Church: Reformers versus Conservatives: Bishops seek common ground

In a volatile church-political situation, the Catholic bishops are meeting today in Dresden for their spring plenary assembly. The four-day meeting is primarily dedicated to the Synodal Path reform process, which the German Bishops’ Conference has been organizing together with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) since 2019.

The desired renewal covers four subject areas: the position of women in the Church, Catholic sexual morality, the obligatory celibacy of priests (celibacy) and dealing with power. The process is to be brought to its preliminary conclusion at a synodal assembly in early March in Frankfurt/Main.

Rows should be closed

The bishops want to prepare for this synodal assembly in their non-public meetings in Dresden and probably also create an opinion for the upcoming votes in Frankfurt. “The bishops will try to close the ranks at their general assembly and to adopt a positive attitude towards the papers that are still to be adopted at the fifth general assembly of the synodal path,” said canon law expert Thomas Schüller of the German Press Agency.

A minority of bishops around Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki reject the reforms. But the Vatican has also made its opposition clear, most recently in ever sharper formulations. The Vatican is against the German Bishops’ Conference founding a permanent new decision-making body together with the ZdK, the Synodal Council. Nevertheless, the bishops want to stick to it.

Reform movement wants more determination

“The Roman threats of prohibition do not impress the larger group of German bishops who are willing to reform, given the intellectual simplicity of the Roman writings,” said canon law expert Schüller. Christian Weisner from the reform movement “We are Church” appealed to the bishops to resolutely press ahead with the reforms “instead of clinging to outdated church images and truths”.

The bishops also speak in Dresden about the processing of sexual abuse. The Cologne Regional Court is currently dealing with a claim for compensation for pain and suffering from a former altar boy who is demanding 750,000 euros. If he were to prevail, the church would probably have to pay out significantly higher amounts than before. In an open letter to the spring plenary assembly, the Maria 2.0 reform movement criticized the fact that some dioceses had still not commissioned detailed reports on how their officials dealt with allegations of abuse.