Germany’s Synodale Weg (“synodal way”), led by the German conference of bishops and the national committee of lay German Catholics (ZdK), assembled for the third time in February; it was likely a watershed moment in the German Church’s synodal process. Some 230 delegates, lay and clergy, debated and voted on over a dozen documents produced by working groups in four areas: power in the Church; the model of priesthood; women and ministries; and sexual morality in Church teaching. Each of the documents won the approval of well over two-thirds of all delegates (ranging from 74 percent to 92 percent), and just over two-thirds of the bishops. In addition to voting, some bishops even made bold interventions in favor of doctrinal change. (If they had talked like that when they were still priests, they would never have become bishops in the first place.) A separate set of texts receiving a second reading was also approved; they call for more transparency in the use of power in the Church and for a lay decision-making body to compile lists of potential bishop candidates to send the Vatican, together with the college of canons of the cathedral, a German tradition largely undercut by the Vatican in the last decades.
The first group of approved documents call for a doctrinal rethinking about homosexuality and for blessings of all couples in the Church, including divorced and remarried Catholics and same-sex couples. They advocate for a development of the idea of “conjugal love” in the Catechism and a revision of the teaching on contraception; for the admission of married priests into the Roman Catholic Church by the pope or by a future council following in the footsteps of Vatican II; and for a reflection on the access of men and women to ordained ministries (the diaconate and the priesthood). There are also calls for the pope to allow Catholic priests to marry while remaining in office—a proposal approved by 86 percent of the delegates.
If approved at the end of Germany’s national synod this fall, the proposals will be submitted as contributions to the global synodal process launched by Pope Francis in October 2021 and culminating in the Bishops’ Synod in Rome in October 2023. They will not be automatically adopted by the Church in Germany, but it’s hard to imagine a future for Catholicism in Germany without at least some of the changes recommended by the Synodale Weg being implemented.
“I expect the bishops to implement what Pope Francis initiated at the beginning of his pontificate: to find decentralized solutions and thus to open up paths for a powerful future for the church in Germany,” said Synodale Weg president Irme Stetter-Karp. “To expect that the universal church will solve problems that one has to take care of oneself locally—that is not our expectation as committee of German Catholics. We have to act here on our own. Nobody can take that away from us. Not even the pope can.”