The focus is on the debate about reforms

The focus is on the debate about reforms

Conference to prepare the "synodal way" © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Starting Monday, the 69 German Catholic bishops will convene in Fulda for their fall plenary session. It's all about dealing with reform requests and compensation for abuse victims – and it should be exciting.

In the Catholic Church, the frequency of conferences and consultations is increasing. Nine days after the "extended joint conference of members of the German Bishops' Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics", the 69 members of the Bishops' Conference will meet for their autumn plenary session in the eastern Hessian bishop's town starting Monday.

Then, too, it will be a matter of the "synodal way" to church reforms, which the bishops had proclaimed at their spring meeting in Lingen. Meanwhile, four working groups have drafted thesis papers on sexual morality, the way of life for priests, the question of power and, at the request of the lay umbrella organization ZdK, the role of women. In "great openness and frankness" the submissions were discussed at the Joint Conference and subsequently published for reasons of transparency.

Still in preparation mode

Not yet published is the statute that is to give the synodal path its organizational framework. With what majorities do resolutions come together, what binding force do they then have for the individual dioceses, and may there also be minority votes? Only when the Bishops' Conference in Fulda, and later the ZdK, have separately agreed to the proposals, can the "synodal journey" begin at the start of the new church year in Advent. Everything that has happened so far is merely of a preparatory nature.

In contrast to the Joint Conference, different points of view are now likely to clash: One can fix the positions on the interpretation of Pope Francis' letter "To the Pilgrim People of God in Germany" from the end of June. While most, like Bishops' Conference President Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK President Thomas Sternberg, see themselves vindicated, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, for example, expressed concern that the synodal path "harbors great dangers – especially with regard to a split within the German church".

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz has conceded that the current "search movements are certainly full of tension". There will be neither a national church nor a new church of the 21st century. The church was invented at the beginning of the twentieth century, "but it is also not a museum in which we want to keep beautiful mementos of the past and only dust them off from time to time. Kohlgraf is not alone in his concern. Many other bishops also openly express their concern and distress about the current situation. But the very large majority sees no alternative to the path they have chosen.

Abuse processing will be a topic

Also difficult could be the discussion one year after publication of the study "Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male religious in the area of the German Bishops' Conference" (MHG study). The conference's abuse commissioner, Trier's Bishop Stephan Ackermann, had hinted at a different compensation system for victims, in which those affected could receive significantly more money.

He confirmed that sums of several hundred thousand euros per case are under discussion.

It is still open for which procedure of compensation the bishops will decide and when they will do it. Not everyone welcomes the initiative of Freiburg Archbishop Stephan Burger, who has decided on his own procedure with "regular support payments. Such pension-like payments are to be made in the future in the southwest for victims of abuse who cannot pay for their life's work. The poorer dioceses in the east and north would be overburdened by this approach, as would the possible one-time payment of six-figure sums per victim.

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Christina Cherry
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