A German bishop has warned that the Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process must succeed or else Catholicism in the country “will become a sect”.
– “We can’t keep saying that everything the Church has said so far is enough to answer new questions”
Bishop of Aachen Helmut Dieser was speaking in a webinar June 10 with members of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), the umbrella organisation for German Catholic youth movements.
In that event, Dieser – who heads the synodal path forum charged with discussing possible changes to Catholic doctrine on sexual morality – said “our forum and the synodal path must be a success”, and that what was needed as a result of the talks were brave decisions on the part of the Church that would break into secularised society and meet people where they are.
At stake in the Church’s response to the ever-changing affective and sexual identities of modern society is nothing less than the institution’s credibility, Dieser warned. And for that reason, he said, it is necessary that the Church speaks openly about sexuality, and in the first place, in the mouths of priests in the pulpit.
If priests don’t preach openly on sex for fear of resistance or of a conflict of loyalties, the bishop said, “this is an identification of the problem we have to solve”.
But Dieser warned that “we can’t solve it just by saying that everything the Church has said so far is enough to answer the new questions”, and urged his fellow bishops and priests to have the courage not to shut down discussions with appeals to the same old answers but instead to at least listen to the doubts first.
Having said that, Dieser was cautious in terms of the synodal path approving one of the most-sought after changes to sexual morality that has arisen with a new intensity in the context of the reform discussions: that of the Church permitting official blessings for gay couples.
“If in the end we push the blessings through with pressure, I believe that this would lead to divisions”, the bishop warned, adding that even despite that caution he wouldn’t fully rule out the possibility of gay blessings being approved.
For him personally, Dieser said a satisfactory outcome to the synodal path discussions would be the recognition that relationships outside of marriage are not a sin but instead an expression of love between two human beings.
– Young Catholics pushing for gay blessings, women priests
The coronavirus crisis has provoked a certain stalling of the synodal path discussions, and has pushed back the date of the next synodal path general assembly from September 2020 to February 2021.
As a response to that interruption, the BDKJ youth federation – which represents the 660,000 young German Catholics who belong to 17 youth organisations around the country – has decided to organise a series of online discussion groups on aspects of the reform process, which along with revisions to sexual morality is also considering changes to the exercise of power and authority in the Church, to compulsory priestly celibacy and to the place of women in the institution.
Bishops such as Dieser but also Franz-Josef Overbeck of the diocese or Franz-Josef Bode of the diocese of Osnabrück will hear directly the demands of young people for the synodal path, which BDKJ federal president Katharina Norpoth said include gay blessings, an overhaul of sexual morality and the ordination of women to the priesthood.
The synodal path is the German Bishops’ response to a 2014-2018 university study that found that 3,677 children and juveniles fell victim to sexual abuse perpetrated by 1,670 clerics between 1946 and 2014. The German prelates are organising the path in conjunction with the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) and outside experts from various discplines in an attempt to ensure the reform of Church structures that facilitated, and facilitate, that kind of abuse.