The Vatican issued a terse statement Thursday about the progressive German Catholic movement known as the “Synodal Way.” The statement warned German reformers that they had no authority to instruct bishops on moral or doctrinal matters.
Additionally, the Holy See has made clear that it views calls from the Synodal Path to address homosexuality, celibacy, and women in the Church as divisive and warned that these calls could cause a rift.
The members of the Synodal Way, a group made up of an equal number of German bishops and lay Catholics, meet regularly. In February, they called on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, women to become deacons and same-sex couples to receive the Church’s blessing.
The Vatican, or Holy See, says the Synodal Way, “does not have the faculty to compel bishops and the faithful to assume new forms of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals.” To do so, the statement read, “would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”
German reformers responded to Vatican statement with ‘astonishment’
Speaking on behalf of the Synodal Path, the president of the German Episcopal Conference Georg Bätzig and the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) Irme Stetter-Karp, said they were “astonished” at the “bad form” that the Vatican had shown by releasing such a statement to the public without putting a name to it.
Both Bätzig and Stetter-Karp vowed there would be no “German deviation”, but said it was their “responsibility to make it clear where change is needed”. The two say the issues they are tackling are not unique to Germany, but common to dioceses around the world.
Bätzig and Stetter-Karp expressed “bemused regret” that no direct communication with the Vatican had yet taken place.
Hundreds of thousands of people leave the Catholic Church for lack of reform
The German group, formed in the wake of horribly mishandled sex abuse scandals by clergy, is also calling on ordinary Catholics to have more of a say in how the Church works. The Vatican has again warned that if national churches choose to go their own way, they will “weaken, rot and die.”
In 2021, 360,000 Catholics officially left the German Church – which has 22 million members in the country and collects 6.45 billion euros in church taxes over the year – in protest against corruption and abuses.
Although progressive European and American Catholics would likely be willing to support progressive issues, such as the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of women, Rome might face a backlash with rapidly growing South American and African congregations.
In 2019, Pope Francis warned German bishops against the temptation to change to appease certain groups or ideas. Observers speculate the reforms could leave the Catholic Church open to a split, similar to that which hit the Anglican and Protestant churches after introducing similar changes.
According to the Vatican statement, any change in teaching on morality or doctrine must be taken up through the Church’s own synodal way. The Holy See said preliminary consultations were already taking place globally in preparation for a meeting of bishops next year in Rome.
The next gathering of the German Synodal Path is scheduled for September 8-10.
js/dj (AP, Reuters)