The Synodal Path in Germany may have ended but that hasn’t stopped the Church reform debate in Germany. It’s clear that the Church has embarked on a lengthy process.
The bishop of the northern German diocese of Osnabrueck, Franz-Josef Bode, wants to implement the resolutions of the Synodal Path quickly.
Only three days after the reform project ended with its final Synodal Assembly, the vice-president of the Synodal Path and of the German Bishops’ Conference said that thanks to preparatory arrangements made in Osnabrueck and elsewhere, “I can encourage all couples in our diocese who cannot or do not want to marry in Church, but would nevertheless like to place their relationship under a Church blessing, to contact us”.
However, details about the blessing ceremonies have yet to be clarified, including who should be offered a blessing: the 34-year-old homosexual who has been living with his partner for 10 years, or the 14-year-old girl who has only been with her boyfriend for four weeks?
So far, such blessings have taken place on a rather low key and very small scale. For a public and official format, a decision needs to be taken whether the ceremonies are to be made public, for example in the parish newsletter, and on what form the celebrations are to take. Will there “only” be a prayer and a blessing?
Bode said he would put a provisional order for christenings conducted by laypeople into effect “in the next few days”. A diocesan order for the sermon service in the Eucharistic mass celebration would also be developed soon.
Cologne’s Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, on the other hand, has said the Vatican needs to decide whether homosexual couples can be blessed. The archdiocese said the cardinal was “aware of the deep desire of same-sex couples for a Church blessing, which the archbishop can well empathise with”.
It added that Woelki assumed that the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Baetzing, would seek clarification on the issue in Rome and “awaits the Holy See’s statement on the matter”.
Evidently, the reform debate is far from over. While bishops in Germany differ on the implantation of the Synodal Path resolutions, cardinals in Rome are calling for disciplinary measures.
If the German bishops who voted for the controversial reform resolutions “are not converting themselves and they are not accepting the Catholic doctrine“, there must be a process leading to their removal from office if necessary, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller told the US Catholic TV network EWTN.
Mueller went even further in an interview with the news and commentary site Tichys Einblick, calling the situation in Germany worse than a schism because “the essence of Christianity has been abandoned in favour of its transformation into a variant of the materialistic and nihilistic woke culture of self-redemption and self-creation of humankind”.
His remarks were echoed by Cardinal Raymond Burke who told EWTN that bishops who voted for the blessing of homosexual partnerships should be sanctioned. He said Pope Francis also said “things that are very clear and consistent with the church’s teaching on these issues”.
However, Francis sometimes says other things. For example, during their ad limina visit at the end of November, Belgium’s bishops showed him two draft texts for situations in which homosexual persons or couples ask for a “moment of prayer”.
According to Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, who took part in the visit, the Pope had waved this through with the remark that the Belgians were allowed to do this as long as the bishops’ conference was in agreement. The disagreement among German bishops could therefore continue to give Rome cause to intervene.
Reactions in Germany have been much more positive than in the Vatican. The German Association of Catholic Women (kfd) praised the Synodal Path’s appeal to Rome to allow women to be ordained as deacons. “We will now work hard towards ensuring that we do not have to wait another 50 years for the first female priest,” it said.
There are differences between Germany and other countries in the culture of debate and in voting behaviour, which in the Synodal Assemblies were strongly oriented towards parliaments and party congresses. When it came to the issues, however, there were surprising parallels. In Germany as in other countries, the relationship between laypeople and clerics, but also the role of women and of young people, were cited as problems.
*Originally published by KNA Germany.