The German Bishops have voted by an overwhelmingly majority to continue along their “binding synodal path” of Church reform.
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“There are no stop signs from Rome for the synodal path, and we will therefore continue”, German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx told journalists at the conclusion of the Bishops’ Assembly in Fulda.
At the meeting, the German Bishops passed draft statutes for the synodal path “by a large majority that exceeded two thirds”, Marx said.
That was despite opposition to the statutes from Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the Archbishop of Cologne, and Rudolf Voderholzer, the Bishop of Regensburg.
Both bishops had argued that the synodal path’s planned discussions on reforms to the exercise of priestly power, priestly celibacy, sexual morality and the role of women don’t get to the heart of the crisis in the Church.
But Marx explained instead that after the vote on the statutes, “I asked a second question about whether we were determined to continue with the synodal path, and the answer was unanimously positive”.
That means that despite their personal objections, Woelki and Voderholzer voted in favour of continuing the process, so as not to impair the involvement of their flock in the synodal path.
“Let’s not forget that the bishop isn’t the same things as the diocese”, Marx explained.
“The conversations we’ve had in Fulda have been very positive, because here everyone talks to everyone”, Marx said.
“It is not about saying what you think in a forum or writing it in an article, without having to discuss it with anyone, but rather about working constructively with everyone”, he explained.
The cardinal returned to a criticism of the synodal path that has come up again and again: that with their reform process the German Bishops are separating themselves from the rest of the Church.
“There won’t be a ‘special German path’ without Rome on matters of relevance to the universal Church”, Marx said.
He added that the synodal path “is a common path of the Church in Germany… but a synodal process without reform is unthinkable”.
The cardinal said an important goal continues to be that of offering a contribution to the universal Church, particularly on “the gap between Church doctrine and real life”.
“That’s why we attach importance to dialogue and are sure that a synodal path as a spiritual process will help to reunite [faith and life] and send a powerful message as a Church to the public”, Marx said.
Marx told reporters that he is in regular contact with Vatican authorities and will keep them updated on the progress of the synodal path.
The cardinal added the now-approved statutes for the path will be sent to Rome “for information, not for approval”.
The start of the synodal path is currently scheduled for December.
But before the process can get underway, the German Bishops’ partner in the process – the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – must still approve the statutes approved by the Bishops.
That is considered a given, however.
ZdK President Thomas Sternberg welcomed the Bishops’ vote, and thanked the prelates for having been “resolutely committed to this common path in recent weeks and now in Fulda”.
Representatives of the Franciscan communities of the German-speaking countries also gave their support to the synodal path, saying that the path’s goals of a more fraternal Church were fully in line with Christ and the Gospel.
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At their assembly in Fulda, the German Bishops tackled two other key issues: compensations for victims of clergy abuse and care for the environment.
On the question of compensations, Marx said the Bishops were currently between two alternative models.
One model would provide indemnities of 300,000 euros across the board.
The other model would see payouts oscillate between 40,000 and 400,000 euros, depending on the severity of the survivor’s suffering.
The German Bishops will decide for one or the other model in coming weeks, Marx said.
On the question of care for the environment, Marx said the German Bishops had sent a letter to participants at the UN summit on climate action and sustainability this week in New York.
“Environmental and climate protection is a deeply Christian issue”, the cardinal explained.
“We have a responsibility to preserve Creation and not destroy our planet”.