Participants in Germany’s “synodal way” approved a text on Friday on the role of women in the Catholic Church that challenges “the exclusion of women from the sacramental ministry.”
Members voted toward the end of the second day of a plenary meeting in Frankfurt on a 31-page document entitled “Women in ministries and offices in the Church,” which was facing its second reading.
The text does not call directly for the ordination of women as deacons and priests. But it asserts that “for generations, many women have known that they were called by God to be deaconesses or priestesses.” It proposes that “in future, it should no longer be gender that decides on the allocation of ministries, but the vocation, abilities, and skills that serve the proclamation of the Gospel in our time.”
“It is not participation by women in all the Church’s ministries and offices that requires justification, but indeed the exclusion of women from the sacramental ministry,” the document says.
Out of a total of 205 votes, 182 voted in favor and 16 against, with 7 abstentions.
To be adopted, texts must gain a two-thirds majority among the German bishops. Participants stood and applauded when it was announced that the bishops had also voted — by 45 in favor, 10 against, and 5 abstentions — to adopt the document, which now becomes a formal resolution of the synodal way.
The assembly failed to pass on Thursday a text calling for a change in the Church’s approach to sexual ethics, after the resolution did not gain enough support from bishops. After the voting figures were released, there was a protest and some participants left the meeting.
Synodal way members turned to the text on women in ministries late on Friday morning after the presentation of a report on sexual abuse. Proponents of the document repeatedly addressed the synodal way’s minority, urging them to voice their objections and trying to anticipate their concerns.
Procedures were altered so that speakers had two minutes to make their points, rather than one. Votes were no longer cast anonymously but by name — which some commentators claimed was intended to increase pressure on the minority.
The meeting was frequently adjourned as participants progressed toward a vote. Bishops opposed to the document argued that it was incompatible with Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter declaring “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The German bishops’ official web portal reported that bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing held a meeting with the bishops and that afterward they proposed an amendment placing the section of the text related to Ordinatio sacerdotalis “at the beginning, as it were as a preamble to the text.” The proposal was accepted.
“Subsequently, it passed with a clear majority — perhaps also because this time the vote was not anonymous, but by name,” the web portal said.
Participants voted later on a text called “A re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magisterium” calling for alterations to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The text was adopted by 170 votes in favor and 14 against, with 9 abstentions. The bishops voted by 40 in favor and 8 against, with 8 abstentions.
The document says that “Paragraphs 2357-2359 as well as 2396 (homosexuality and chastity), amongst others, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church should be revised as part of this re-evaluation of homosexuality.”
It adds that “the Church should confess that She has caused people suffering and violated their dignity in many places through Her teaching and practice in relation to homosexuality.”
“Homosexuality is not a disease. So-called ‘conversion therapies’ are therefore to be rejected,” it says.
A total of 14 texts are due to be discussed, with five facing their first vote and nine having their second reading, though it is unclear whether enough time remains before the meeting ends on Saturday.
Texts scheduled for discussion include a controversial proposal to create a powerful permanent “synodal council,” composed of bishops and laypeople, to oversee the Church in Germany.
The Frankfurt assembly will be followed by smaller meetings of members of the initiative’s four “synodal forums,” dedicated to power, the priesthood, women in the Church, and sexuality.
All participants will gather again in Frankfurt on March 9-11, 2023, for final votes on the synodal way’s remaining documents.
Editor's note: This report was updated on Sept. 10 to include the full list of votes on the women in ministries document and the result of the vote on the “re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magisterium” document.