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German bishops’ leader: ‘The Synodal Process has already changed the Church’

German bishops’ leader: ‘The Synodal Process has already changed the Church’

The global synodal process has already changed the Church, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference said Thursday.

In an Oct. 27 statement, Bishop Georg Bätzing welcomed the publication of a new Vatican document guiding the synod on synodality’s continental phase.

He said: “After only one year, this Synodal Process has generated a dynamic that has led to a new understanding of the dignity of all the baptized, to a broader co-responsibility of the faithful for the mission of the Church, and to a clearer perception of the challenges we face in the worldwide Church. Thus, the Synodal Process has already changed the Church.”

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Bätzing is the co-president of Germany’s controversial “synodal way”: a multi-year gathering of bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: power, the priesthood, women in the Church, and sexuality.

At a stormy meeting in September, synodal way participants approved texts calling for changes to Church teaching on sexual morality and endorsed the creation of a permanent “synodal council” to oversee the local Church.

In his statement on Thursday, Bätzing said that the new Vatican text “makes it clear that the synodal way of the Church in Germany is to be understood as part of a synodal dynamic that has taken hold of the entire Church.”

“The issues we deal with in the four forums and at the synodal assemblies are also being discussed in other parts of the Church,” he commented.

He added: “The working document can therefore also be read as an encouragement to the Church in Germany to seek dialogue with the other particular churches even more strongly than before, especially with regard to synodality. It is an invitation to listen to one another on the worldwide synodal journey and to walk the next stage together.”

At a press conference launching the new document for the synod on synodality’s continental stage on Oct. 17, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said that the text was not a formal “instrumentum laboris,” or working document, but rather “a kind of summary” of synthesis documents sent to the Vatican by bishops’ conferences worldwide.

“This document is therefore not a writing emerging out of theological writings, it is the fruit of a lived synodality, a dimension of the life in the Church,” said the synod on synodality’s relator general. “We were able to notice that the Holy Spirit is at work.”

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Pope Francis formally launched the global synodal process in October 2021. It opened with a “diocesan phase” that featured local consultations with Catholics around the world. Participation rates varied widely, but in many cases were low.

Earlier this month, Bätzing applauded the pope’s decision to extend the global process by a year.

In an Oct. 17 joint statement with Irme Stetter-Karp, his fellow synodal way co-president and head of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Bätzing said that the extension of the process to October 2024 was “an important sign.”

Germany’s bishops are preparing for an ad limina visit to Rome in November. It will be their first in seven years and include a meeting with Pope Francis and prefects of Vatican dicasteries scheduled for Nov. 18.

Senior German bishops’ conference officials visited Rome earlier this month to prepare the ad limina meetings. The General Secretariat of the Synod shared a photo of the German officials with its leaders, saying that they had met in “an atmosphere of great cordiality.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, has lamented public criticism of the synodal way by bishops outside Germany.

“I have trust in the Catholic Church in Germany, in the bishops, I trust they know what they are doing,” he said earlier this year in an interview for a magazine promoting the synodal way.

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