Germany’s Catholic Church cleared another reform hurdle at the weekend when an overwhelming majority of clerical and lay representatives at a synodal conference backed greater gender equality and more lay involvement in the choice of bishops.
At their third “Synodal Path” meeting in Frankfurt, 215 church and lay delegates also backed a preliminary text calling on Pope Francis to undertake a “doctrinal specification and reassessment of homosexuality”.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the gathering had made clear that reform of church teachings was overdue to reflect the times.
“The catechism is not the Koran, it is always being changed,” said Dr Marx, archbishop of Munich.
Ahead of the meeting Dr Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest lay Catholic organisation, warned bishops that “it was time to finally get serious and agree changes”. At a final press conference she said the synodal path “has delivered”.
“Now I expect bishops to implement what Pope Francis initiated at the beginning of his pontificate: to find decentralised solutions – and to thus open up a path for the church a stronger future in Germany,” she said.
Some 93 per cent of delegates – including 79 per cent of bishops in attendance – backed more non-clerical influence in how future bishops are chosen, a process that until now rested largely with the pope in Rome.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German Bishops’ Conference, said Catholicism in Germany was embracing a “changed culture that is considerably more participative and just, with shared power”.
Delegates, including many leading bishops, have called for an end to the celibacy rule and to allow for married priests and a change to both church teaching on homosexual acts – classified as “intrinsically disordered” – as well as an end to legal workplace discrimination for non-heterosexual church employees.
The gathering also called for dioceses to make provision for blessing ceremonies for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
“The specific design of the sexual dimension of marriage,” a document stated, “is the responsibility of the spouses themselves. It is not a task of the church.”
With competence for many of these issues lying with Pope Francis, however, his nuncio to Germany Archbishop Nikola Eterovic reminded delegates on Saturday that synodal processes “have positive aspects...but can also encourage misunderstandings and errors to be avoided”.
Slow pace of change
At a final press conference Bishop Bätzing said he was “very confident” that German women would be baptising babies within the next two years, as provisions already exist for this within the Catholic Church.
“As far as the other sacraments go, I am confident that there will be change on a long-term time frame,” he said.
Dr Stetter-Karp said her lifetime in the Catholic Church had been marked by an “unbearable” slow pace of change on gender equality. She added: “I fear and expect that, when it comes to [women’s] access to all roles and other sacraments, my patience will remain tested to the limit.”