The coronavirus won’t stop the German ‘synodal path’ reform process, its organisers have promised.
– “New answers” and “new priorities”
Georg Bätzing and Thomas Sternberg – the presidents, respectively, of the German Bishops’ Conference and the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – wrote a letter April 21 to the 230 members of the ‘synodal path’ assembly, along with the dialogue’s advisors and observers, confirming that the next assembly meeting will take place in Frankfurt am Main, as planned, from September 3-5 this year.
That’s in spite of the coronavirus threat, Bätzing and Sternberg wrote, which – even if it hasn’t derailed the date of the next synodal path assembly – will still make its presence felt in discussions there.
“In view of the coronavirus pandemic and the associated change in conditions, we as believers and the Church are not only challenged to give new answers to existential questions in the light of the gospel, but also to set other priorities”, Bätzing and Sternberg said.
Aware “that the forums and the various organs of the Synodal Path cannot continue their agenda without being affected by this crisis of unprecedented proportions”, the bishop and the layman suggested to assembly members “that we take note of the many developments in ecclesial life in recent weeks, reflect on them in light of the concerns of the Synodal Path and take advantage of the momentum for further thematic work”.
The two German Church leaders continued saying that “because the Synodal Path has as its main objective to make possible the proclamation of the Gospel, [it] therefore also has its relevance in the challenges of these weeks”.
“We want to set aside time at the second Synod Assembly to reflect and discuss the current situation and the many changes it will bring to the life of the Church”, Bätzing and Sternberg explained.
“The coronavirus crisis adds a new dimension to our themes, which retain all their meaning”, they concluded.
– Signs of reform on accountability, place of women despite COVID-19
Those “themes” the synodal path reform process has set for itself are fourfold: possible revisions to the exercise of power and authority in the Church, the place of women, celibacy and the priestly way of life and Catholic sexual morality.
And although the coronavirus has dominated Church life in Germany for at least the past month, there have been movements on reform fronts, too.
On the one hand, and on the question of clergy accountability in particular, for example, Catholic reform group ‘We Are Church Germany’ called at the weekend on bishops to “clearly show signs of financial solidarity” with people on the margins of society.
The German prelates should give the money the Church receives from the State – up to 550 million euros annually – to causes such as homeless and disabled facilities, soup kitchens, women’s shelters and counselling centres so as to prove the Church’s rhetoric of solidarity, humanity and charity is not empty words, ‘We Are Church’ insisted.
In terms of the place of women in the Church, on the other hand, theologian and vice-president of the German Association of Catholic Women (KFD), Agnes Wuckelt, criticised April 14 the Church’s reliance on streamed Masses during the coronavirus pandemic and said “all church members should be found in streamed services, including women – and not just bishops or priests”.
“Women are doing what they always do at the moment. They live the diaconal side of the liturgy… [which] is not visible in a livestream”, Wuckelt went on, referring to the dominant role of women in the care professions.
The theologian said that “the coronavirus crisis questions a lot on a practical level”, and asked, for example: “Is the ordained priest needed for the vitality of the Church?”
“At the moment [priests] are quite lonely without people at the altar”, Wuckelt reflected.
“A living church shows what happens on the diaconal, charitable side, where women are particularly involved. We have to take this forward with confidence”, she insisted.
“For example, by taking up the bishops’ proposals and celebrating liturgy with each other in house churches as a house community”, the theologian explained.
“And then there is the question of the Eucharist. Isn’t eating together in a house church that shares the gospel and prays together not also the Eucharist? How important is consecration for keeping the Church alive?”
The COVID-19 pandemic reveals “how women can help shape the Church even without ordination”, Wuckelt concluded.