An Austrian theologian has taken heart from the German “synodal path”, suggesting a similar Church reform process for his own country.

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The Austrian Catholic Church also needs a “synodal process that resolves internal reform blocks and resolutely follows a path of self-evangelization”, Innsbruck pastoral theologian Christian Bauer wrote February 4 on, a theology website, three days after the first synodal assembly wrapped up in Frankfurt, Germany.

Bauer praised the openness and honesty between bishops, priests and laypeople that prevailed in the German Church dialogue in Frankfurt, and said a similar “process of synodal self-cleaning” would also be a good thing in the neighbouring country.

“Here too, the motto is: Dare more synodality!”, the theologian explained.

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Not only did the 230 lay and ordained representatives at the first German synodal assembly examine the “horror of the structural sin of sexual or spiritual abuse of power within the Church”, but they did so “without a ban on discussion, supported by mutual respect and at a noticeable ‘eye level'”, as the German saying goes, Bauer said.

The theologian continued that the German Church is setting an example in the “move away from a clerical to a synodal frame of ecclesiastical practice” desired by none other than Pope Francis.

The Pope is leading the Church to “repentance from structures contrary to the Gospel” and towards self-evangelisation, said Bauer.

That much with an eye to “Church reform as a witness to the Gospel”, and with the goal of overcoming “male or clerical rule” to create a “truly participatory, diversity-friendly, post-clerical and gender-sensitive Church” that overcomes the power structures that facilitate abuse, the theologian explained.

What’s next

Bauer said that an “Austrian synodal path” would not only prevent the “tribalisation” of the Church in the country, but would also recover the sense of what “Catholic” – “universal” – “literally means”.

For that task, it’s vital, said the theologian, that theology leaves its ivory tower of the study, lecture hall or seminar room to explore hitherto unfamiliar territory, much as Bauer himself has done with a theology series posted on YouTube.

And indeed, an “Austrian synodal path” may come sooner than one might think, with the Austrian Catholic Laity Council slated to discuss the topic of “synodality” in an assembly in Vienna in early March.

Austrian Laity Council President Wolfgang Rank was present as an observer at the first German synodal assembly in Frankfurt, an experience he described as “very exciting and very impressive”.

For the record

The German Church’s “synodal path” is a two-year reform process by which bishops, priests, laypeople and non-Catholic experts are due to discuss problematic issues in Church life put in high relief by the sex abuse crisis.

The four topics the synodal path forums are looking into are the exercise of power and authority in the Church, the place of women, the priestly way of life – including compulsory clerical celibacy – and Catholic sexual morality, without any taboos and without “any stop sign from Rome”, as German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx put it.

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