The Bishop of Mainz has defended the German Church’s “binding synodal way” against the criticisms – of cardinals and others – that the process could lead to splits in the national and universal Church.

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Earlier this week, Cologne Cardinal Rainer Woelki expressed doubts that the synodal path the German Church has been planning since March this year to examine issues arising out of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Woelki said the synodal way slated to begin in December – essentially, a grassroots consultation process with laypeople and non-Church experts – could lead to “a German national Church”.

Layman Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), poured cold water on Woelki’s concerns, and said “there has never been talk of treading a German special way as a national Church”.

Sternberg added that the synodal discussions on clerical celibacy, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, clerical power and the role of women in the Church were necessary to stall the “unrest” among even the “most loyal” of the faithful, now impatient for reforms.


Key German layman defends “synodal process” from cardinal’s schism warnings

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Without mentioning Woelki or any other of the sceptics by name, Mainz Bishop Peter Kohlgraf agreed with Sternberg Saturday that talk of the Church’s future cannot be stopped.

“That will not work any longer”, Kohlgraf said.

A German “special way” might not be a good idea, the bishop admitted, but neither is making the Church “a museum in which we want to keep beautiful memorabilia of the past, only to occasionally dust it off”.

The decision to set off on a synodal way “was not made for fun”, Kohlgraf recalled, but against the backdrop of the “serious crimes” of priests who abused children.

These crimes and their cover-ups – along with the abuse of power and the inability of the Church to perceive reality – mean the Church is “in need of cleansing” before being able to preach again to society, the bishop warned.

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