The President of Germany’s lay Catholics has said the “synodal path” of the German Church has relevance for worldwide Catholicism.

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“The process of the synodal path serves the entire Church”, Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) President Thomas Sternberg said Friday in an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse.

The German layman was speaking after the German Bishops voted to adopt statutes for the synodal path.

The reform process, scheduled to start in December, will focus on possible changes to four key areas: the exercise of power in the Church, sexual morality, mandatory celibacy, and the role of women in the Church.


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Sternberg welcomed the Bishops’ vote on the statutes, which still need to be approved by the ZdK before the synodal path can begin.

The layman added that debates on reform are a way for the Church to climb out of the crisis in which it finds itself.

The Church has to “deal seriously with the loss of credibility that reaches into down into its core communities”, Sternberg said.

“It’s about rebuilding trust in order to evangelise believably: it’s about how we convince people that it’s enriching to believe”.

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The intrigue

Sternberg had strong words for the Cardinal of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, and for the Bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer.

Woelki and Voderholzer both leaked their votes against the synodal path statutes while discussions at the Bishops’ Assembly were still continuing.

Sternberg said it was “astonishing” that the two prelates’ minority opposing votes got publicity “through their own self-disclosure” on the eve of the Bishops’ ballot.

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Why it matters

Sternberg rejected the accusation that the synodal path is an excuse for the German Church to separate itself off from the rest of Catholicism.

To that effect, the layman excluded the prospect of a “national special path” for the German Church.

But he also warned that “things that have to be regulated globally in a global Church must also be brought to the table and discussed”.

The intense media interest the synodal path has attracted thus far, Sternberg added, is evidence that Catholics in other places are also looking for reforms to Church authority structures, sexual morality, compulsory priestly celibacy and the marginalisation of women.

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What’s next

In conversation with the Passauer Neue Presse, Sternberg also commented on another key resolution of the Bishops’ Assembly: that of providing financial compensation to clergy sex abuse victims.

The German Bishops are yet to decide on a definitive compensation scheme.

But one model under discussion could see 3,000 survivors receive the sum of 300,000 euros each, meaning the German Church could conceivably have to pay out a total of 900 million euros in redress.

Sternberg said he was “not happy” about this sum of money being discussed, and looked forward to further “intensive discussions” on the matter.

Beyond justice for survivors, he said his concern was how the Church uses the financial contributions of the faithful.

“The fundamental question must be asked as to whether contributions of the faithful to the institution can be used for compensation payments not intended by them”, Sternberg explained.

“We must discuss these exorbitant figures in a much larger context”, the layman said.

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