The theologian Magnus Striet has called recent statements by Pope Francis about the Synodal Path reform process in Germany “irritating”, especially his accusation that it is an elitist project.
Responding to the Vatican’s criticism, Striet referred to research on populism. “Protesters claim to be the ‘true people’ and politicians claim to know the ‘true will of the people’. At the same time, they turn against ‘the’ ruling elites, whoever that may be,” he wrote in a guest commentary for the website katholisch.de on Tuesday.
Church leaders should leave such “ominous references” to “the” people or “the” elites to the “populists of all colours,” wrote Striet, a supporter of the progressive agenda of the Synodal Path on the issues of sexual morality, the separation of powers, the abolition of compulsory celibacy and the ordination of women.
The theologian, who teaches in Freiburg, said there could be no globally uniform solution to the Church crisis. “Worldwide Catholicism is far too differentiated a phenomenon for that.” Where possible, however, “participatory structures should be tried out”. In a “democratically-synodally organised Church”, those in positions of responsibility would have to gain their authority by “trying to convince people with reasons for their positions”.
In an interview with the Associated Press last week, the Pope had criticised the reform debate in Germany, saying that while dialogue was good, “the German experience does not help”. He said the process to date had been led by the “elite” because it didn’t involve “all the people of God”.
The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, had replied in the newspaper Die Welt: “I consider this way of perceiving Church leadership through interviews to be extremely questionable. We have fundamentally different ideas of synodality. The Pope understands it as a broad gathering of ideas from all corners of the Church, then bishops discuss it more concretely, and in the end there is one man at the top who makes the decision. I don’t think that’s the kind of synodality that’s sustainable in the 21st century”.
On Monday, the organisers of the World Synod on Synodality, Cardinals Jean-Claude Hollerich and Mario Grech, issued an incendiary letter to the world episcopate. They said there was an “urgent” need to work towards “a common understanding of the synodal process”. Some wanted to impose an agenda on the synod “to control the discussion and determine its outcome”.