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Working groups unveiled to advance ‘synodal way’ resolutions

Six working groups will be formed to advance the resolutions of Germany’s controversial “synodal way,” it was announced Tuesday.

Workers set up the stage for the final session of the synodal way in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 7, 2023.  © Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner.

A statement published July 4 on the websites of the German bishops’ conference and the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) said that six groups would be created. But it did not say when they would be formed, who their members would be, or how they would be financed.


The announcement underlined that both the bishops’ conference and the ZdK remain committed to implementing the decisions of the synodal way, a controversial three-year initiative that brought together bishops and select lay people to discuss four main topics: power, the priesthood, women in the Church, and sexuality. 

The initiative’s organizers clashed repeatedly with the Vatican and the synodal way prompted alarm among bishops around the world because of its proposals for sweeping changes to Catholic teaching and practice.

After the initiative ended in March, organizers announced that its resolutions would be taken up by a “synodal committee” that will hold its first session in November. The committee is expected to meet for three years, paving the way for the launch of the synodal council.

But the creation of a synodal council would defy a January Vatican ruling, specifically approved by Pope Francis, which said that “neither the synodal way, nor any body established by it, nor any episcopal conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”

Synodal way organizers have continued to defend the proposed synodal council, arguing that it would not undercut bishops’ authority as the Vatican fears. But their plans for the synodal committee — the precursor to the council — were disrupted last month when four of Germany’s 27 diocesan bishops vetoed the use of a common fund to finance the body.

The six new working groups will focus on tasks that were assigned jointly to the bishops’ conference and the ZdK in the synodal way’s resolutions.

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Working Group 1
This will be dedicated to creating a model for involving lay people in the selection of diocesan bishops, following the adoption of the synodal way resolution in February 2022 entitled “Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop.”

The resolution has proven difficult to put into practice as German bishops’ appointments are governed by a complex system of concordats signed by individual German states and the Holy See both before and after the unification of Germany in 1871.

Working Group 2
This group will gather examples of best practices by dioceses concerning the handling of suspended and dispensed priests who left ministry “due to a partnership.” 

The group will perform this task in light of the synodal way resolution “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening.” 

The resolution said that “dispensed priests should as a matter of principle be able to apply for ecclesiastical vocations that are open to all lay people” and their “integration into a pastoral ministry should take priority, and should be actively promoted by the diocesan leadership.” 

The working group will be asked to work on “binding, legally secure rules for the acceptance of dispensed priests into pastoral ministry.”

🙌  Working Group 3
This body will draw up a manual including same-sex blessings, following the synodal way resolution “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other.” 

The resolution called on bishops to “officially allow blessing ceremonies in their dioceses for couples who love each other but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not see themselves at a point of entering into a sacramental marriage.”

The document, which contradicted a 2021 Vatican declaration that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex,” asked for the creation of a manual in consultation with the German Liturgical Institute.

  Working Group 4
This group will do “further work” on the topic of “dealing with gender diversity,” the title of a resolution approved at the synodal way’s final plenary assembly.

The synodal way text said that it “should be possible to leave the gender entry blank in the register of baptisms for intersex children (where their gender identity is unclear), or to enter it as ‘diverse,’ as is now envisaged in German law.”

It added that “all ordained ministries and pastoral vocations in the Church should be open to the intersex and transgender baptized and confirmed who sense a calling for themselves.”

🧍‍♀️Working Group 5
This group will focus on the “sacramental ministry of people of all genders,” following the synodal way resolution “Women in sacramental ministry – Perspectives for the universal church dialogue.” 

The text asked the German bishops to “advocate in Rome for the admission of women to the sacramental diaconate for all those particular Churches which desire this on the basis of their pastoral situation.”

Regarding “women’s access to the whole sacramental ministry,” it proposed that “the pastoral considerations and theological research from the context of the German local Church” be “introduced into the universal Church discourse at all levels of the international consultations.”

Working Group 6
The final group will be asked to submit a proposal for the synodal committee’s statutes.  

The July 4 statement said that the statutes would be discussed at the Nov. 10-11 meeting and “should lead to a decision,” in line with the synodal way’s resolution entitled “Sustainable strengthening of Synodality: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany.”

The statement issued by the bishops’ conference and the ZdK explained that the synodal way’s organizing committee had proposed the creation of the six working groups and that a body known as the Joint Conference backed the proposal. 

The Joint Conference’s members — 10 bishops and 10 lay people — meet twice a year to discuss tasks common to both the bishops’ conference and the ZdK.

The statement said that the six working groups would “develop proposals for the tasks assigned jointly in the resolutions of the German bishops’ conference and the ZdK,” doing so “in a reasonable time and with the involvement of existing structures.”

A ZdK spokeswoman told the German Church’s official news website that the general secretaries of the bishops’ conference and ZdK would oversee the selection of members for the working groups.

But noted that it was unclear which body would formally establish the working groups. 

The July 4 statement indicated that the bishops’ conference and the ZdK were still seeking funds for the synodal committee after the four diocesan bishops vetoed the use of the common fund known as the Association of the Dioceses of Germany (VDD), which requires the unanimous approval of the country’s diocesan bishops.

The office that oversaw the synodal way closed July 1 due to a lack of further funding.

The statement suggested that the remaining 23 diocesan bishops would provide funding through an alternative mechanism, adding that bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing had pledged to press ahead with the search for a reliable source of funds.

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