The German Bishops’ head has said he will seek a world synod on issues such as the ordination of women and blessings for gay couples.
– “Whatever arises synodally must also be answered synodally”
In an interview to be published May 29 with the Publik Forum magazine, Bishop Georg Bätzing proposed a gathering of bishops in the Vatican to discuss the decisions made by the German Church in its ongoing ‘synodal path’ reform process.
Bätzing, the Bishop of Limburg, revealed he was “very much in favour of conveying to Rome the insights and decisions which we gather on the synodal path”.
Especially, he added, in terms of women and the ministry, which along with the separation of powers in the Church, sexual morality and priestly life today is one of the four topics for discussions in the synodal path forums.
“Whatever arises synodally must also be clarified and answered synodally”, Bätzing explained with regards to his idea of a global synod, adding that this principle of taking decisions collegially has been strengthened under Pope Francis.
– Demand for women priests “is there, in the middle of the Church”
Bätzing – who was the co-president of the synodal path forum on sexual morality before becoming Bishops’ Conference chairman – has made no secret of his desire to improve the lot of women in the Church, making that improvement a priority of his tenure immediately after assuming office in early March.
And although popes – most notably John Paul II and even Francis – have apparently shut the door to women’s ordination, according to Bätzing that doesn’t mean the debate on the issue is over.
The papal diktat that women priests are a “closed question… cannot mean that the question of the ordination of women is not discussed further”, Bätzing argued.
The German Bishops’ president cited as reasons for his call to keep discussing women’s ordination the fact that the demand for women priests “is there, in the middle of the Church”, as well as the fact that Church arguments against ordaining women are “in many cases no longer accepted”.
– Gay Catholics “suffer” from lack of Church recognition of their relationships
Bätzing is also known as a staunch defender of the rights of LGBT+ people, asking as recently as last month, for example: “If a gay couple lives with faithfulness, can’t we say their relationship is blessed by God?”
That concern for LGBT+ Catholics is also something the German Bishops’ chairman is also seeking to take to the Vatican for a possible future worldwide synod, since “quite a few” gay believers “suffer from the fact that their relationship does not receive full Church recognition”.
Like divorced and remarried Catholics – who are still too often excluded from ecclesial life – many gay faithful are waiting for a “sign” from the Church in the form of a blessing on their relationships, Bätzing acknowledged.
In his interview with Publik Forum, Bätzing also spoke to two issues that have been the subject of intense debate in the German Church over the past weeks and months: so-called Eucharistic hospitality between Catholic and Protestant churches, on the one hand, and the merging of Catholic parishes, on the other.
On the sharing of communion between Catholics and Protestants, the German Catholic Bishops’ president asserted that “Christians can decide with good arguments and according to their own conscience to take part in the Eucharist or Communion of the other denomination”.
That sharing is possible thanks to the great deal of agreement the Churches have come to over recent decades on the “meaning of what we believe and celebrate”, Bätzing explained.
With regard to parish mergers – which in the Trier diocese, for example, may see the number of Catholic communities reduced by 96% – Bätzing said he didn’t share the resentment over the proposal that has led, in Trier, to priests and laypeople complaining directly to Rome.
“The time of the Catholic milieu is over”, the German Bishops’ president declared, adding that secularisation may bring the unexpected benefits of ending “a focus on the priest, which I and many others no longer want”, and also, of new forms of ministry.
On that point of the Church’s ministry, Bätzing added that he has particularly appreciated the feedback from the faithful he has received on the quality of online Masses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People report back directly what they like and what they don’t like. We don’t know that otherwise!”, the bishop celebrated, taking the feedback as an impetus to change.
On the question of the quality of the liturgy, “there will be no relapse into the time before corona”, Bätzing promised.
– Synodal path swamped by COVID-19, ongoing scepticism
Like countless other things in Church and public and private life, the coronavirus crisis has wreaked havoc with the plans for the ‘synodal path’, with forum members now having to meet online instead of in person for talks ahead of the next synodal path assembly, which is still scheduled for September.
On top of the difficulties of COVID-19, synodal path delegates are also having to deal with the scepticism of large swathes of the Church in Germany and beyond.
That scepticism hit a new low May 28 with the announcement of Cologne auxiliary bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp that he was withdrawing from the forum on sexual morality.
Though he said he still wanted to contribute to the synodal path, Schwaderlapp alleged the “massive dissent” from Church teaching he had encountered in forum participants – whom he said were building their pushes to alter doctrine on “quicksand” – had made his continuing involvement in the group untenable.