After three and a half years, German Catholics completed their synodal path reform process on Saturday. Both the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) came to a predominantly positive conclusion.
"A great weight fell from my heart," said DBK chairman Georg Bätzing after the conclusion of the fifth and last synodal assembly in Frankfurt am Main. "The synodal path worked - despite all the crunching and despite all the prophecies of doom. (...) We haven't been able to decide everything yet, but the course has been set." You can see that the Catholic Church is capable of change. It is abstruse to regard the synodal path as the beginning of a split or path to a German national church.
Irme Stetter-Karp, President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the representative of the laity, was a little more cautious. The synodal path has led to a new culture of discussion, she praised. It is also a great success that all topics are now openly on the table.
However, she also admitted: "Without a doubt, I would have wished for more. (...) We have not managed to really change the structure of the Catholic Church in Germany. Three and a half years were not enough.” That is why a synodal committee is to prepare a synodal council over the next three years, in which clergy and lay people will continue to make decisions together in the future. One problem, however, is that the Vatican is very critical of such a body.
A moment of excitement came on Saturday when both the synodal assembly as a whole and the bishops adopted a text dealing with gender diversity by a large majority. 170 of the 197 members present voted in favour, eight voted against and 19 abstained. The bishops voted 38 in favour, seven against and 13 abstentions. This resulted in the required two-thirds majority of the bishops, which was necessary for all decisions.
Numerous delegates applauded the result standing, some waving rainbow flags. "My high, high respect for this Bishops' Conference," said the nun Katharina Kluitmann.
The adoption of a text on women in sacramental ministries was greeted with a storm. But there were also tears, because for many things progress is much too slow. 177 synod members voted in favor of the text with 12 votes against and 13 abstentions. A priestly ordination for women, however, is still a long way off: The text is about opening up the diaconate for women and this in the sense of an advocacy in dialogue within the universal church. Only the Pope can make the final decision on this.
In the past few days, the synodal assembly had already passed several reform projects. With a large majority, she decided to introduce official blessing ceremonies for homosexual couples in the near future. So far, such celebrations have taken place in a gray area in terms of canon law.
The synodal assembly also decided to strengthen lay skills – for example, women should be allowed to preach in church services. However, many reform-oriented members of the synodal assembly criticized the fact that draft resolutions had been "watered down" and "softened" several times by the bishops.
The Catholic Women's Community in Germany announced that it had mixed feelings about the last Synodal Assembly.
As successes, Stetter-Karp mentioned that women will be allowed to preach in the future and that the pope should be asked to examine compulsory celibacy for priests. But there is a fundamental need for reform, warned the lay representative. "This church cannot remain as it is."
A small group of opponents of reform demonstrated on Saturday in front of the Frankfurt Trade Fair, where the meeting took place. Under the motto "No to heresy and schism" she demanded Bätzing's resignation. A priest wearing a biretta, a headgear that is no longer common among Catholic clergy, prayed in front of a statue of Mary while banners called for a turning away from renewal processes.