Delegates to the Synodal Way met in five locations Friday to discuss the future of the church in Germany. A commentary by the Bonn city dean.
Freshly returned from the regional conference of the Synodal Way in Frankfurt, the question arises as to how I felt about the meeting and how I would place it in the overall context of church change processes. The first thing to say is that the smaller group of participants allowed for a different culture of conversation and discussion of content. Thanks to Corona, the more than 200 delegates had been divided into different conferences of 40 people each. It is understandable that at the end of the conference day, the request to work in a similar way, i.e. in smaller groups, at future plenary sessions, met with great approval.
Initial draft texts from the forums were discussed, dealing with "ministries and offices of women in the church" and with "Catholic sexual teaching". Both ies in which clarification and development seem necessary and which many associate with the credibility of the church.
The forums presented proposals that can be implemented within the framework of the current theology and legal system and are also already common practice in some places. Let's take here the participation of women in leadership positions in the dioceses or there the respectful treatment of people of same-sex orientation. There was widespread agreement and little need for discussion, although the reliable implementation of such changes in practice will not be easy everywhere and will take time.
As expected, the different positions became clear when it came to the more fundamental and a turning away from or further development of magisterial theology, dogmatics and moral teaching was discussed. It was rightly pointed out that the acute loss of credibility, not least as a result of the abuse scandal and the departure of many people, including increasingly committed Catholics from their church, must be a reason to question the church's self-understanding and doctrine. Suspiciously quickly, however, in the arguments, the cause became the immediate justification for reforms. Because the majority no longer understands and accepts many things, because the modern reality of a democratic culture is so far removed from the valid teachings of the Church, so that in concrete terms no one is interested in Catholic sexual morality any more, and because the non-admission of women to ordained offices cannot be reconciled with the idea of equality of the sexes, there must be an alignment of Church guiding principles with the coordinates of the modern way of life. Sounds logical, also for the majority of the delegates of the synodal way, because this is how we justify and implement changes in the secular space: On the principle of majority will and the normativity of the factual.
That the ecclesiastical doctrine according to the understanding of the 2. The fact that the Second Vatican Council, while speaking of the Spirit of God being able to articulate itself in the feeling of the faithful, did not have the effect on the Council's dogmatic constitution "The Verbum" of making the protest of the faithful or the will of the people of God a standard for Church teaching. A doctrinal statement of the Church must be clearly derivable from Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. That is, the voice of the people, the inherently respectable desire for more credibility or timeliness, even the finding of obvious errors in the application of doctrines or in the moral life of the Church are not sufficient as arguments for changing doctrines.
Quite apart from this, it is true that in the Catholic Church fundamental changes require more than the majority vote of a local church. Some already ignore this when they speak of the German national church in the plenum of the Synodal Way or want to draft a new ecclesiology for the whole church in a forum and thus seem to pave the way for the possibility of German going it alone.
As a result, the theological lines of argumentation of the papers presented seemed to be without contours and not very consistent. If one wants to initiate far-reaching reforms from Germany and the impulses are to produce an effect in the universal church, they must make more use of theological systematics and be less obviously goal-determined, i.e. teleological. It is not impossible that this could be possible and successful in some reform topics. But this must be preceded by more theological thoroughness, more serious recommitment to Scripture, more appreciation of the Church's tradition, and, in some respects, more respect for the Magisterium. The one-sided selection of scriptural passages, the omission of what tradition has produced, and the citation of papal words and church documents according to convenience will have the consequence that votes and impulses will implode, disappointment will be greater than before, and opportunities will be lost.
About the author: Dr. Wolfgang Picken is the city dean of Bonn. He regularly publishes his thoughts in the podcast "Spitzen aus Kirche und Politik" (Tips from the Church and Politics).