A German bishop is shaking his head at the “loud, loveless and terrifyingly excessive criticism” of the national Church’s “synodal path” reform process as path working groups meet today for the first time.

– Bishop of Mainz: “In conflicts in the Church, we should never see each other as enemies”

“In all conflicts in the Church, we should never see other people as enemies, let alone treat them that way”, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz wrote in a reflection for the March 1st edition of the diocesan newspaper Glaube und Leben (“Faith and Life”).

“It is no consolation to me that such polarisation is a phenomenon of our society as a whole”, admitted the bishop.

He called on all Catholics to “set a good example when it comes to living unity in diversity and coming together in a good way in all controversies”.

Kohlgraf said that need for a “good example” in terms of peaceful co-existence in disagreement was especially incumbent on bishops, among whom there have been no shortage of critics of the synodal path.

If bishops can’t live together in their differences, “we can hardly expect it from the believers, and certainly not with forefinger raised from society as a whole”, the bishop warned.

Kohlgraf’s latest comments were likely motivated not just by the naysaying on the synodal path from the likes of Germans cardinals Gerhard Müller or Rainer Maria Woelki.

They are also likely a response to the latest ultraconservative attempts to derail the synodal path reform process, which is aiming at nothing more than to prevent a repeat of the clergy sex abuse crisis by changing abuse-aiding Church structures.

February 26 a group of some twenty German Catholics launched a “Call to Resistance Against the Synodal Path”, in which they accused synodal path promoters of “wanting to Protestantize the Catholic Church”.

– Bishop of Magdeburg: “Sinister structures that favour abuse of power need to be reformed”

In terms of the first synodal path assembly in Frankfurt last month, Kohlgraf rated that encounter highly, saying “you can express contrary positions without losing respect for one another and the faith of the other – I think this has largely been achieved”.

Another German bishop reaffirming today his support for the synodal path was Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg.

In a Lenten pastoral letter to be read out this weekend at churches in the diocese, Feige recognised that “if there are sinister structures [in the Church] that obscure the Gospel, for example, through abuse of power, then such structures… need to be reformed. This is a deeply spiritual process”.

The bishop said he trusted the Holy Spirit was at work in the “signs of the times” in the Church’s search on the synodal path “for a realistic sexual ethic, in the search for convincing ideas and forms of priestly life, in the question of how women can bring in their charisms and how Church life can be shaped in a more communal way”.

– Bishop of Erfurt: “The contemporary communication of the Catholic vision of sexuality must be reconsidered”

Also joining Feige in his support for the synodal path was Bishop of Erfurt Ulrich Neymeyr, who in his own Lenten letter recalled the synodal path’s origins in the clergy sex abuse scandals.

“Those responsible have often not followed up accusations carefully enough because they did not believe the victims or because the priests and the Church were more important to them”, Neymeyr acknowledged in his letter.

“This forces us bishops to think about how we handle our responsibility and how it is controlled”, he added.

Neymeyr pointed to the “blatant contradiction between the worst sexual offenses that have been committed [by clergy] and the demanding sexual morality” of the Church as evidence that “the contemporary communication of the Catholic vision of sexuality must be reconsidered”.

– Working groups meeting today

Bishops Kohlgraf, Feige and Neymeyr’s support for the synodal path came as two of the four path working groups were due to meet behind closed doors for the first time this Thursday.

Each of the four synodal path working groups – on power in the Church, celibacy and the priestly way of life, sexual morality and the role of women – are composed of 35 members led by a bishop and a layperson.

It is expected that at their meetings today the working groups will agree on procedural matters before getting down to the debates and the conclusions they will present to the next synodal path assembly in Frankfurt in September.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.