Hopeful German Catholics began on Sunday their two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process defending that “we have to do something … many people are leaving the Church”.

Driving the news

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, and Karin Kortmann, Vice-President of the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), lit together a symbolic Synodal Candle December 1 in the Munich Frauenkirche.

Marx explained in a sermon that the goal of the discussions to possible reforms on celibacy, power, sexual morality and women’s participation in the Church is to regain trust after the clergy sex abuse crisis.

“After the ghastly experience of discovering that clerical sexual abuse occurred in the Church, it is now crucial to examine systemic dangers like bad governance organisations. In order once again to become credible witnesses of joy and hope, we will have to remove certain obstacles”, Marx said.

For that to happen, the Church must become “not a closed system, not a citadel walled in on itself”, but the people of God who travel together and are open for new experiences, the cardinal explained.

ZdK Vice-President Kortmann emphasised that after three decades of various reform efforts in Germany “resilient results” must now be achieved with the synodal path.

“Renewal also starts with renewing structures”, the laywoman said, adding that she was expecting particularly intense debate on the questions of compulsory priestly celibacy and women’s ordination.

Cardinal Marx and ZdK President Thomas Sternberg later released a new video message for the synodal path in which they insisted: “Credibility is an absolute must and we want to regain it through self-critical discussion”.

Go deeper

“It certainly will not be easy”, Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer told the Augsburger Allgemeine in an interview December 2.

“I am sure that the German Church will be a different Church afterwards (after the procedure). It will be certainly be more participatory and more feminine”.

“In the Church, we can’t just go on like this”, Archbishop of Paderborn Hans-Josef Becker told faithful gathered in the cathedral Sunday for the synodal path inauguration there, adding that he couldn’t see any alternative to reforms.

Why it matters

Innsbruck University theology professor Christian Bauer told CNN what’s at stake in the synodal path process.

“How is power checked and balanced in the church, how can we go beyond the homophobic and misogynist church… all these are old issues, but they became urgent in a new way since the abuse crisis have started”, the academic explained.

Theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, Ulrich Lehner, added that the goal “the idea is that this is not just another forum where everyone just talks and no decisions are taken. At the end there will be a vote and the (result of the) vote will be given to the Holy See, to Pope Francis, to take further action”.

Having said that, Lehner is sceptical that the synodal path will change very much.

“The Church in Germany is in such a rapid decline that the Bishops really are like headless chickens, I’m sorry to use that image, but I think it’s true … they’re realizing that their entire system is collapsing, and they really don’t know how to address it”.

German Bishops’ Conference spokesman Matthias Kopp is more optimistic about the process, even if he scotches rumours it will amount to a national Church “revolution”.

“But, you know, if we stay here in our offices and we are doing nothing, I think that would be ridiculous… and there was, of course, a very hard discussion and of course, we are informing Rome, but we need this open space [for] discussions in Germany”, Kopp said.

“We have to do something”, the spokesman continued.

“Many people are leaving the Church because there is no trust in the Church; we have to give answers”

Kopp added that in the “early 21st century, we cannot work in the same way we worked maybe 30 years ago”.

What’s next

After the symbolic candle-lighting Sunday, the first synodal path assembly will take place from 30 January to 1 February 2020 in Frankfurt.

Some 230 synodal path delegates, from bishops to laypeople to outside experts, are expected to attend.

Next on Novena:

German Jesuit dismisses ‘synodal path’ schism talk as “politically motivated exaggeration”

German ‘synodal path’ leaders insist on need for “change and renewal” in Church

German bishop warns “truths of our faith cannot be rigid and immovable”