The Bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, relies on support from other countries for the reforms he is aiming for. The bishop told the German Press Agency in Trier that he had hope for a “larger and broader movement” that was now being initiated. “Only the German bishops and Rome: That’s not enough. That’s still not a universal church dialogue.”

He hopes that “other bishops’ conferences or bishops will now publicly say things that they have mentioned in private or in personal conversations.” There is feedback from other local churches that the topics dealt with in the German “Synodal Way” reform process “are not just questions of the German bishops”.

The positions laid down in the previous texts of the “Synodal Path” in Germany were “taken very seriously in Rome”, even if the Vatican had expressed specific concerns. The meeting of the German bishops with the Pope’s heads of authorities at the end of November was “only a first step” and now dialogue is needed. Ackermann is convinced: “The reform process is continuing. A dynamic has emerged that cannot be reversed.”

In this respect one could say that the synodal path reform movement “is already having an effect with its contributions to the universal church”. So he is satisfied with the results so far. He regretted that a text on church sexual morals failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority from the bishops. The last synodal assembly is to meet for the last time in March 2023 after a good three years. Then a synodal committee should start, which creates the reform process on a permanent basis.

efforts at reform

Since 2019, German Catholics have been trying to reform sexual morals, dealing with power, the position of women and priestly celibacy. This attempt at renewal is called the Synodal Path. The pressure for changes in the Catholic Church in Germany is mainly due to the abuse scandal. Hundreds of thousands of people leave the church every year. The Catholic Church in Germany currently has around 22 million members.

Ackermann said he saw a risk that without reform the church would lose even more members. But questions like official theology cannot be decided by the German bishops, which is “actually a Council decision”. When it comes to the priesthood of women, the following applies to him: “I need more theological study there.”

On the other hand, he could imagine the ordination of women as deacons. He also hopes that in the future “married, tried men” (viri probati) could also become priests under certain conditions. “That’s not a dogmatic question,” said the bishop.

understanding and change

A lot has happened in the German Catholic Church over the past decade, said Ackermann – and cited a new church labor law as the most recent example: According to this, same-sex marriage or remarriage after divorce are no longer grounds for dismissing employees.

He campaigned for understanding that the reforms required would take time. “In the case of complex structures such as church, society and politics, that doesn’t happen so quickly. You don’t change the Basic Law overnight,” he said.

He can “understand” that members of the Roman Catholic Church switched to the Old Catholic Church, said Ackermann. “But it wouldn’t be an alternative for me. I don’t want a different church, but that the church becomes different.” It’s about changing “our church”. “But I can only do that in her.”

The Old Catholics have priestesses, there is no celibacy (celibacy), but flat hierarchies. A prominent example of a change was the former vicar general of the Speyer diocese, Andreas Sturm, who processed his conversion to the old Catholics in a book in the summer, “I have to get out of this church”.