The relief was palpable this Saturday, March 11, in Frankfurt. The fifth and final session of the synodal path – a reform process launched three years ago by the country’s laity and Catholic authorities in response to the sexual abuse scandal – ended with a positive outcome. Admittedly, the debates were sometimes stormy and, more surprisingly, the bishops were called to order by Mgr Georg Bätzing, president of the episcopal conference, asking them not to block, at the last minute, the result of three years of work. In the end, however, almost all of the texts presented were approved by the synodal assembly and by two-thirds of the bishops.
More attention to intersex and transgender people
One of the key measures concerns blessings for “couples who love each other”, whether they are divorced-remarried or of the same sex. Disciplinary sanctions against pastoral agents who organize such celebrations can now be lifted. If the practice is already current in some dioceses and will remain at the discretion of the bishops, it could soon become a reality throughout the country. 81% of the bishops approved this measure.
German synodal path: sensitive themes on the program of a final session
Another central measure, long applauded by the participants, the Catholic Church in Germany says it wants to pay more attention to intersex and transgender people. Like the diocese of Freiburg, a pioneer in the matter, it will now be possible, when baptizing children whose gender identity is not clear, to omit the corresponding mention in the register of baptisms or to use the term “miscellaneous” here. Transgender Catholics should also be able to change their marital status and first names in the baptism register.
A text in favor of the diaconate of women
The synodal assembly also approved texts requiring the approval of Pope Francis. The synodal path asks him in particular to authorize women to preach during a Eucharistic celebration and to re-examine the link between ministerial functions and the obligation of celibacy. At the end of an emotional debate, on Saturday March 11, the participants also approved a text in favor of the diaconate of women and called on the German bishops to commit themselves on the subject in Rome. The question of their ordination has, on the other hand, been postponed, at the request of certain bishops. “The diaconate for women is long overdue,” said Gebhard Fürst, Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, citing in particular the Synod of Würzburg which had requested it in 1974.
“Faced with the specter of schism, the Church of Germany in confusion”
If the criticisms expressed in recent weeks by the Pope and by certain cardinals on this reform process – Pope Francis has called it “elitist” – have of course hovered over these debates, they have not stopped its dynamics. Thus the synodal council, approved in September but very criticized by Rome, should see the light of day. During this session in Frankfurt, the members of the committee in charge of its creation were thus elected.
“The synodal path has worked. It’s not a paper tiger”, said Bishop Georg Bätzing at the end of a process which, in three years, adopted 15 reform texts. “It does not lead to a division of the Church or the creation of a national Church,” he added, calling the “headwinds” a “reaction to the spiritual force” of this process.
“Do not respond in a bureaucratic manner”
Less enthusiastic, Irme Stetter Karp, president of the Central Committee of Catholics and co-president of this reform process, welcomes a “new culture of dialogue” but regrets that “a small group of bishops has prevented a structural change in the Church “. On all the texts debated over three years, resistance came almost systematically from Bavarian dioceses, such as those of Regensburg, Passau and Augsburg, as well as from the dioceses of Cologne and Münster.
Synodal path: the Vatican cautious in the face of a very wealthy German Church
It remains to implement the decisions applicable directly in the dioceses, such as the blessings of same-sex couples. For those requiring the approval of the Pope, a new process begins which, according to Bishop Georg Bätzing, “will take time”. The president of the episcopal conference, however, called on the Vatican authorities to “not respond in a bureaucratic manner” but through an “open and synodal process”. “The themes that we have discussed here are not purely German but are taken up by the universal Church”, recalls the bishop of Limburg, who wants more than ever to bring these questions to the level of the world synod.
Leave a Reply