Dhe decisions on central questions of the Catholic Church in Germany are to be made in the medium term in a new governing body made up of bishops and lay people. As a resolution of the General Assembly of the “Synodal Way” reform project shows, the so-called “Synodal Council” is to be an “advisory and decision-making body” that is to make “fundamental decisions of supradiocesan importance on pastoral planning, future questions and budgetary matters of the church”. not be decided at the diocesan level.
Over the next three years, a so-called “Synodal Committee” is to decide on the organization of the work of this body and on the demarcation from the tasks of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), the Association of German Diocese (VDD) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). condition.
Similar to the plenary assembly of the “Synodal Path”, this should represent all status groups in the church and start its work in the coming year. By the year 2026, the committee is also to decide on all those basic and action texts that will not have been finally discussed by the end of the “Synodal Path” next spring.
“Inner attitude of critical ability”
The draft resolution originally said that not only the Synodal Council, but the Synodal Committee should be the central advisory and decision-making body of the Catholic Church in Germany. Massive resistance to this proposal from among the bishops led to the passage in question being replaced by a completely different description of the task.
Since Saturday noon it has been said that the Synodal Committee should seek an “understanding of the concept of synodality as a basic practice of the Church”. As a “basic requirement of synodality” he should also “develop synodal structures, a synodal culture of togetherness and an inner attitude of critical ability and the joint search for a sustainable consensus”.
The composition of the Synodal Committee was also changed in the course of the deliberations. It was originally intended to include the 27 diocesan bishops, an equal number of people elected by the ZdK, and ten other elected people who would be elected jointly by bishops and ZdK delegates. In the course of the deliberations, the number of members to be elected jointly was doubled to 20. This is to ensure that gender and generational equity is better taken into account.
Episcopal constitution not at risk
The stipulation that the Synodal Council – similar to the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany – should meet in public remained unchanged. The ZdK has been doing this for a long time, the bishops’ conference has always refused to advise in the public eye. Whether the Synodal Committee will also meet in public is not clear from the resolution.
In the detailed discussion that preceded the vote, extremely contradictory assessments of the importance of the new governing body became clear. Several women religious pointed out that common deliberation and decision-making had been practiced in their organizations for centuries and that synodality was thus deeply Catholic. The Frankfurt theology professor Bernhard Emunds spoke of a “small cultural revolution” without endangering the “bishop’s constitution” of the Catholic Church.
This view was shared by the overwhelming majority of bishops. Several speakers, including Munich Archbishop Reinhard Cardinal Marx, referred not only to positive experiences with joint consultations in the dioceses, but also to Pope Francis, who is known to want a “chiesa sinodale”.
The fact that the Vatican had made it clear in July in an unauthored text “to safeguard the freedom of the people of God and the exercise of the episcopal office” that the synodal path in Germany was not authorized to allow bishops and believers “to accept new forms of leadership”.
Instead, a vanishing minority of bishops and lay people once again rallied behind Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg. To justify his rejection of the synodal committee or synodal council, he took Pope Francis at his word that an evangelical church in Germany would be enough. The Bishop of Aachen Helmut Ders spoke as evidence of the applause for many bishops, priests and lay people when he stated in the plenum with disappointment: “We need the conservatives. But they don’t do their job well enough.”