The Catholic renovation movement ‘We Are Church’ Germany has pleaded for that country’s Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform discussions to continue despite COVID-19 and the “extremely irritating” recent Vatican instruction on parishes.

– “A time of crisis is always also a time of opportunity”

“We are in the middle of a crisis, indeed in the middle of several crises at once. But a time of crisis, of decision, is always also a time of opportunity and new possibilities”, ‘We Are Church’ Germany wrote in an open letter to ‘synodal path’ participants published August 11.

That opening in crises to opportunities and possibilities is what led the reform group to urge that the German Church ‘synodal path’ – the two-year process in which bishops, priests, laity and outside experts are re-evaluating Catholic doctrine and practice in light of the clergy sex abuse scandals – must not come to a standstill “under any circumstances” but “must be continued unwaveringly”, even despite the pandemic and obstacles from Rome.

– “Church is where the people are, not where a priest happens to be”

One of the motives for the ‘We Are Church’ Germany letter to synodal path participants was the frustration experienced by the group with so-called “ghost Masses” during the coronavirus lockdowns, in which priests insisted on celebrating the Eucharist even despite their congregations not being physically present.

Those ghost Masses “are not Church services, but clerical showmanship”, ‘We Are Church’ Germany denounced, adding that “Church must not be thought of from the priest’s point of view; Church is where the people are, not where a priest happens to be” and urging that the “two-class Church” of superior clergy and inferior laity be done away with forever.

During the coronavirus quarantine “we experienced anew that… Church must not be thought from top to bottom, but the other way round”, the authors of the ‘We Are Church’ Germany letter wrote.

– “We must not shirk our responsibility as mature Christians”

Insisting that what Catholics and wider society need “is a Church for the people, for all people who are affected by a worldwide crisis” and that takes its cue “from the spirit of the man from Nazareth” rather than being tied up “in a corset of laws”, ‘We Are Church’ Germany denounced the July 20 instruction on parish life from the Congregation for the Clergy, which has been widely accused of reinforcing clericalism.

The German Catholic reform group denounced the Vatican instruction as “completely unexpected and extremely irritating”, and deplored that it had been prepared “without any consultation with the local Churches” around the world.

“As if we in Germany had never thought about missionary parishes before”, ‘We Are Church’ lamented, before asking ironically: “Has the Congregation for the Clergy not taken note of the theological and pastoral debates of the last 50 years?”

The “backward-looking and clericalist” Roman document completely opposed, moreover, to Pope Francis’ desire for greater synodality must not discourage Catholics “to talk about what is important”, the group continued.

“We must not shirk our responsibility as mature Christians. Let us not allow ourselves to be forced once again into statutes and regulations and empty words, let us not allow ourselves to be banned from thinking!”, the progressive German Catholics urged.

– Delays in reform “must come to an end if the crises rooted in the clerical Church are to be overcome”

The synodal path discussions are taking place in forums around four themes: participation and the separation of powers in the Church, Catholic sexual morality, compulsory celibacy and the priestly way of life and women in ministries and offices in the Church.

‘We Are Church’ recalled that those questions are all topics that have been debated in the Church since the Second Vatican Council more than fifty years ago, even if the theological insights Catholics have come to over that half century “are still largely ignored” and the desires of most Catholics for reform “have been put off from decade to decade”.

The delay in implementing change “must now finally come to an end if the crises rooted in the clerical Church structure are to be overcome”, ‘We Are Church’ Germany alerted.

The Catholic reform group wound up its letter acknowledging that “the synodal path in Germany does not want to and cannot directly change the universal Church, no matter how good the consultations and decisions are”.

But the movement called on synodal path participants to find “pastorally responsible and theologically sound answers to the crises of the present”, and in that way to sound a call for change that will not only be fruitful for the worldwide Church but which also the Vatican will not be able to ignore.

More on Novena on the German Church’s synodal path:

Severe lack of lay theologians, public perception of division give German Church more reasons to push on with ‘synodal path’ reforms

German bishop comes out swinging against Vatican parish instruction, doubles-down on ‘synodal path’ as “answer to Roman challenge”

German lay committee head insists “positive attitude”, “good mood” still reigning in ‘synodal path’ reform process

Pope encourages German Church to make “good progress” in ‘synodal path’ reform process

German bishop warns ‘synodal path’ reform process must succeed or else Church “will become a sect”


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