A leading German woman theologian has warned of the danger of the Church falling into “oblivion” without reform.

Driving the news

“Something has got to happen, otherwise there is the danger that in a few years time, the Church, at least as an institution, will sink into oblivion”, 42-year-old professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Erfurt, Julia Knop, told the German Bishops’ website katholisch.de.

“The pressure for reform is enormous, the reform backlog is huge and the Church’s loss of credibility due to the abuse crisis is massive”, the academic explained.

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As well as being a theology professor, Knop is also a participant in the German Church’s ‘synodal path’.

That’s the two-year reform process launched at the beginning of this month designed to look at possible changes to the Church’s practice around the exercise of power and authority, celibacy and the priestly way of life, the role of women and sexual morality.

But Knop lamented that the synodal path is already suffering from serious limitations so soon after getting underway.

The synodal way assembly is “far too strongly clerically stamped” with half of its members either priests or bishops, the theologian deplored, while the number of women delegates is “embarrassingly small”.

“But above all, possibly the most important group of persons who stand at the threshold of Church and society, namely the religious instruction teachers, have been left out altogether”, Knop decried.

She also denounced the paucity of scientific experts and the total absence of clerical sex abuse survivors in the make-up of the assembly.

Why it matters

Knop said she has not been bothered by the controversy the synodal path has attracted, either from some of the bishops and faithful opposed to the process in Germany and around the world or from the heart of the Vatican itself.

“On the contrary. We in the Church must learn to resolve conflicts honestly and discuss problems in a results-oriented manner”, the theologian insisted, dismissing the negative judgments.

However, Knop was herself critical of one particular aspect of the synodal path: the fact that its resolutions will have “no legal effect of their own accord”, in accordance with Vatican wishes that the German Church keep in step with the rest of worldwide Catholicism.

“It would have been more credible if the bishops had committed themselves to put the decisions that were arrived at into practice”, Knop lamented.

“This would have been possible as the synodal procedure is a sui generis process, but individual bishops or the bishops’ conference can naturally still rectify that”, she explained.

What’s next

Knop said that despite the “safety measures” of making the final synodal path resolutions non-binding, she is confident that by the end of the two-year reform process, the Vatican and the rest of the universal Church will have to sit up and take notice of what’s decided in Germany.

“My hope is that we learn to carry out and resolve conflicts; that the bishops’ solidarity with the faithful will grow; that the sensus fidelium will achieve structural significance; and that majority decisions, as a legitimate form of synodal decision-making, will attain weight in the Catholic Church”, the theologian explained.

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