve its pastoral care for people who identify as transgender.

Auxiliary Bishop Stefan Zekorn of the Bistum Münster diocese said he could not support a text based on gender ideology, while Paso Bishop Stefen Oster said the document did not emphasize that a Christian’s primary identity should be rooted in Jesus Christ.

According to Julianna Eckstein, professor of theology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, the book of Genesis is an insufficient basis for the questions of sexual anthropology.

And Viola Kohlberger, a young woman from Augsburg, told the audience that there is no “norm” for gender and that the tradition of the Catholic Church is holding back progress. “And I would like to break it today,” she said.

When the vote on the transgender resolution passed, delegates stood and applauded, while some hoisted rainbow flags, the German news agency CNA added.

Lay people can preach, celibacy is to be “reconsidered” by the Pope

Only ten of the 58 bishops voted against the measure, which calls on German bishops to promote the issue of women’s sacramental ordination at the continental and universal level of the church.

The proposal adopted by the assembly replaced the call to establish a “sacramental diaconate of women” with a call to “open the sacramental diaconate to women”. According to the CNA, the difference clearly shows that the German synodal path promotes the inclusion of women in already existing sacraments, an idea that the church has repeatedly affirmed as impossible.

People living in same-sex unions, as well as those who left the church, will be able to work for church organizations in Germany.

Delegates in Frankfurt also adopted another proposal that adjusted priorities regarding the all-male priesthood and called for the practice to simply be reviewed at the universal level of the church, rather than ended.

Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the proposal was necessary to “reach consensus” for changes in the church’s dogmatic teaching on the priesthood.

Several female delegates were seen in tears after the vote, saddened that the text did not more explicitly require that priests be also women. “Discrimination against someone because of their gender must end in the Catholic Church,” CNA quoted delegate Susanne Schumacher-Godemann as saying.

In the adopted text entitled Proclaiming the Gospel to the Laity in Word and Sacrament, the Frankfurt Assembly states that bishops “entrust pastoral workers with preaching during the Eucharistic celebration” as part of their ecclesiastical mission “so that they can exercise their preaching ministry officially and in the name of the church”.

In the future, lay people – women and men – should be able to preach at Catholic services.

The “German Synod” also approved a measure asking Pope Francis to “reevaluate the connection between the granting of priestly ordinations and the obligation to observe celibacy.”

The measure was supported by 44 out of 60 bishops, eleven abstained and only five members of the episcopate voted against it.

The warning from the Vatican took effect. Partially

In addition to agreeing on the aforementioned controversial issues, the German assembly did not cross the “red line” defined by the Vatican.

It is about the establishment of the so-called synodal councils at the national, diocesan, and parishlevelsl. According to the Vatican, such a model of synodal councils, which includes the joint management of the church by bishops and lay people, is not by Catholic ecclesiology.

As NCR explains, in the German proposal the laity could even override the bishop, or the bishops at the national level, with a two-thirds majority.

Even before the synod meeting in Frankfurt, the church in Germany received a kind of warning. Apostolic Nuncio Nikola Eterović reminded German pastors at the plenary meeting of bishops in Dresden (which preceded the Frankfurt event) that they are not authorized to establish synodal councils.

Subsequently, the president of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Bätzing, wrote a letter to the three curial cardinals – Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith Luis Ladario, and Prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops Marc Ouellet. They wrote to Germany back in January, and Bätzing assures them in his reply that the German bishops take the “concerns” of the Holy See seriously.

At the same time, he states that as soon as possible after the synodal meeting in Frankfurt, he wants to go to Rome to talk about the dispute about the “German synodal road”. As reported by the Italian ACI Stampa, in a letter to the cardinals, the bishop of Limburg spoke about the project, which could last for another three years.

Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop of Limburg Georg Bätzing at the opening press conference in Frankfurt. 

Georg Bätzing thus takes his time on this controversial topic of the synodal council. The raised finger of the Vatican may have made sense since the delegates in Frankfurt did not approve the creation of synodal councils, but took another step towards an “unauthorized” body or bodies.

The so-called the synodal committee, which in the next three years is supposed to work on the preparation of the establishment of a permanent synodal council at the national level, elected twenty members – 19 laymen and one auxiliary bishop. They will join the 27 bishops and 27 members of the Central Committee of German Catholics who are already active in the synodal committee.

Bätzing is satisfied, but Stetter-Karp wanted more

The president of the bishops’ conference, Georg Bätzing, said at the final press conference in Frankfurt that the results give the bishops a mandate to make some changes in Germany now while pushing for broader reforms. “The church is visibly changing, and that’s important,” Bätzing said.

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetterová-Karpová, said that the results show that the synodal journey in Germany will continue.

“It doesn’t end here. It’s just the beginning,” she said, according to Kathpress, admitting that she wished for more. According to her, it was not possible to “really change the structure of the Catholic Church in Germany”. At the same time, however, she emphasized that this is a great success and that all-important decision-making issues are now on the table.

According to her, another success is the new culture of discussion. She also expressed the hope that further changes and reforms will take place.

The session was also accompanied by demonstrations in front of the hall. Some activists demanded equal rights for women in the church, and others warned with banners of “heresy and schism”, writes Kathpress.

According to the NCR,  none of the measures taken on the synodal road have a binding effect in German dioceses without being implemented by the local ordinary.

But observers believe the measures are likely to be introduced in most dioceses, in some cases because bishops support them, while in others because of intense pressure on bishops from church staff, Catholic media, or even other bishops.

In 2026, the next synodal assembly is to discuss whether and how the resolutions have been implemented.

This time a public vote.

The “German synodal journey” is criticized from various sides. For example, during the event in Frankfurt, the former personal secretary of Pope Benedict XVI gave an interview with the Augsburger Allgemeine. Archbishop Georg Gänswein.

“If the synodal path continues with the declared goals unchanged, the Roman Catholic Church in Germany will say goodbye to the unity of the universal church,” explained Gänswein.

He pointed to the ad limin visit of the German bishops in Rome last November, as well as to the mentioned letter of the three cardinals, which Pope Francis, according to him, “expressly approved”. According to Gänswein, this letter made it very clear what “it was about”. However, the majority of German bishops do not want to perceive this.

A different view of synodality, sexual morality or the consecration of women.  What about the Vatican?

Critics from among the bishops blocked changes to sexual morality, but subsequently, a text was adopted on the revision of the teaching on homosexuality.NCR and  CNA Deutsch, which belong to the same media house EWTN, also criticized the voting method. They point to the rejection of a secret ballot by the leadership of the bishops’ conference and the synodal presidency, as agreed in the statutes after the ballot failed for a blocking minority of bishops.

Namely, at the previous synodal assembly in September last year, the text on changes in sexual morality narrowly failed to pass, when 22 out of 55 bishops voted against it. IForthe text was to be accepted, not only two-thirds of the members present but also two-thirds of the bishops present would have to vote for it, according to the statutes of the synodal journey.

In response, the organizers changed the procedural rules to make voting public, which has continued even now in the fifth assembly.

On the website of the Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, after the weekend, a comment with the headline ” Failed party conference ” appeared. In the text, the gathering in Frankfurt is referred to as an emotionally charged and not very argumentatively successful party conference, where the fight was fought partly by unfair means.

“The delegates staggered from compromise to compromise under great time pressure. Tears, accusations, and invocations replaced valid arguments. Some bishops felt blackmailed. The minority of bishops faithful to the Magisterium sometimes seemed to be outright resigned,” writes Die Tagespost in a comment.

Indeed, only a significant minority of bishops opposed the controversial material. In some votes, nine German shepherds were against it, in other times seven. There were only three German bishops who voted against all problematic proposals from last week’s so-called synodal journey.

We will see what Rome will say about these facts.

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2 Responses to German synodal journey.

  1. JasonQuipt says:

    very interesting, but nothing sensible

  2. Peter Prochac says:

    Thank you for your message.

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