Participants in the second day of the synodal path assembly in Frankfurt

(Small) Win for women on German ‘synodal path’: assembly votes to make resolutions dependent on female majority

Catholic women have had a small win on the German Church’s “synodal path”, with the first synodal assembly voting to make resolutions dependent on a majority of female delegates accepting them.

Driving the news

As German Catholic news agency KNA reported this afternoon, the delegates at the Frankfurt assembly, which continues until February 1, voted Friday to further strengthen the voice of women in the key first stage of the two-year synodal path Church reform process.

A two-thirds majority of the 230 representatives in the assembly today voted to ensure that for resolutions to pass in the assembly a majority of the women delegates present must support them.

Initially, a motion was put for that necessary female majority to be in the amount of two-thirds, but after facing resistance, the proposal of a simple female majority was voted through by the delegates,

134 delegates voted in favour of the female majority clause, while 62 voted against and 14 abstained.

Among the 230 synodal assembly participants, 159 are men, 70 are women, and one person is non-binary.

With the passage today of the female majority, that now means for resolutions to be adopted at the first synodal assembly more than half the women delegates must approve them, as well as two-thirds of all participating bishops and two-thirds of all participants in total.

Go deeper

Work on day two of the Frankfurt synodal assembly started with a Mass Friday morning in Frankfurt cathedral in which one of the synodal path’s “spiritual companions”, the Jesuit Bernd Hagenkord, exhorted assembly participants to courage and confidence in their discussions.

In the meantime, Bishop of Speyer Karl-Heinz Wiesemann had given an interview to the Rheinpfalz newspaper in which he spoke of the “very high moral obligation” he felt to implement the synodal assembly decisions, coming as they will from the double two-thirds majority of bishops and total participants, and now from the simple majority of female delegates.

Wiesemann also declared that with the synodal path “there will be no German special way” separate from Rome and the world Church, “as some fear”.

But the bishop said the synodal path delegates had a “duty… not [to] avoid important questions and debates that are brought in by the people of the Church”, such as the synodal path official themes of power and authority in the Church, women’s participation, celibacy and the priestly way of life and sexual morality.

“We cannot simply say that the discussion is over”, Wiesemann insisted, adding that the preparatory group he had participated in, on power and authority, demanded that the Church further implement “transparency and control”.

Why it matters

Other important questions that came up in the Friday work of the synodal assembly included an appeal from Bochum theologian Thomas Söding for “precise” and “detailed” discussions in the synodal assembly resulting in “theologically strong” resolutions useful for both German and worldwide Catholicism and that “advance[] our Church on the path of repentance and renewal”.

“There is much we can and must change here in Germany”, Söding insisted.

Also on the synodal assembly floor Friday was an intense debate about the link between compulsory priestly celibacy and the clerical sexual abuse of minors.

Bishop of Regensburg Rudolf Voderholzer, a long-time sceptic of the synodal path, affirmed that link between chastity and abuse had not been scientifically proven, and as such was no firm basis for the undertaking the reforms of the synodal path process.

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Among other speakers, German Caritas President Peter Neher contradicted the bishop on that point, and said that his advice from experts in counselling centres was that traditional Catholic sexual morality was no longer up to date and not helpful for people in crisis.

Other points the synodal assembly delegates worked on today were both the formal procedural rules for the meeting and the precise composition of the groups tackling the four key issues of the reform dialogue, on power, women, celibacy and sexual morality.

For the record

The intense day of work Friday in the second day of the first German Church synodal assembly came after Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising and president of the German Bishops’ Conference, declared yesterday in an inaugural press conference that “the goal of this path is to achieve something that can foster the unity of the Church”.

Now is the time for a “spiritual process” and a “conversion”, insisted Marx, explaining that what is at stake with the synodal path is nothing less than “the future of the faith and the Church in our country”, and the need to “restore credibility” in the Church as institution after the clerical sex abuse crisis.

“The Pope urges us to discuss and seek answers together”, added lay Central Committee of German Catholics ZdK president Thomas Sternberg, who pledged that the reform process would tackle “how to live the faith” in today’s Germany.

“There will be no end to this path”, since it is the “start of a new way of being Church”, Sternberg promised.

What’s next

Outside the inaugural press conference, over a hundred protesters gathered to show their displeasure with the synodal path process, albeit for different reasons.

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While conservative protested argued the process was designed to liberalise the doctrine and discipline of the Church, other demonstrators objected to the absence of clerical abuse survivors among the assembly delegates, or the lack of any real opportunity for change in the synodal path for Catholic women.

But as Cardinal Marx went on to explain in his sermon at the inaugural synodal assembly Mass Thursday night in Frankfurt Cathedral, “the synodal journey is an invitation to change perspective and to learn”.

“There is no departure, no new beginning, no new evangelization without such a turning-around”, Marx continued, calling for “courage” on the part of the Church “to break new ground in difficult situations and challenges”.

The sex abuse scandal “must teach us to look ahead starting from the knowledge of the past, of the mistakes made”, the cardinal said, adding that without that knowledge in hindsight, “we will not be able to walk the spiritual path of the future”.

That path of the future, Marx explained, includes a critical look at power in the Church, which, on the contrary, “must be service”.

“It would be a strong signal, a change of perspective, if we could show what power and service mean, that is, not to rule over others, but to show cooperation in the Church”, the cardinal urged the synodal assembly delegates,

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There will be no “revolution” in the synodal path therefore, explained Marx, but rather the need to return to the origins of faith, of mission, because there lies “the future of the Church in our country” and the path to “recover[ing] credibility”.

“It is up to us”, insisted Marx.

“In the past we may have put the light under the bushel. At this hour we ask ourselves: How can we put it back up so that it shines for everyone?

“The synodal path should help the light of the gospel to shine, become visible and give direction to everyone. It is a path of awakening, encouragement, but never without inner repentance”.

Next on Novena:

“Synodal path” begins in Germany: youth, laity dream of Church “democratisation”

On women’s ordination, German prelate, bishops’ secretary, canon lawyer refuse to give up

German lay head blasts “right-wing conservative” critics of “synodal path”, suggests Church reform processes every five years

Marx calls for greater say for women, laypeople: “Men discussing the Church on their own is not a good thing”

German Church women’s rights movement still striving for “equality and renewal”: member

German bishop fires back at Benedict-Sarah: priestly celibacy “not an unchangeable law”

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.