German Catholics this week increased pressure on the Vatican for sweeping reforms, including calling for the blessing of same-sex couples and the possibility for women to become deacons.
Bishops, priests, nuns and lay people of the German Catholic Church completed a historic synod in Frankfurt over the weekend, which completed a process started in 2019, in the wake of the revelation of child crime scandals.
Among their 15 decisions and motions voted on during the synod, the participants voted in particular by a large majority for the blessing of same-sex couples, from 2026 throughout Germany, as well as for the access of women as deacons.
This is a support function for the priest. The deacon is notably able to celebrate baptisms and marriages.
These decisions are all the more significant in that the majority of the German bishops have also come out in favor of them. The blessings of same-sex unions should therefore multiply. On the other hand, for the access of women to the functions of deacon, the final decision will rest with the pope.
With these decisions, German Catholics are once again challenging the Vatican, which has openly criticized the synodal process of reform initiated in Germany, and which considers homosexuality a sin.
The traditionally stormy relations between Rome, which denies the German faithful the right to change doctrine and practices, and the Catholics of Germany, who judge the Vatican to be too conservative, are not going to improve.
In 2021, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - which has been called the Dicastery since 2022 - published a note in which it reaffirmed that it considers homosexuality a "sin" and confirmed the impossibility for couples of the same sex to receive the sacrament of marriage.
But in the past two years, some Catholic priests have held ceremonies across Germany to marry same-sex couples. This week's vote is therefore likely to amplify the movement.
The Catholic religion remains the first confession in Germany, followed by the Protestant churches. It gathered 21,6 million believers in 2021, more than a quarter of the population.
The president of the Central Council of German Catholics, the main lay organization, Irme Stetter-Karp, would have liked “more”. But she welcomed the progress of the synod on Saturday, which also includes a request addressed to the pope to examine the obligation of celibacy for priests.
"This Church cannot remain as it is," she said.
This desire for liberal reform in the country of Martin Luther has long made opponents of reform fear a risk of a new schism, as in the beginnings of Protestantism.
Indictment of the Pope
But German Catholics rejected this prospect. “The synodal path does not lead to division and does not mark the beginning of a German national Church” breaking with Rome, assured Mgr Georg Bätzing, president of the German episcopal council, on Saturday.
Reforms are nevertheless necessary to ensure the future of the Church, he hammered, he who attacked Pope Francis directly recently and must fight against the decline in the number of his faithful in Germany.
"Anyone who takes the scandal" of sexual violence committed within the Church "seriously must clearly work on structural changes", also judged Ms. Stetter-Karp.
According to a 2018 university survey, 3.677 children in Germany were sexually abused by 1.670 clergy members between 1946 and 2014. Among them, the majority were boys under the age of 13.
Revelations that have led more than a million believers to leave the Catholic Church and pushed for reforms.
Bishop Bätzing, the new strongman of German Catholics, is a liberal bishop. He succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2020, amid tensions between progressives and conservatives.
The latter are particularly concerned about the influence of secular organisations, representing women, for example.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)