The leaders of the German Church’s controversial ‘synodal path’ have insisted on the need for “change and renewal” in the Church.

Driving the news

German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx and lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) President Thomas Sternberg published a letter to Catholics November 27 ahead of the start of the synodal path this Sunday December 1.

In that letter, Marx and Sternberg promised that the two-year synodal path reform process will be “a path of change and renewal serving to venture a departure in the light of the Gospel, talking about the importance of faith and the Church in our time and finding answers to pressing questions of the Church”.

“For we must admit self-critically: the message of the Gospel has been obscured and even terribly damaged”, the synodal path presidents admitted.

“We are thinking especially of the sexual abuse of children and young people. We have to take the consequences and make sure that the Church is a safe place”.

Go deeper

To tackle the fall-out from the clergy sex abuse crisis is exactly why the synodal path process was convened.

That was after a Church-mandated investigation leaked in 2018 revealed that 3,677 children in Germany were sexually abused by 1,670 Catholic priests and religious over the course of seven decades.

But the planned synodal path discussions on celibacy and the priestly way of life, power and participation in the Church, Catholic sexual morality and the place of women in Catholicism have attracted criticism worldwide and even from the Vatican, which tried to thwart the debate.

Nonetheless, Marx and Sternberg in their latest letter insisted that “to proclaim the faith anew requires that we have a discussion especially on topics that impede the [Gospel] proclamation, if they are not clarified”.

That’s why, along with inviting committed Catholics to the debates, the synodal path presidents also reached out especially to those people who “have difficulties with faith and the Church, who have lost confidence or are on the way as seekers”.

“We invite you to follow this Synodal Path in freedom and diversity. In so doing, we rely on the involvement of all those who are committed to a living faith in our Church”, Marx and Sternberg wrote.

Why it matters

“On the Synodal Path we would like to improve the conditions to be able to credibly fulfill” the task of proclaiming the Gospel, Marx and Sternberg continued.

“It is an open path which should lead to decisions and votes directed at the responsible church officials”.

The synodal path presidents pointed to Pope Francis’ June letter to the German Church in order to encourage in the synodal path “a candid response to the present situation” of extreme lack of confidence in the Church over the sex abuse scandals.

The Pope “called upon us to preserve the unity of the whole Church and to shape the synodal process from the bottom up”, Marx and Sternberg recalled.

“He has encouraged us to embrace the ‘primacy of evangelization’ and to combine the spiritual dimension of the Synodal Path with the structural challenges”.

What’s next

Marx and Sternberg concluded their letter with invitation to participate in the reform process not only with prayers but also with comments on the synodal path website.

“Only in the solidarity of the many who, in different ways, wish to promote the mission of the Church, in respect for one another and in listening to God’s Word, will it be possible to renew the life of the Church and overcome obstacles”, Marx and Sternberg said.

“Only together we are Church, also together with the Universal Church! Only together can we witness to the Gospel! Let us walk this path of change and renewal together!”

To officially mark the beginning of the synodal path, Cardinal Marx and ZdK vice-president Karin Kortmann will light a symbolic candle in Munich’s Frauenkirche December 1, the first Sunday of Advent.

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