Synodal Assembly: Another Church becomes visible

To analyse

Status: 05.02.2022 18:53

The synodal path has initiated numerous far-reaching reforms. If all of them are implemented, the image of the Catholic Church will change massively. But the way is difficult.

An analysis by Lothar Bauerochse, HR

Gradually things are getting down to business with the Synodal Path, the large-scale reform process of the Catholic Church. Priests no longer have to be celibate, women should be able to become priests, homosexuality is not a sin. Sentences, some of which had been cast in cement for centuries, are freely questioned and reformulated by the participants of the Synodal Path.

With majorities of around 80 percent, papers are passed with demands that many Catholics would not even have dared to discuss five years ago. A lot has happened there.

Lothar Bauerochse, HR, on the final conference of the Synodal Assembly of the Catholic Church

tagesschau24 4:00 p.m., 5.2.2022

But it is quite an arduous path. The reform process is fighting on several fronts: the bishops have their backs to the wall.

And more and more of them dare to say it openly and without frills: that the church has lost all credibility on many issues. That it is hardly possible to find people who stand up for this church as priests, for example.

On the other side are committed believers who are angry, who despair of their church – over the constant stream of new cases of abuse, over their own experiences of discrimination, over a rigid power system.

They are all waiting for the Catholic Church to really change.

On the third front there are many church members who have long since turned away, who have finally had enough and who are resigning, in droves. You may have already given up hope that the Catholic Church will move after all.

And finally there is Rome. Although the Pope himself has ordered a “synodal process” for the Catholic world church, the delegates in Frankfurt only experience the Vatican representative as a skeptic. He warns against parliamentarism in the church. And warns that German Catholics should not jeopardize unity with the Pope.

Not a word of acknowledgment that Catholics in this country are facing up to the crisis, making an effort to read the signs of the times and trying to find viable answers for a Christian life in the 21st century based on faith. In Rome, changes are apparently feared above all.

New way of dealing with power

But what has the Synodal Way achieved so far? One thing is that the delegates discussed some basic texts and approved them with a very large majority, which set a clear course for concrete reform projects.

This includes a text that describes a new way of dealing with power in the church. It is about more participation of the faithful, about the control and temporal limitation of power and about a regular accountability of the bishops.

Another text concerns the role of women in the Church. That only men can lead the church seemed to be an iron law in the Catholic Church. A comprehensive paper now shows that there is actually not a single good argument for this position.

The sentence was therefore repeated with a large majority in the synodal path: It is not necessary to justify the access of women to the priesthood, but on the contrary their exclusion.

The working groups developed many other reform projects and supported the delegates: blessing ceremonies for homosexuals, the release of celibacy, a change in church labor law. If all this is implemented, it will change the inner and outer image of the church a lot.

The climate in the church has changed significantly

In addition, however, it cannot be underestimated how much the synodal path has already changed the internal climate of the church. Many bishops entered this project with fear, fearing confrontation with the laity. By now everyone has probably experienced how productive and creative the discussions can be.

The synodal path offers space for arguments as well as for emotions. It can sometimes happen that a bishop’s statement is sharply rejected. In the end you pull yourself together again to bring about the necessary changes in the church.

However, until now we have pulled together. Because of course there is tension in all debates. Some ask whether the planned changes are actually radical enough, whether the synodal path is not ultimately far too good given the pressure that prevails in the boiler.

Necessary majorities often not certain

Then again the question is whether the demands can still be reached by consensus, whether they will find the necessary majorities. Above all, the bishops are squinted: Do they ultimately support the reform proposals that are still hailed as revolutionary today? With a blocking minority of their own, they could bring everything down. For others, the whole company is ultimately still too scared.

This third synodal assembly set the course for the first time in terms of content. And the way we discuss and wrestle here shows the germ of a new, different church that could possibly also exist in the 21st century. If the gardeners from Rome don’t come at the end and simply pull out the supposed weeds.

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