Religion: Synodal path: bishops let basic text fail

Stress balls with a halo are the German Catholics' response to the ban from Rome: despite harsh criticism from the Vatican, they are continuing their reform course. But there is also bitter disappointment.

Despite harsh criticism from Vatican the German Catholics wanted to continue their synodal reform process. The synodal assembly of bishops, priests, church workers and numerous lay representatives met for the fourth time in the Frankfurt Messe.

"We have to move," demanded the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Bätzing. He feels the "infinitely great pressure to change" in the communities.

Hours later, there was bewilderment, great disappointment, and tears flowed: a basic text on the church's sexual morality failed in the vote due to the necessary two-thirds majority of the bishops. The text, which aimed to liberalize church sexual morality, met with 82 percent approval in the general vote. But only 33 bishops voted in favor of the text, with 21 against and two abstentions.

Particularly disappointing for Bätzing: This result was not foreseeable in the debate. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, fought for composure. If such voting behavior is repeated on the text on the role of women, "we are faced with a shambles," she said. "I expect the bishops with their power to be open about their opinions."

Bewilderment, disappointment - and anger

Sharp words were used during a crisis debate - a delegate accused the bishops of cowardice. "It can't be that the faithful have to stay with the bishops, but the bishops won't stay with us!" cried the nun Katharina Kluitmann. Benedictine Philippa Rath said she feared such behavior would deepen divisions between believers and bishops. Another delegate spoke of "a separate form of apostolic abuse of power." In addition to bewilderment and disappointment, anger was also palpable. "I feel like I walked into a knife," said a lay representative. A spokesman already saw the synodal path as a failure.

Some delegates were no longer there, had left the room and were only listening from outside. The text about sexual morality was not even considered the most explosive. The discussion about the reassessment of homosexuality on Friday is likely to be much more controversial.

A separate discussion was scheduled for the evening among the bishops, and the ZdK was also planning a discussion about the actions of the lay people after the bishops' decision.

Optimism still prevailed in the morning. ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp said of the Synodal Assembly the message must go out: "We have power!"

The synodal path wants to achieve changes in Catholic sexual morality, in the role of women in the church, in dealing with power and in celibacy, the obligatory celibacy of Catholic priests. The trigger for the reform process was the massive crisis of confidence after the abuse scandal became known.

Vatican opposes movement

In July, however, the Vatican issued a harsh statement to the German brothers and sisters in the faith that the synodal path was "not authorized" to develop new forms of leadership and a new orientation of Catholic teaching and morals. Critics of the synodal path say that since this clarification it has finally become obvious that the reform efforts are pure window dressing - an "illusion": The hall in which the opening press conference took place on Thursday also happened to have the same name.

ZdK President Stetter-Karp, on the other hand, called for "not to be unsettled by boos on the edge of the train". In the church everything is by no means solid and cemented.

Great tension

The fact that the tension is a bit greater this time than at the three previous gatherings can also be seen in the fact that all members are offered "stress balls" for the first time: small balls with faces printed on them, some with a halo, which can be kneaded or thrown to relieve stress . Stetter-Karp admitted that she was "a bit nervous", and Bätzing described his mood as "positive excitement".

Before the synodal assembly in the Frankfurt exhibition center, groups of reformers demonstrated with slogans such as "Consecration for all" and "Jesus also had two fathers". Bätzing had Maria 2.0 put a shawl on her and went through an improvised Holy Spirit gate to internalize the right spirit of reform.

Sister Philippa Rath, one of the most prominent members of the Synodal Assembly, advocated not overestimating the Vatican's criticism, since it was "extremely lacking in content" and only served the goal of discrediting and blocking the Synodal path. But that will not happen, on the contrary: "Especially in view of these disruptive maneuvers, it makes a lot of sense to continue on the path undeterred," said the resolute nun from the Abbey of St. Hildegard in Rüdesheim of the German Press Agency. "Because the reform concerns are more than urgent and cannot be postponed. In many other countries, by the way, this is seen in the same way as here."

"Annoyed" by Vatican criticism

Johanna Müller, the youngest member of the synodal assembly at 18, emphasized that the church urgently needed to change: "The abuse crisis shows that we have a major power problem in the Catholic Church. Toxic structures and rigid sexual morals encourage sexual abuse. Another The construction site is the equality of all people - this applies, for example, to the services and offices in the church."

Müller feels "annoyed" by the criticism from the Vatican. Even if it is not certain that the resolutions will ultimately all be implemented, it is still important to work on problem areas and to question structures and principles. "This is both our duty against the background of the abuse crisis and an important contribution to debates that are being conducted in a very similar way in other parts of the universal church."


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