Groups representing more than 1.5 million German Catholics have reiterated the “urgent need for change” in the Church to reverse the institution’s “loss of credibility”.

– ‘Synodal Path’ renewal discussions “are absolutely essential”

“Constructive dialogue and debate on necessary reforms are absolutely essential” at this point in the life of the Church in order “to be able to rebuild trust” in the institution, the leaders of five of Germany’s largest Catholic organisations emphasised in a joint statement November 13.

The leaders of the German Catholic Youth Federation (BDKJ), the German Catholic Workers’ Movement (KAB), the German Catholic Women’s Association (KDFB), the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (kfd) and the German Kolping Society insisted on the need today for “an evangelisation which reaches people and conveys to them that the Good News and a life of faith can be enriching”.

But beyond the need for a new evangelisation broadly understood, the German Catholic groups referred to the necessity that the German Church continue unfailingly along its ‘Synodal Path’.

That’s the multi-year reform process it committed to in March 2019 in order to critically examine Church structures – including compulsory clerical celibacy, the marginalisation of women, strict sexual morality and the harsh exercise of power and authority – that likely contribute to clergy sex abuse.

– Coming to terms with “massive” amount of abuse cases requires “a new way of listening to one another and open dialogue”

As the groups recalled, in June 2019 Pope Francis wrote a letter to Catholics in Germany on the Synodal Path, in which he said he shared their “concerns for the future of the Church in Germany” and recognised that this “turning point in history” raises “new and old questions” on Church life “in the face of which a debate is justified and necessary”.

Far from the criticism of the Synodal Path that some in the Church have taken it to be, the German Catholic associations said the Pope’s letter rather contained “orienting and encouraging” motivation to work to make the Church “a strong spiritual and pastoral force which communicates the gospel into society and proclaims it in a credible way”.

That goal of the Pope’s “requires a spiritual orientation, theological expertise, a new way of listening to one another and open dialogue”, the groups added.

The Catholic groups recalled the spur that prompted the German Church to set out on the Synodal Path – the 2018 MHG Study by university researchers that found that 3,677 children and young people were abused by 1,670 clerics between 1946-2014.

The “massive” amount of cases of priestly pedophilia unearthed by the MHG Study underlines the “urgent need” for “structural changes and reforms” in the Church that must be “at the centre of the Synodal Path”, which now must also take account of “pandemic-related developments in Church life”, the associations underlined.

– Key lay body warns Church will not have future if it does not eliminate clericalism, exclusion of women and rigid sexual morality

The German Catholic groups closed their statement with a reminder that the more than 1.5 million believers they represent “expect” that the topics and questions raised by the findings of the MHG Study “will be seriously taken up, discussed and decided upon” in the Synodal Path.

For that reason, the associations recommitted themselves to the Synodal Path goals of reform, transparency and accountability, and urged participants to continue “with courage, strength, confidence and openness”.

“To those who have concerns and doubts, we call out: Trust that God’s Spirit is at work in the synodal assembly!”, the groups concluded.

The associations’ appeal for a fresh commitment to the Synodal Path came as Marc Frings – the secretary general of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the lay body organising the Synodal Path along with the German Bishops – warned that with the constant trickle of “ever-new” cases of abuse, “cover-ups and excuses”, the Church has spiralled into a “constant state of alert”.

“Conversion and renewal” can only become a reality if Synodal Path participants “climb into the engine room” and get their hands dirty with practical change, Frings insisted, urging that the Synodal Path not degenerate into just “another milestone in the history of failed renewal processes in the Catholic Church in Germany”.

Pleading that synodality “must be transformed into a permanent state” in the Church, the ZdK secretary general alerted:

“Without overcoming clericalism, an outdated understanding of access to the ordained ministry, the exclusion of women – without whose – often voluntary – commitment Church life in Germany would not function – and a synchronisation with today’s understanding of love, relationships and sexuality between people, the Church as an institution will have a hard time. It will do away with itself”.

More on Novena on the German Church’s ‘Synodal Path’:

Spiritual director of German Church’s ‘Synodal Path’ doubts Pope expressed “dramatic concern” over reform process

German Bishops’ head claps back at Cologne cardinal after he warned of danger of schism in ‘Synodal Path’ reform process

‘We Are Church’ Germany pleads for ‘Synodal Path’ reforms to continue despite COVID-19, “extremely irritating” Vatican parish instruction

German bishop comes out swinging against Vatican parish instruction, doubles-down on ‘Synodal Path’ as “answer to Roman challenge”


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