In response to the sexual abuse crisis, Germany’s bishops have announced the beginning of a “binding synodal path” to examine questions regarding sexual morality and other disputed topics.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, as chairperson of the German Bishops’ Conference, announced the synodal work at the closing of the Conference’s spring meeting this month.
Marx told journalists that after a study day, bishops acknowledged the German Church was at a “turning point” as a result of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and “needs synodal progress” to move forward. He stated (via Google Translate):
“Unanimously we decided to make a binding synodal path as a church in Germany, which enables a structured debate and takes place in an agreed period, together with the Central Committee of German Catholics [a lay group closely affiliated with the bishops’ conference]. We will create formats for open debates and procedures that enable the responsible participation of women and men from our dioceses. We want to be a listening church. We need the advice of people outside the church.”
The first step in this synodal process is the establishment of three working groups to focus on key questions that have arisen via the clergy sexual abuse: power in the Church, priestly life, and sexual morality. These groups will prepare reports for a September 2019 joint meeting between Germany’s bishops and other faithful. On the question of sexual morality, Marx, whose own record on LGBT issues is mixed, shared from the study day:
“The sexual morality of the Church has not yet received crucial insights from theology and human sciences. The personal significance of sexuality is not given sufficient attention. The result: the moral proclamation gives the vast majority of the baptized people no orientation. It lives a niche existence. We [bishops] feel how often we are unable to speak on questions about today’s sexual behavior.”
The sexual morality working group will be led by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück. The bishop’s record on homosexuality is positive. In 2015, he called for the Church to bless same-gender couples and recognize civil unions. Then in 2018, after Germany passed marriage equality, Bode reiterated that call for the Church to debate such blessings and noted the positives found in many LGBTQ people’s relationships.
LGBTQ progress has already been made in the German-speaking Church this year. Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen recently wrote that the Church must change its understanding of homosexuality and stop harm presently being done to people. Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn defended civil marriage equality and recognized goodness in same-gender relationships. And handful of church leaders have seemingly defied the Vatican by saying publicly they would welcome gay men to seminary.
The details of just what this synodal process will entail have yet to be determined, but Marx was clear it would be authoritative, not just consultative, and that the faithful, not just the bishops would participate. Given these commitments coupled with existing German momentum for LGBTQ equality and Bishop Bode’s leadership, the synodal process now beginning holds promise to be a turning point for the Church.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 20, 2019
National Catholic Reporter, “Cardinal Marx: Church must have serious debate on celibacy, role of women“