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Synodal path must continue in Germany – updateGerman bishops halt move toward establishing a Synodal Council on the German Synodal Path at Vatican’s request

For earlier joint statement of the President of the German Bishops Conference and the President of German Lay Catholics on the Synodal Way, please see the preface further down in this post and English translations of all German Synodal Way documents here:https://www.synodalerweg.de/fileadmin/Synodalerweg/Dokumente_Reden_Beitraege/beschluesse-broschueren/Englisch/Synodaler-Weg-EN-Decisions.pdf. Sources: CNA, La Croix, The Synodal Times, ZdK press release, and provided comments. Further observations welcome. Please send those to the editor or hello@spiritunbounded.org

Updated 22 Feb 2024

After considerable movement and collaboration on the Synodal Weg or Path, the Vatican has urged bishops to slow down and not approve vital statutes that would enable a Synodal Council of lay people and bishops to come into being; i.e., to not continue with their pending vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee.

German bishops had planned to validate the statutes of the Synodal Committee at their meeting in Augsberg on 19-22 February, the culmination of an internal reform process the Catholic Church in Germany engaged in from 2020-2023.  As noted in La Croix, the Synodal Committee — which is made up of 74 members, including bishops, laypeople, and theologians — met for the first time in November. One of the major tasks given the body was to prepare for the establishment of a future Synodal Council, a body of bishops, priests, deacons, and laypeople that would make decisions at the diocesan and national levels. Eight German bishops did not attend, just four of which have consistently opposed the synodal efforts.

On 17 February Jonathan Liedl of the Catholic News Agency broke the news that

…the German bishops will not be voting on a step toward a forbidden “Synodal Council” at their upcoming plenary assembly at the Vatican’s request. German Bishops Conference (DBK) spokesman Matthias Kopp confirmed on Feb. 17 that the bishops have removed a vote on endorsing a committee that is preparing the Synodal Council, a mixed body of laity and bishops that would govern the Church in Germany, from the agenda of their Feb. 19–22 meeting in Augsburg. The development comes after the DBK received a letter from the Vatican on the same day. “This letter requests that the General Assembly — also due to upcoming discussions between representatives of the Roman Curia and representatives of the German Bishops’ Conference — not vote on the statutes of the Synodal Committee,” Kopp told Germany’s Catholic News Agency (KNA).

Catholic lay people have begun to respond

Dr. Luca Bandini, a theologian long working on church constitutional structure and elements, said:

It’s the Vatican reinstating the current Catholic position in both theology and canon law, namely that only ordained people can exercise the so-called “power of jurisdiction” i.e. decision-making. It makes a farce of synodality: I explained why in my comments I circulated last week on the speech by Cardinal Grech a year ago in Prague, at the European Continental Assembly for the Synod on Synodality. In a nutshell, if only ordained people can decide, and laypeople have no right to choose who to ordain (especially as bishops), and can only be consulted if, when, and about what the ordained want, then “synodality” is little more than window dressing.

President of the Catholic lay people’s group Dr. Irme Stetter-Karp recalled that in 2019 the ZdK was unanimously asked by the German bishops to follow the synodal path with them. “We expect Rome not to undermine the good cooperation between the German bishops and the representation of the laity, but rather to value it and see it as a resource.” She cautioned: “The Catholic Church in Germany will not have a second chance if it stops the Synodal Path now.”

Meanwhile, Louvain Professor of Theology Arnaud Join-Lambert commented that “The Vatican’s insistence that Catholic bishops in Germany halt plans to create a Synodal Council is based on a “misunderstanding” of the country’s “synodal process”, according to a leading theologian. “Fundamentally, what the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) aims to establish is not really different from what is initiated and encouraged by the Roman synod on synodality” (in La Croix 22/2/2024).

“This opposition is a continuation of the Roman misunderstanding regarding the process in Germany. Rome’s main criticism is the establishment of a structure not foreseen by the Code of Canon Law, without seeking permission. However, fundamentally, what the German Bishops’ Conference aims to establish is not really different from what is initiated and encouraged by the Roman synod on synodality. Germany began its “Synodal Path” well before the latter, in a very rigorous and structured manner. Today, German bishops are experimenting with something, even as the document from the Roman synod’s continental assembly for Europe emphasizes the necessity of “experimentation” three times.” It’s something that will continue to come up the closer we get to concrete implementation, such as this coming October.

Earlier Support from Hierarchs

The German Bishops co-sponsored the Synodal Way with German lay Catholics through the general assembly of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). The ZdK approved the statutes of the preparatory committee with an overwhelming majority in November 2023, confirming the constitution of the Synodal Council. Their November meeting ended with a total of seven resolutions and a lively debate on the interim report of the ZdK’s Mission Statement and Statutes Commission.

Dr. Irme Stetter-Karp commented at the time: “We have cleared the way for the continuation of the Synodal Path.” See https://www.synodalerweg.de/fileadmin/Synodalerweg/Dokumente_Reden_Beitraege/beschluesse-broschueren/Englisch/Synodaler-Weg-EN-Decisions.pdf

Church hierarchs expressed support as well. The Berlin Archbishop Dr. Heiner Koch, spiritual assistant of the ZdK, said that today’s decision by the general assembly of the ZdK was “an important sign for the bishops’ conference, for which I am grateful.”

Now the pending ratification of the statutes by the German Bishops’ Conference has been removed from their agenda, generating concern for participants who have been working toward this point for some time. Over two-thirds of the bishops supported the corresponding resolution by the Synodal Assembly in autumn 2022.

27 lay members of the ZdK joined the 27 bishops in the Synodal Committee in December 2022. At the IV Synodal Assembly in September 2022, the resolution “Sustainably Strengthening Synodality: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany” – developed in Synodal Forum I “Power and Separation of Powers in the Church – Joint Participation and Participation in the Mission” – was passed with a qualified majority assumed. The resolution identified the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) as sponsors of the Synodal Council, with an expected founding year for the latter in 2026.

More Details on the Vatican’s Action 2 Days Ahead of the German Bishops’ Meeting

La Croix reported more details about the letter just two days before the DBK plenary assembly was set to open was sent by three top cardinals in the Roman Curia — Pietro Parolin (the pope’s Secretary of State), Victor Fernandez (prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith), and Robert Prevost (prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops). The letter requested a postponement and indeed, hopefully that is all this is. Very specifically, the Vatican officials cited an agreement reached with the leadership of the German Bishops’ conference that no ratification should take place before a series of planned meetings in Rome.

The letter emphasized that the creation of a Synodal Council is “not provided for by current canon law,” could weaken the bishops’ authority, and the bishops’ decision “in this respect would be invalid – with the corresponding legal consequences,” the three cardinals said, according to La Croix.

German Bishops’ action and clarification: the Synodal Council and its statutes are a new, more solid foundation for authority rather than a threat

La Croix also reported on the response by Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, the DBK president, to go ahead and revise the plenary assembly’s agenda to take validation of the statutes the Synodal Committee off the agenda. Bishop Bätzing expressed “astonishment” at the “incendiary letter” and noted that he and his confreres have been waiting for months to get a meeting with Vatican officials in order to discuss the Synodal Council.

He expressed the wish that the scheduled talks would have occurred already and expressed the belief that ““We can dispel the vast majority of these concerns. We do not want to weaken the authority of the bishops but to strengthen it by placing it on new foundations. The authority of the bishops and that of the pope have been tarnished by the scandals of sexual abuse,” Bishop Bätzing said.

Lay Leaders Express Concern

In a press release from the German lay Catholics organisation, President Dr. Irme Stetter-Karp commented on the Roman intervention in the Synodal Way saying, “This means a further delay in the urgently needed reforms in the church.”

Looking to the future and ability to move forward, Stetter-Karp added, “The ZdK expects the Synodal Committee to be fully operational at its next meeting in June. We are working constructively with the German Bishops’ Conference. For this to happen, the basis for cooperation in the Synodal Committee must be clarified.”

Thomas Schüller, a Catholic theologian from the University of Münster who is a member of the Synodal Committee, expressed great dismay. He said to La Croix the letter from the three Roman Curia cardinals marked “the end” of the Synodal Council, plain and simple: “The Roman authorities, in concert with the pope, have definitively prohibited the project of the Synodal Council in the version envisaged so far. The pope thinks nothing of the German projects. He reacts with obvious hostility and disgust.”

Concerns for Schism Uber Alles

Cardinal Schönborn, who has been supportive of reform efforts in Austria in recent decades, also called on German bishops not to break off dialogue with Rome. As reported in The Synodal Times on Feb 19, 2024 he said in an interview with the theological portal “communio.de” (Monday) that he concurs with Vatican criticism and that the envisaged involvement of lay people in fundamental decisions contradicts the current constitution of the Church. It should be noted that theologians introduced an alternate/reformed constitution as part of the worldwide synod process that would better allow a path forward.

Schönborn’s view aligns with concerns Pope Francis and others have raised about schism, taking this as a top priority or guiding principle; “the Vatican had already stated several times that the Church in Germany was not authorised to establish a joint governing body of lay and clerical people. He said: ‘I am impressed by the patience with which the Pope and the Roman dicasteries are trying to remain in dialogue with the German bishops and maintain unity and communion.'” He urged Catholic lay people to “not to overstep the mark” and said “Pope Francis is fulfilling his core task of maintaining unity in the faith” because it is about the “basic understanding of the Church”.

Indeed, Pope Francis recent private letter to four German Catholic laywomen described the preparatory committee and not just the Synodal Council as one of “numerous steps being taken by significant segments” of the Church in Germany “that threaten to steer it increasingly away from the universal Church’s common path.”

Missing the Co-Responsibility to which All Are Called

One problem may emerge from understanding the co-responsibility we are all called to. For example, Schönborn focuses on the bishops’ responsibility and leaves lay people’s legitimate co-responsibility aside: “A bishop cannot delegate personal responsibility for important decisions and the transmission of faith to committees, said the cardinal: “Therefore, the idea of bishops voluntarily binding themselves to the decisions of synodal councils is not compatible with the core of the episcopal mission,” as reported in The Synodal Times.

Prof. Thomas Söding, Vice President of the ZdK, reported on the World Synod in Rome, in which he took part as a theological expert has said “an image of the church that takes the monarchy as a model does not fit the reality of the Catholic Church…On the one hand, clericalism is a major cause of the systemic abuse of power that is widespread around the world, even if attempts are still made to portray it as an unfortunate cluster of isolated cases. On the other hand, an educational offensive has begun around the world that is putting traditional patriarchalism on the defensive.”

Canon law “so far has neither established control nor participation rights, nor transparency requirements nor accountability requirements. This creates an imbalance.” Aware of this, Pope Francis “declared that the Catholic Church is a synodal one. But he did not prescribe what synodality actually is in Catholic terms, not even in his letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany in 2019. It has to be discovered: on the way, in Rome and worldwide,” said the ZdK Vice President.

It is a contradiction when Rome promotes and demands synodal processes, but then puts a stop sign on them,” says ZdK Vice President Prof. Thomas Söding. “I assume that the German bishops reliably stand by their own decisions. We expect a timely decision, the ratification of the statutes and constructive further work on the synodal path. In discussions with Rome, the German bishops will have to make clear the urgency of continuing the work.”

Hope for the Future and a Clear-Eyed Assessment of Obstacles

The Vatican has not explicitly blocked the German Bishops movement along a Synodal Way priority since the reform effort began in 2019, but of all the Synodal Way’s priorities, the Vatican has been particularly critical of the Synodal Council.

Emphasizing his take that the issues are misunderstandings that can be clarified and resolved, DBK president Bishop Bätzing looked forward, saying, “We have three meetings planned in Rome” and “we need to talk.” Providing some comfort to Rome and consternation to lay people, he said, “We do not want to establish anything that goes against ecclesiastical law.”

Discussion of deep and true issues are unavoidably heartfelt, and five German bishops have opposed plans for a Synodal Council right from the start — complaining to the Vatican about the project over a year ago and spurring their conservative brother bishops in the US to chime in. Last fall, four bishops rejected the joint Synodal Committee outright as well as to block financing for the committee from a common inter-diocesan fund when that vote occurred in June. Those clerics are Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, and Bishop Gregor Hanke of Eichstätt.

As indicated in the Vatican’s letter, representatives of the DBK and the Roman Curia are expected to continue their series of meetings on the Synodal Way. The first occurred in July in Rome, and German bishop participants in the October Synod on Synodality assembly also met with Vatican leadership at the time.

In an exchange with the National Catholic Register last week, Kopp would not confirm that the DBK representatives and the Vatican had met in January, as was previously publicized, but disclosed that more meetings between the two parties are expected to take place.

Tags: Catholic News, Vatican news, German Synodal Way, Catholic Church in Germany

** https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/german-church-would-be-abandoning-its-mission-if-it-halted-its-synodal-plans-says-theologian/19224

The Vatican’s insistence that Catholic bishops in Germany halt plans to create a Synodal Council is based on a “misunderstanding” of the country’s “synodal process”, according to a leading theologian. “Fundamentally, what the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) aims to establish is not really different from what is initiated and encouraged by the Roman synod on synodality,” says Arnaud Join-Lambert, a married layman who teaches theology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgian.

Arnaud Join-Lambert went on, in the LaCroix interview: “This opposition is a continuation of the Roman misunderstanding regarding the process in Germany. Rome’s main criticism is the establishment of a structure not foreseen by the Code of Canon Law, without seeking permission. However, fundamentally, what the German Bishops’ Conference aims to establish is not really different from what is initiated and encouraged by the Roman synod on synodality. Germany began its “Synodal Path” well before the latter, in a very rigorous and structured manner. Today, German bishops are experimenting with something, even as the document from the Roman synod’s continental assembly for Europe emphasizes the necessity of “experimentation” three times.

Join-Lambert clarified Rome’s problem: “Their intention thus aligns with the synod’s dynamics, but their path is autonomous, which concerns Rome. It’s important not to read this as a general opposition between two blocks. Rome’s decision is not a matter of principle but of law, concerning the statutes of the Synodal Council: it’s not up to the German Church to approve them without referring to the Vatican.”

Meanwhile, he said, “The “Synodal Path” initiated by German bishops has concluded its work. The task now is to incorporate into structures what was experienced during this specific discernment. The halt is clear but only pertains to what was planned, not the overall process. In any case, the theological principle of synodality, encouraged by Rome, must be implemented. Nationally, German bishops will need to find another solution, and within dioceses, the law allows a lot of leeway to form episcopal and pastoral councils. The synodal dynamic in Germany is based on deep reflection and serious consultation. Over two-thirds of German bishops support it. Its starting point dates back to 2018 reports that revealed systemic abuses in Germany. The bishops then recognized the need to act in response to their Church’s collapsing credibility.”

“This goal hasn’t changed: the “Synodal Path” was a means to address this crisis, to serve everyone and not remain exclusive to a small group of believers. If the German Church stopped the synodal process, it would be abandoning its mission. The misunderstanding with the Roman Curia stems from its underestimation of the shock caused by the revelation of abuses and their systemic nature.”

“The path Pope Francis has set for the Catholic Church initially has a spiritual dimension, but it also raises questions about structural and legal reforms. The two key imperatives are the decentralization and deconcentration of powers. However, there are different interpretations of the synodal assemblies’ decisions, as shown by the synod on the Amazon in 2019 or the recent stance of the assembly of African bishops.

Synodality is a theological principle that becomes very sensitive when it touches upon concrete governance issues. Germany has implemented synodality in a coherent, rigorous, and theologically justified manner. Paradoxically, it respects the power of bishops more than the Roman synodal assembly of October 2023: decisions there were adopted by two-thirds of all participants, whereas in Germany, during the “Synodal Path,” the entire assembly voted before only the bishops did. Tensions arise when the subject matter is tackled directly, and they will be inevitable at the next Roman synod assembly, which will propose concrete reforms.

How can the Church encourage experimentation while still maintaining control? This is a real challenge, especially since the German Bishops’ Conference is far from amateurish and irresponsible. This situation raises questions for intermediate bodies – local, national, and continental – about which the logics of control and decentralization clash. This is a socio-political, but primarily theological, issue: the Church is the largest organization in the world, led by an extremely small Roman Curia, which must manage its vast diversity while maintaining communion.”

Read more at: https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/german-church-would-be-abandoning-its-mission-if-it-halted-its-synodal-plans-says-theologian/19224

**

English Versions of the Synodal Weg/Path documents follow, including the statues and rules of the Synodal Path in general and some texts of the past Synodal Assemblies. All decisions of the Synodal Path made in one of the five Synodal Assemblies from 2020 to 2023 are below. The decisions themselves were based on the deliberations and preparations in the four Synodal Forums. https://www.synodalerweg.de/english/documents

Below these key documents is a historical overview of Germany’s Synodal Path.

Decisions of the Synodal Path

Anthology (SW 20)
Decisions of the Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany
This publication contains all decisions of the Synodal Path made in one of the five Synodal Assemblies from 2020 to 2023.

SW 1 – Preamble text
Listen, learn, taking new ways: The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 11, 2023

SW2 – Orientation text
On the path of conversion and renewal Theological foundations of the Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022

SW 3 – Foundational text
Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022

SW 4 –  Foundational text
Priestly existence today
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022

SW 5 – Foundational text
Women in ministries and offices in the Church
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on September 9, 2022

SW 7 – Implementation text
Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022

SW 8 – Implementation text
A re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magisterium
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on September 9, 2022

SW 9 – Implementation text
Fundamental Order of Ecclesial Ministry
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on September 9, 2022

SW 10 – Implementation text
Sustainable strengthening of Synodality: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on September 10, 2022

SW 11 – Implementation text
The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 9, 2023

SW 12 – Implementation text
Proclamation of the Gospel by authorised baptised and confirmed persons in word and sacrament
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 10, 2023

SW 13 – Implementation text
Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 10, 2023

SW 14 – Implementation text
Prevention of sexualised violence, intervention and dealing with perpetrators and suspects in the Catholic Church
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 10, 2023

SW 15 – Implementation text
Dealing with gender diversity
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 10, 2023

SW 16 – Implementation text
Women in sacramental ministries – Perspectives for the universal church dialogue
Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 11, 2023

Read more

Texts of the Fifth Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path

Here we offer all texts of the Fifth Synodal Assembly available in English. The Fifth Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path takes place from March 9th to 11th, 2023. Programme of the Fifth Synodal Assembly

Synodal Committee
Second Reading – preamble text
 

Synodal Forum I “Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”

Second Reading – implementation text “Joint consultation and decision-making”
 

Synodal Forum II “Priestly existence today”

Second Reading – foundational text “Priestly existence today”

Second Reading – implementation text “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening”

Second Reading – implementation text “Prevention of sexualised violence, intervention and dealing with perpetrators in the Catholic Church”
 

Synodal Forum III “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”

First Reading – implementation text “Measures against abuse of women in the Church”

Second Reading – implementation text “Women in sacramental ministry – Perspectives for the universal church dialogue”

Second Reading – implementation text “Proclamation of the Gospel by lay people in word and sacrament”
 

Synodal Forum IV “Life in succeeding relationships – Living love in sexuality and partnership”

Second Reading – implementation text “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other”

Second Reading – implementation text “Dealing with gender diversity”

Texts of the Fourth Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path

Here we offer all texts of the Forth Synodal Assembly available in English. The Forth Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path takes place from September 5th to 10th, 2022.

Programme of the Forth Synodal Assembly


Synodal Forum I “Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”

First Reading – implementation text “Fundamental rights of the faithful in the Church”

Second Reading – implementation text “Joint consultation and decision-making”

Second Reading – implementation text “Sustainable strengthening of Synodality: A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany”


Synodal Forum II “Priestly existence today”

First Reading – implementation text “Breaking with taboos and normalisation – votes on the situation of non-heterosexual priests”

Second Reading – foundational text “Priestly existence today”

Second Reading – implementation text “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening”


Synodal Forum III “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”

First Reading – implementation text “Measures against abuse of women in the Church”

Second Reading – foundational text “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”

Second Reading – implementation text “Presence and Leadership – Women in the Church and in theology”


Synodal Forum IV “Life in succeeding relationships – Living love in sexuality and partnership”

Second Reading – foundational text “Life in succeeding relationships – The principles of renewed sexual ethics”

Second Reading – implementation text “Basic Order of Church Service”

Second Reading – implementation text “A re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magisterium”

Second Reading – implementation text “Dealing with gender diversity”
 

Texts of the Third Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path

Here we offer all texts of the Third Synodal Assembly available in English. The Second Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path takes place from February 3rd to 5th, 2022.

Programme of the Third Synodal Assembly

Second Reading – orientation text
 

Synodal Forum I “Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”

Synodal Forum II “Priestly existence today”

Synodal Forum III “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”

Synodal Forum IV “Life in succeeding relationships – Living love in sexuality and partnership”

Texts of the Second Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path

Here we offer all draft texts of the Second Synodal Assembly available in Englisch.

The Second Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Path took place from September 30th to October 2nd, 2021. For the first time, the members discussed and voted on texts in the First Reading. The Synodal Commitee has submitted a preamble text and an orientation text with hermeneutical principles. The four Synodal Forums submitted a total of three basic texts and eleven action texts. All current available files are draft files.

First Reading – orientation text
 

Synodal Forum I “Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”

Synodal Forum II “Priestly existence today”

First Reading – basic text
 

Synodal Forum III “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”

Synodal Forum IV “Life in succeeding relationships – Living love in sexuality and partnership”

First Reading – basic text
 

Documents in general

DOWNLOADS & INFOS

  • Statement by the Presidents of the Synodal Pathon the statement presented by the Holy See – Bonn, 21 July 2022Download pdf  Vorlesen
  • Rules of Procedure of the Synodal PathAdopted by Resolution of the Synodal Assembly on 31 January 2020Download pdf  Vorlesen
  • Statutes of the Synodal PathRead more about how the Synodal Path is organised.Download pdf  Vorlesen
  • Transparency and responsibilityA statement of the Synodal Committee: Resolute action against sexual abuse and violence in the Church – Bonn, 4 February 2021Download pdf  Vorlesen
  • Minutesof the First Synodal Assembly 30 January -1 February 2020, FrankfurtDownload pdf  Vorlesen
  • FAQGet more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions (English)Download pdf  Vorlesen
  • Letter of Cardinal Marx and Prof. Dr SternbergThe President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Prof. Dr Thomas Sternberg, wrote a letter to the faithful in Germany on 1 December 2019 (published 27/11/2019).Download pdf  Vorlesen

In Lingen in 2019 (see https://www.synodalerweg.de/english) the decision was taken to follow a Synodal Path. The conviction was expressed: the Church needs synodal progress. Pope Francis recommends it. Even the Church in Germany does not start from the beginning. The “Joint Synod of the Dioceses of the Federal Republic of Germany” (“Würzburg Synod”, 1971 to 1975), the “Pastoral Synod of the Catholic Church in the GDR” (1973 – 1975) and also the discussion process of the past years have prepared the ground, also for many challenges of today. Cardinal Reinhard Marx declared in the closing press conference of the Lingen Plenary Assembly that it had been decided “to follow a binding Synodal Path as the Church in Germany, which makes possible a structured debate and takes place in an agreed period of time, together with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). We will create formats for open debates and commit ourselves to 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”.

In addition, Cardinal Marx explained which aspects will be important as regards the Synodal Path:
“We know about the cases of the clerical abuse of power. It betrays the trust of people in search of stability and religious orientation. What must be done to achieve the necessary reduction of power and establish a more just and legally binding order will be clarified by the Synodal Path. The establishment of administrative courts is part of this.
We know that the way of life of bishops and priests demands changes in order to show the inner freedom of faith and the orientation towards the example of Jesus Christ. We value celibacy as an expression of the religious relationship with God. We will find out how far it must belong to the witness of the priest in our Church.
The sexual morality of the Church has not yet absorbed decisive insights from theology and human sciences. The personal meaning of sexuality does not receive sufficient attention. The result: the proclamation of morality does not give orientation to the vast majority of the baptized. It leads a niche existence. We sense how often we are not able to speak when it comes to questions about today’s sexual behavior”.

The deliberations of the Central Committee of German Catholics

During its Plenary Assembly on 10 – 11 May 2019 in Mainz, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) dealt with the issue of the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany. With a clear majority, the Assembly voted to help shape this path constructively. The Committee and the Main Committee were instructed by the Plenary Assembly to continue the planning with the German Bishops’ Conference in binding cooperation and under common leadership, to provide the necessary personnel and financial means for this and to ensure the networking of the representatives of the ZdK.

Pope Francis’ letter of 29 June 2019

Pope Francis wrote – for the first time in contemporary history – a letter “To the Pilgrim People of God in Germany”. This letter also takes up the concerns of the Synodal Path. The President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Prof. Dr Thomas Sternberg, jointly commented on this letter.

** https://www.synodalerweg.de/fileadmin/Synodalerweg/Dokumente_Reden_Beitraege/beschluesse-broschueren/Englisch/Synodaler-Weg-EN-Decisions.pdf

Decisions of the Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany

Original language is German

Preamble text: 

Listen, learn, taking new ways: 

The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany………………………………………….. 7 

Orientation text: 

On the path of conversion and renewal. 

Theological foundations of the Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany…………….13 

Foundational texts: 

Power and separation of powers in the Church – 

Joint participation and involvement in the mission ……………………………………………33

Priestly existence today…………………………………………………………………………55

Women in ministries and offices in the Church ………………………………………………..75 

Implementation texts: 

Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop ……………………. 107

A re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magisterium……………………………………….. 109

Fundamental Order of Ecclesial Ministry …………………………………………………….. 113 

Sustainable strengthening of Synodality:  

A Synodal Council for the Catholic Church in Germany ……………………………………… 117

The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening ………………………………………… 119 

Proclamation of the Gospel  

by authorised baptised and confirmed persons in word and sacrament…………………….. 125

Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other ………………………………………. 131 

Prevention of sexualised violence, intervention and dealing  

with perpetrators and suspects in the Catholic Church……………………………………… 135

Dealing with gender diversity ………………………………………………………………… 141 

Women in sacramental ministries – 

Perspectives for the universal church dialogue ……………………………………………… 147

5

Original language is German – emphasis has been added by the SU editor, to facilitate faster reading

Preface

„The Catholic Church in Germany is embarking on a journey of change and renewal”, this is how  the Statutes of the Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany begin. With the present publication this path, which aims to overcome the systematic causes of abuse and its cover-up in the sphere of the Catholic Church, enters a new phase. 

This publication contains all decisions of the Synodal Path made in one of the five Synodal Assemblies from 2020 to 2023. The decisions were based on the deliberations and preparations in the  four Synodal Forums. According to this, all texts presented for decision were discussed by the  Synodal Assembly in two readings and adopted with a two-thirds majority vote. This volume now  gives notice of all decisions of the Synodal Path in accordance with its Statutes. Our sincere thanks go to all those who, in different ways, were involved in preparing all 15 decisions. 

While the first stage of work of the Synodal Path ended with the Fifth Synodal Assembly in March 2023, this fact does not apply in any way to the Synodal Path as a whole. The numerous jointly agreed reform projects that should lead to change characterise a church that is embarking on a  journey of change. What is to stake now, is nothing less than the implementation of these very demanding but also necessary steps of reform that should lead – within the Synodal Path of the  Universal Church – to a more Synodal Church in Germany. 

Decisions concerning topics reserved for an all-church regulation are forwarded to Pope Francis as a vote of the Synodal Path in accordance with the Statutes. However, at least as important is everything that we in Germany can implement ourselves in parishes, dioceses, associations,  religious orders, in the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics. Now all those responsible are called upon to evaluate the decisions, adapt them to  their given situation and fill them with life, each in synodal understanding with one another. 

Let us start looking at how we can put the Gospel at the centre and proclaim it anew as credible witnesses. 

Bishop Dr. Georg Bätzing and Dr. Irme Stetter-Karp 

Presidents of the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics 

Preamble text  

Listen, learn, taking new ways:  The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany 

Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 11, 2023  

(1) As a Synodal Assembly, we are walking a path of repentance and renewal. We face the  criticism and the justified accusation of those affected by sexualised violence, abuse of power and its cover-up in the Church. We want to hear and proclaim the Gospel, God’s good news,  anew – in words and deeds. Thus, the Synodal Path will serve the cause of evangelisation. It is indispensable to openly confess guilt and also to analyse the structural causes of this guilt. 

(2) The Church in this country and in these times is looking for a path to connect in a new way  with the existential questions of the people of today and thus learn to perceive the mission of evangelisation in a new manner. For those who want to proclaim the Gospel must first hear it anew themselves and allow themselves to be changed by it. At the same time, the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany should contribute to the Synodal Path of the Universal Church, to which Pope Francis has invited all the faithful at Pentecost 2021. In 2019, he encouraged the “pilgrim people of God in Germany” in his letter, „walking together and with the whole Church under the Spirit’s light and guidance, to be invaded by the Spirit, to learn to listen and discern the ever new horizon that is always on offer.” With this, Pope Francis also links the call to seek “a frank response to the present situation”. This is why the Synodal Path takes up pressing questions that are of great importance not only in Germany, but also in other regions of the Universal Church.  

(3) We entrust our Synodal journey to God and ask for the gift of discernment of spirits to help  us walk the path into the future. 

1. Where we are:  in the middle of the crisis, in the middle of the world, in the middle of the Church 

(4) “The Lord then said: What have you done! Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil! (Gen 4:10). With this question God also addresses us. Sexualised violence is a serious personal guilt; it is also systemically and structurally part of the Catholic Church. Those responsible for leadership have not acknowledged the failure for decades and have covered up cases of sexualised violence. Many parish and association members have also supported and protected the system. Today, this is still happening. Among us in the Synodal Assembly there are people who have silenced even the quietest and most timid attempts at lament and protest, and still try to do so today. Others have not believed those affected, thereby causing them additional suffering and preventing them from receiving justice. Instead of taking the perspective of those affected and perceiving their suffering, some still lament the damage to the reputation of the Church and the heavy burdens on the church community. With the scientific MHG study, which researched sexual violence against minors by clergy in the sphere of the German Bishops’  Conference, many eyes and ears have opened — far too late and still associated with the inability of those responsible to admit own responsibility for the failure of the Church. The Synodal Path confronts this failure.  

(5) However, we also see encouraging signs of hope in this grave crisis: the decisive commitment of those affected and of survivors to clarification, reappraisal and change testifies to a trust in the liberating God whom no power in the world can silence for good and who is also able to make His word effective anew in crisis situations of the Church through prophetic voices. Therefore, the voice of those affected is not only helpful advice in a helpless situation; in their voice we hear the admonishing voice of God on the way of our own evangelisation. Moreover, we become aware once again of many other problems which obscure the Good News in our Church and impair her mission in the secular environment: abuse in spiritual and pastoral relationships, the abuse of power through clericalism and incompetence, the disregard for women and for people who do not conform to the binary order of male and female, and last but not least, where the Church’s teaching on sexuality promoted or promotes an understanding that does not do justice to what deeply constitutes the reality – especially the sexual identity – of many people. The four central themes and fields of action of the Synodal Path are dedicated to these urgent questions. 

(6) As Synod members, we stand with our guilt and need, with our hope and our faith in the midst of a world that is itself shaken by serious crises. It is all the more important that the Church faces up to the questions of the time and that she does not give the impression of already having all the answers. Together with the people of today, she is in search of perspectives inspired by the faith in God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

(7) The personal as well as systemic dimensions of sexualised violence have drastically increased the loss of trust in the Church. And yet many people still expect something from this Church. They expect a community of believers who, in following Jesus, are committed to humanity; who turn especially to those who are distressed and in need; who, where necessary, lend them their voice and let them have their say; who build bridges between the many hostile camps and therein share their hope for a better future, who, strengthened by conversion and renewal, learn to proclaim anew the Word of God made man in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Synodal Path must also lead to a culture of conversation that is characterised by mutual respect and love of one’s neighbour, because violence and abuse already begin with the language used. This means a resolute rejection of any kind of hateful and contemptuous communication. We are grateful for the many moments of intense dialogue, committed testimony and constructive controversy. However, we must acknowledge that there have also been painful moments when people inside and outside the Synodal Assembly have been hurt by statements and gestures of individual members. This challenges us to work resolutely towards a synodal culture that is based on respect. The aim of the synodal process is to achieve the greatest possible unanimity. This has been achieved in many places. But there is a minority that was not only sceptical about the Synodal Path from the outset, but also voted against the large majority on important decisions. It is therefore important to remain in dialogue and to fill the decisions with life, which are to make synodality permanent.  

(8) The Church is a Church with guilt and failure. She will only do justice to her mission if she engages with people and their everyday world and is particularly sensitive to the needs of those traumatised by violence and those of the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised. Pope Francis writes: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” (Evangelii Gaudium 49). 

(9) We are a part of this Church because faith in God, hope in Jesus Christ and communion in Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist unite us with all believers in the Catholic Church, across all boundaries that separate people from one another. It is the task of the Church to be “a sacrament or a sign and instrument both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen gentium 1). Therefore, she must take seriously Jesus’ mandate to work for justice and peace (Matt. 5:6+9). Many things in society as well as in the Church are striving apart and have to be painstakingly brought together. Because the Church is not only holy, but also sinful, she must never carry out her tasks in an attitude of superiority, but always in humility. 

(10) It is contrary to God’s spirit to impose unity in an authoritarian way. The search for ways to prevent discrimination, suffering and violence in the Church in Germany – even against resistance from within and outside the Church – is not divisive but necessary. We rely on the encouragement of the Apostle Paul: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil”. (1 Thess. 5:19- 22). 

2. Where we come from: with our experiences, with our disappointments, with our hopes 

(11) In the Synodal Assembly we come together with different experiences, with disappointments and with great hopes. Many of us are young and know the arguments about the way of the Church in the last decades only from hearsay. They are committed to a non-discriminatory and humane Church. Others have been involved for a long time; they draw a mixed balance of what has succeeded and failed. Quite a few people have turned their backs on the Church be cause they have been disappointed or hurt by her or because they have no use for her any more. For them, the gap between their faith in the Gospel and the words and actions of the hierarchical Church has become too wide. However, it is important to include all perspectives, not to deny each other’s faith and to always look for new ways to talk to each other. 

(12) The Synodal Path would fall short of the claim of the Gospel if the expertise of those affected by sexual violence were not brought in and their voices were not listened to carefully in its midst. We are grateful that members of the Advisory Council of those affected by sexual violence at the German Bishops’ Conference are involved and committed to the Synodal Path. 

(13) Our self-understanding includes the experience of a democratic society in which human rights are valid. We expect that they are also respected and implemented in the Church. Our church experience is shaped by the Second Vatican Council, even if most of us have not experienced it ourselves. We want to be Church “today”, with the energy of the Bible, with the staying power of tradition, but also in decisive contemporaneity here and now. Being united with the Pope and with the Church throughout the world opens up a richness of unity that consists in the vitality of a cohesion of very many people who bring their different gifts, their strengths and weaknesses into the community of faith. Unity is a dynamic quantity that cannot be lived at all without diversity. We share Pope Francis’ concern that those in authority in the Church frequently act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators (Evangelii gaudium 47). God is close to everyone, inside and outside the Church. Spreading this message is the mission of the Church. 

(14) The Catholic Church in Germany has followed a path of renewal that has led from the Second Vatican Council to the Würzburg Synod and the Dresden Pastoral Synod. Associations and initiatives have also initiated renewal processes. Different challenges have required different issues. Today, many problems remain unresolved and new ones have been added. Quite a few resolutions have still not been implemented. The proposals of that time cannot simply be repeated today because the situation has changed. The Synodal Path follows the tradition of the ways of renewal and synodal processes, which are also today taking place in many parts of the Catholic Church worldwide, in order to make the Church a place of faith and freedom for the people. 

(15) Pope Francis stresses: “The present questions, as well as the answers we give, demand a long fermentation of life and the collaboration of a whole people for years.” (Letter by Pope Francis to the Pilgrim People of God in Germany, here with reference to Yves Congar). The Catholic Church in Germany is on this path and continues to walk it. It is a path marked by great hope and joy, but also by deep disappointment because many had hoped for courageous steps of reform for decades which have not been realized yet. We therefore share the Pope’s intention to go forth as a Church and to strengthen synodality (Evangelii gaudium 32) and we want to further develop the understanding of Synodality according to local conditions. We want to be able to proclaim the message of the Gospel in such a way that we do justice to the people in their respective life worlds. We share the conviction that the Catholic faith gives people the power to recognise the signs of the times, to interpret them in the light of the Gospel and to act accordingly. 

(16) We are convinced that the crisis of the Church, which is evident in the crimes of sexualised violence and their cover-up, is not the end of the Church, despite the heavy guilt. Even in this deep crisis there is the chance of conversion and a new beginning. The Catholic Church has lost credibility in many areas, which she hopes to regain. This can only happen through a change which, in addition to a changed attitude, also takes institutional modifications into consideration. Much can be learned from the spirituality and experiences gathered in living congregations, religious orders and spiritual communities. Catholic organisations and associations provide important impulses and are a sign of hope within a space of the Church. The close relations with the Universal Church, which are not least deepened by the church relief agencies, are important as well

3. Where we want to go: to the lives of people, to the places of faith, to the points of rupture in society 

(17) The goal of the Synodal Path is to prevent discrimination, suffering and violence, to eliminate the systemic causes of sexualised violence and in this way to listen anew to the Gospel of liberation. Only those who perceive God’s voice in the cry of the poor for justice (Matt. 5:3-12) and in the silent groaning of the maltreated creature (Rom. 8:22) may dare to trust in God full of hope, despite all guilt, and stand up for their neighbours. 

(18) “Man is the way for the Church” (Redemptor hominis 14). The Church must follow the path of the people and not judge and determine the ways of the people from a supposedly superior perspective. She is needed where fractures and wounds mark people’s lives and must not hide her own fractures and wounds. She must be of service to the people. 

(19) In order to do justice to what the MHG study analyses as systemic causes of sexual violence and how to deal with it, the German Bishops’ Conference has asked the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) to jointly pursue a synodal path. It has proposed three topics for this: power and the separation of powers, the way of life of priests and the Church’s sexual teachings. At the suggestion of the ZdK, the topic “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church” was added. The consultation of the local churches at the worldwide synodal process of the Catholic Church has shown that the four topics are also significant in many other parts of the Universal Church and that they demand new answers. 

(20) There are, of course, many more issues that need to be deliberated and decided in a synod al way in the Catholic Church. Each topic requires decisions that can be taken in Germany, with a specific responsibility of the bishops for their dioceses. However, all topics also raise questions that cannot be decided in Germany alone, because they concern the Catholic Church as a whole. Due to the worldwide situation of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, worldwide systemic changes are also needed. We would like to contribute to this with the Synodal Path in Germany. Clear votes are needed in this regard so that the Universal Church can hear our voice, the voice of the Catholic Church in Germany, just as we listen to the voices from the Universal Church in the Synodal Assembly. The critical accompaniment of the public is also important. We want to be part of a learning Church on a spiritual path that brings together all the faithful. 

(21) We share Pope Francis’ commitment to being a synodal Church. In a synodal Church, all are aware of their mission and have a say in setting the course for the future: In the “Letter to the Pilgrim People of God” he wrote: Synodality must begin “from below”, always anew; only then is there that “synodality from above” which is a special leadership responsibility of the bishops. They bear this responsibility together with the whole people of God. In a synodal Church, all the faithful are called to listen together to God’s Word and to interpret the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel and to direct pastoral action accordingly. They are invited to perceive their mission and to have a say in setting the course for the future. In a synodal Church, ecclesial ministry is understood as a service to the priestly and prophetic people of God in the common struggle for the necessary unity and legitimate diversity. In a synodal Church, spiritual processes of reflection and discernment in the Holy Spirit lead to binding decisions. 

(22) The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany is also a learning process of synodality. Synodality “is a constitutive element of the Church” (Pope Francis, Address at the ceremony 

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commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops). And at the  same time, it is a “modus operandi”, a way of acting, that the Church must rediscover and  practise in this time. On this path, not everything succeeds at once and immediately. An im portant task is therefore to stay on this path together. Simple forecasts for the Church will not  help. We are talking about a future that is open to surprising turns and developments, full of  trust in Jesus’ promise that God’s Spirit will guide His Church. 

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Original language is German 

Orientation text

On the path of conversion and renewal 

Theological foundations of the Synodal Path 

of the Catholic Church in Germany 

Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022 

(1) The story of the liberation of God’s people from Egyptian slavery begins with seeing and listening: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers” (Ex 3:7). God sees the need of the people and listens to remedy it – that is the Good News. Following this message today also begins with seeing the wounded and marginalised, with listening to those who have been silenced and condemned, to the members of God’s people who have fallen silent and yet are rebelling. Pope Francis writes with regard to the poor: “They have much to teach us. (…) We are called (…) to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them”.1 They undoubtedly include the victims and survivors of sexualised and spiritual violence in the Church. 

(2) Seeing need, listening to the Word of God and to one another is a fundamental implementa tion of all synodality. We need to seek, together, God’s counsel for the Church and the world to be able to go the necessary steps. Dialogue is indispensable to a Church that is seeking the truth. As Pope Paul VI put it in his inaugural encyclical Ecclesiam suam “For it becomes obvious in a dialogue that there are various ways of coming to the light of faith and it is possible to make them all converge on the same goal. (…) It will be a slow process of thought, but it will result in the discovery of elements of truth in the opinion of others.” (86). In dialogue, the participants are together in search of the truth, full of respect for each other and open to the insights of the participants. A dialogue thrives on different perceptions, assessments and points of view that are expressed. And it renounces them when, influenced by good arguments and new insights, they are no longer tenable. Dialogues usually lead to new, jointly-shared insights – even though they may reinforce what is tried-and-tested with fresh plausibility. But dialogues also teach us to live with what is foreign and incomprehensible and to endure a dissent that cannot be resolved (cf. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes/GS 43). Last but not least: Genuine dialogue does not stop at talking – it leads to decisions and to action that takes account of the new insights. 

1 Pope Francis, Apostolisches Schreiben Evangelii gaudium über die Verkündigung des Evangeliums in der Welt von  heute (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium on the Proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world) (24 November  2013), 198: Sekretaria.t der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 194  (Bonn 2013), P. 142.  

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I. Finding our way along the Synodal Path 

(3) The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church of Germany which began on the first Sunday of Advent 2019 is a dialogue carried out in an attitude of faith, leading to listening and seeing, to judging and acting. It starts during a major crisis in the Church. It takes up the impulses of the MHG study. It lives from the perceptions, assessments and points of view of all members of the Synodal Assembly as well as of all people who participate in this dialogue. It must especially listen to the voice of those who are affected by abuse of power and sexualised violence. It needs a readiness to open up to new insights and to permit itself to be defined by them. It also lives from regularly seeking dialogue with new people and groups, within and outside the Church. The bishops are important participants in the discourse. They exercise the ministry of unity within their diverse local churches but they also constitute an essential link to the universal Church and to the Bishop of Rome. They must pay attention to what the people of God believe. This makes it all the more important that everyone on the Synodal Path has a say and can take part in decisions, not only those who hold a senior office in the Church. 

(4) The Synodal Path needs a reliable orientation. In God’s strength the Church knows herself to be challenged not to suppress systemic abuses of spiritual power, but to fight against them, and not to squander the resources of faith but to use them in a sustainable manner. Without God’s help, the Church is lost. She must face up to her history and open up to the future. She needs new impulses to rediscover the Gospel. She needs new forces and alliances to help her draw practical conclusions. 

(5) Listening together to the Word of God makes it possible to find answers to the pressing questions of our time, to pressing questions of faith and to pressing questions of the Church. Sexualised violence, sexual and spiritual abuse and the cover-up of it have happened in our Church and have systemic causes. Through her structure, her actions and her practices, the Church has caused great suffering. 

(6) The search for orientation requires theological clarity. The task of theology is to open up the sources of faith from which motivations emerge for the conversion and renewal of the Church. “But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.” (Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum/DV 7 – with reference to Irenaeus, Adv. Hær. III,3, 1). Essential is the voice of the whole people of God; in particular there is an “option for the poor”, which derives from the Gospel itself.2 

(7) The task of the orientation text consists in clarifying the theological foundation for successful work in the Forums, and it serves the entire Synodal Path of evangelisation. The Forums deal with “Power and separation of powers”, “Priestly existence”, “Women in ministries and offices in the Church”, as well as with “Life in succeeding relationships – living love in sexuality and partnership”. The orientation text makes clear the foundations as regards the understanding of revelation, the Church’s mission and the quality of theological debate so that these can be built on later. 

2 Pope Francis, Address to participants in the international Congress on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the  conference of the Latin American Episcopate in Puebla (3rd October 2019). 

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(8) The Synodal Path needs spiritual guidance as well as theological discussion. There is no Synodal Path without worship and prayer. There is also none without deliberation and decision making. The arguments for and against must be exchanged fairly. In doing so, it corresponds not only to human rights, which must be upheld as a matter of course, but even more deeply to that “freedom in Christ” of which the Apostle Paul speaks so passionately (cf. Gal 5:1), that there must be no prohibitions on thought and speech, no fear of sanctions or discrimination. At the same time, however, this freedom also calls us to the common responsibility of the faith that has been handed down to us. Decisions must be well-founded. They must be followed by actions. 

II. Rediscovering and reconnecting the places and times of theology 

(9) Theology is fed by sources of knowledge of revelation which are instrumental for the life of the whole Church. These sources are places of theology (loci theologici). These also include times of theology which always make it possible to discover the “today” of the voice of God in different contexts (cf. Ps 95,7; Hebr 3,7). It can be recognised at these places and in these times what God wishes to say to people by human means, and what people who believe hear as the Word of God. It is important to precisely define these places and times, to differentiate and determine their status, and to precisely clarify their interrelationships. They are found in the celebration of faith, in the proclamation of the Gospel, and in serving one’s neighbours in the midst of the world. 

(10) The most important places of theology include Holy Scriptures and tradition, the signs of the time, and the sense of faith of the people of God, as well as the Magisterium and theology. No place can substitute the other places; they all need the mutual distinction and association. All these places need to be rediscovered and relinked in each time anew so that God’s faithful ness to His promise has the power to renew the Church’s faith from one generation to the next. Each of these places has a surplus of promise at each time which cannot be reduced by other places and other times, but which can be strengthened. 

(11) The orientation text starts with “Scripture and tradition” in order to describe the basic, seminal testimonies of faith. It speaks of the “signs of the time”, making it possible to recognise the “Kairos”, the opportunity of the present, (cf. Luke 16:9), and of the “sense of faith of the people of God”, which “cannot err in matters of belief” under the promise of the Spirit (Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium 12). The orientation text places the “Magisterium” and “the ology” in a mutual context in order to designate their different responsibilities and at the same time their joint mission, namely to serve the truth of faith which lies in God’s salvific word. 

(12) Discovering and linking the places and times of theology here and today is an expression of faith which unifies and liberates the entire Church in listening to the Word of God. This is the Biblical experience of God, rooted in the hope of Israel: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps 119:105). 

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Opening up scripture and tradition  

(13) The witness of Holy Scripture as the “highest guiding principle” (DV 21) and of living tradi tion are fundamental and landmark for the Church. For this reason, the Synodal Path takes its measures from them. 

(14) Scripture and tradition are much more than standards to be observed; they enable a belief in God’s love for all His creatures. The Bible tells the story of how people discovered God’s love, justice and grace in the history of Israel, in the mission of Jesus, and on the paths of the young Church. Tradition makes it clear that God’s journey with people is continued in each generation because the people of God can trust in him “at all times” (Ps 62:9): He says “Yes” to all his “promises” (cf. 2 Cor 1:20). 

(15) For the Catholic Church it is essential not to understand scripture and tradition as opposites but to communicate them together and be open to all the different voices speaking as human witnesses of the Word of God. On the one hand, Scripture itself is a tradition because it has been formed in the living tradition of the Church, which is rooted in Judaism. On the other hand, tradition only transmits the Word of God when it forms itself “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). The meaning of Scripture reveals itself in tradition, and the meaning of tradition reveals itself in Scripture. It is therefore necessary to read and interpret the Holy Scripture in the light of tradition, and tradition in the light of the Holy Scripture. “This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything“ (DV 7). 

The Holy Scripture fundamentally testifies to the living God who creates, sustains and redeems  people.  

(16) The Bible testifies to the “beginning” that God makes by saying His word again and again (cf. Heb 2:3). Therefore, it takes on a special significance with and towards the tradition as a fundamental witness to the Word of God. Greek Church Father Gregory of Nyssa describes the Holy Scripture as “a sure truth criterion for each teaching” (Contra eunomium 1:315). Read in the spirit of God, the Holy Scripture is the “guide” that lends orientation to the life and mission of the entire Church, also today and tomorrow (DV 21). 

(17) The Holy Scripture is a source of renewal in faith, of criticism of wrongdoing, of encour agement to attain freedom, of a hope for redemption, of an invitation to love and of seeking justice. The Bible is inspired by God and written to give a voice to the poor, to comfort all who mourn, to free the captives and to make space for God’s grace – always “today” (cf. Is 61:1-2; Lk 4:18-19). The Bible stands for faith in God, love for one’s neighbours, and hope of renewal which imparts a foretaste of redemption. 

(18) The Bible is however also a book that many people find difficult to access. It is written in the language of a bygone age. It reflects a worldview that has perished. It contains a wealth of scriptures whose significance and context trigger questions and attract criticism. It is misused again and again to exercise dominion over others. This makes good explanations all the more 

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important. Whoever believes never remains stuck to the letter of the Bible, but seeks to breathe  the “Spirit” that “gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).  

(19) The Holy Scripture fundamentally reveals how faith comes into being and reveals itself. The Christian Bible reaches from Creation to the end of the world. It starts with God, who speaks (Gen 1), and ends with a blessing for all (Rev 22:21). The rainbow becomes the sign of a Cove nant which God establishes with all of humankind (cf. Gen 9:13). The Bible calls to mind the lasting mission of Israel, the flight from Egypt (Ex 12-15), God’s revelation at Sinai (Ex 19-40). It lends a voice to wisdom and prophecy. According to Luke, Mary testifies that God is on the side of the poor: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). According to the Gospel of John, God’s eternal Word became flesh in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:14). The New Testament testifies to the memory of Jesus who in His birth, life and death, as well as in His resurrection reveals God’s unending nearness to people. (cf. Mk 1:15), His court ruling over sin (Mt 25), His search for those „who were lost” (cf. Lk 19:10) and His imparting life “more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). The New Testament shows the awakening of the young Church which will gather people for faith among all the peoples: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). The Bible brings together all those who believe in Jesus Christ with their Jewish brothers and sisters in faith. It provides the sure foundation for the knowledge of the Living God (cf. Hos 6:6) and promotes friendship with Jesus (cf. Jn 15:12-17). It communicates the promise of Jesus Christ to remain on the path in the midst of His Church “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). 

(20) The faith of the Church entails a conviction that the books of the Bible teach the “truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (DV 11). In this declaration, the Second Vatican Council invokes the New Testament: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). 

(21) The Bible reveals in a variety of ways the unity of faith without which there is no diversity, and the diversity of faith without which there is no unity (Rom 12:1-8). The Canon brings to gether a chorus of voices lending expression to the search for God in different languages, with different tones, and in far-reaching visions of the future, expressing joy in God and questions about God, but also doubt about God, struggling with God, and again and again astonishment about God. The multifaceted nature of the texts creates a vociferous choir singing the melody of the Gospel in all its highs and lows: with all the harmonies and dissonances which belong to people’s lives “through all eternity” (1 Chr 16:36), in the fundamental attitude of the God-given “hope of being restored to life by Him” (2 Macc 7:14). 

(22) In the Bible, people, inspired by the Spirit of God, bear witness to God’s Word in human words. They heard it and wrote it down in their times and at their place in order to enable people in all times and in all places, who read, meditated and studied the Holy Scripture to hear God’s comforting, liberating word. Saint Augustine put it as follows: “God speaks through people in a human manner by speaking thus, by seeking us” (Augustine, De civitate Dei XVII 6:2). This suspense between God’s Word and human words ensures that the meaning of the Holy Scripture can never be exhausted, but has to be discovered anew and more deeply time and again. 

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(23) The Bible does not dictate world views, gender roles, values of the times in which they were valid. Rather, it also changes prevailing conventions in order to create space for God and open up spaces of freedom. But even in these processes of change, it is bound to a specific time. Therefore, the Bible has lost none of its topicality and relevance. However, its message must always be defended against attempts to use the Bible to set back, discriminate against and dominate people who, on the basis of their conscience, live and believe differently from the norms of the Church. 

(24) Any reform of the Church worthy of its name is measured against the Holy Scripture. The Bible does not provide a pattern that one only needs to copy, but gives impulses and sets criteria when it comes to walking along new paths and mastering new challenges. The Holy Scripture is a compass enabling us to take new paths with God’s help. It encourages us to engage in crea tivity and criticism, to discover the old and explore the new. As Pope John XXIII put it: “It is not the Gospel that changes, but we who begin to understand it better” (Apoftegma, 24 May 1963). 

(25) The Bible must be interpreted in such a way that the salvific power of the Gospel can be proclaimed. This salvific power is faith (cf. Rom 1:16-17). The fact that interpretation is possible and necessary is based on the Bible itself: The Torah must be applied, wisdom lived, prophecy embraced. “Let the reader understand” (cf. Mk 13:14). The history of the Church is also a history of interpretation of Scripture which is to impart the literal, spiritual and historical with an up to-date meaning. The goal of interpreting Scripture is to always hear God’s voice and permit it to enter our hearts “today” (cf. Ps 95:7; Heb 3:7). 

(26) Criteria are needed for interpreting the Bible. It is essential to pay attention to the original meanings of the texts, to the context of Scripture as a whole and to the connection with the tradition of the Church (cf. DV 12). Especially when it comes to the question of what orientation the Holy Scripture gives today, the interpretation must be open to new insights from the natural, human and social sciences. In addition, it must be remembered that new questions arise in every age to which there are no direct answers in the Bible. The task of the Church’s interpretation of Scripture remains to make the Word of God audible in the many words of the Bible. Sacred Scripture opens itself to the witness of faith in the breadth of the Spirit who gives life (cf. 2 Cor 3:6). 

(27) The interpretation of the Bible is a concern for all who read the Bible in order to discover God’s story in the story of their own lives. It is a concern for the whole Church to find in the Bible the initial, fundamental witnesses of faith which must be proclaimed anew to every gen eration. It is a major task for the sermon, for catechesis, and for religious instruction, not only to inform people about the Bible, but to open it up for them for today as God’s Word in human language. Interpretation is a matter for theology, the “soul” of which is the study of Holy Scrip ture (DV 24); as theology can provide a scholarly explanation of the Bible from the time of its genesis and it can recognise how it has been re-read and re-understood, again and again, as time has passed. The interpretation of the Bible is not lastly a matter for the Magisterium, which however must respect freedom of theological research and the sense of faith of the believers and put it to use. Its task after the Second Vatican Council is to explain the written Word of God that has been handed down “bindingly (authentice)”, whereby it is “not above the Word of God”, but “serves it” (DV 10). The Magisterium is the ecclesiastical authority to be heard and 

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obeyed in matters of faith and morals. Its task is to bear witness to the authoritative interpre tation of Sacred Scripture (cf. DV 10) and to advocate that the “table of the Word” (DV 21) be  richly laid for the faithful and that God’s Word comes to the fore in the interpretation of the  Holy Scripture, which is “near” to all those who believe (Deut 30:14 – Rom 10:8).  

Tradition testifies to the creativity of the Spirit of God, which leads the Church of all times  and places on the path of conversion and renewal.  

(28) God’s Spirit leads the Church on her path through time. This is how the tradition of the Church comes into being. It is not a rigid but a living entity. She hands down the Word of God which is fundamentally given to us in the Holy Scripture in such a way that the Word of God can be perceived in each time and in all places in the human witness to faith: in celebration, in teaching, and in the ministry of faith. Thus, tradition realises the unity of the Church, faith and baptism in the diversity of gifts and vocations (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 4:4-5). Tradition is founded in the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel. It requires constant transmission. Accord ing to Irenaeus of Lyons, the bishops, as successors of the apostles, have the task of reliably witnessing to the truth of the Gospel (cf. Adversus haereses 3:3). All who are in the ministry of preaching are called to recognise and witness to the liberating truth of the Gospel so that all members of the Church may grow in faith (cf. Eph 4:11-21). 

(29) Traditionalism is wrong to only recognise the penultimate phase of church history as binding in most cases, thus curtailing the richness of tradition or forcing it into the corset of a system. But as a living entity, tradition develops in the changing times, in the diversity of cultures and in the community of believers who celebrate God’s mystery, profess God’s greatness and seek to know God’s will. French author Madeleine Delbrêl writes: “We are ready for every departure because our time has shaped us in this way, and because Christ must go with us at today’s pace in order to remain in the midst of the people.”3 

(30) Reforms are an integral part of tradition: Worship changes; doctrine develops; Caritas un folds. In its dynamism, tradition is the process to review the current form of the Church and of faith in order to always receive and shape her anew as God’s gift. The tradition of the Church is open to the context of new discoveries, new insights, new experiences which challenge the traditional faith and demand new answers, which testify more deeply to the revealed truth of God, which serve the growth of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel and the communion with all people to whom God’s grace applies. The philosophy and wisdom of the peoples, science and the arts, the life of the people and the social work of the Church were and are inspiring factors for further development and for the ever-new unfolding of tradition. Prophetic voices are found not only within but also outside the Church. People’s living conditions and attitudes change over time; these changes are shaped by tradition, and also help to shape tradition. 

(31) In amongst the abundance of phenomena, in the contradictions of the times, and in the controversies regarding the right path, criteria are needed in order to recognise the tradition which is able to faithfully hand down and continually rediscover the Word of God. These criteria cannot be reduced to particular manifestations, rites or structures. Rather, it is God’s Word 

3 Madeleine Delbrêl, Frei für Gott (Einsiedeln 1976), P. 71. 

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itself that constitutes the tradition. No human being may claim to possess this Word of God, but  all the faithful are called upon to hear it and to bear witness to it (cf. Rom 10:17). It is crucial  to promote love for God (cf. Dt 6:4-5), which is shown in love for the neighbour (cf. Mk 12:28- 34). Wherever the “philanthropy” of God is shown in the lives of people (Tit 3:4), the tradition  is alive. 

(32) With regard to the Second Vatican Council, a distinction has to be made between tradition and the traditions which are very important and helpful in faith for people of a specific time and culture, but are not generally widespread, are not passed on from one generation to the next, but can certainly also be recognised as being narrow, as an exaggeration or fixation on a particular constellation. Tradition per se does not exist without traditions, but only within them; but a critique of tradition is required so that tradition per se can be recognised in traditions and from traditions. This forms part of the constant reorientation of the Church towards witnessing the Holy Scripture in light of the signs of the time. 

(33) The subject of tradition is Christ Himself who brings together the people of God in His Spirit. Different members, charisms and gifts make up the people of God. The decisive factor is the community formed in faith, from generation to generation, and from place to place. Tradi tion is therefore inseparable from the sense of faith of the people of God (sensus fidei fidelium): The ‘sense of faith’ of God’s people lends expression to Scripture and tradition: They are rec ognised and visualised. The sense of faith in turn extends the tradition of the Church in each present time by taking the witness for the Holy Scripture as a yardstick, and interpreting the signs of the time. The promise applies that God’s Spirit holds and guides His people in and to the whole truth of the Gospel (cf. Jn 16:13). 

(34) Distinguishing tradition in the multiplicity of human traditions is a task that is already set in the Bible in a different context (cf. Mk 7:8). The Holy Scriptures provide the criteria for evaluation because, read in God’s Spirit, they reveal the Word of God in its original meaning, which must be determined anew in any given time. The signs of the times indicate the direction in which the tradition must be further developed. In their sense of faith, the people of God recognise by virtue of the Spirit where the paths of faith are running: what to preserve from the past and what to discard, what to develop further and what new things to integrate. Theology reflects what is, has been and may be considered tradition. The Magisterium has the task of continually opening up tradition as the source of a living faith, protecting it from misinterpre tation and promoting the unity of the Church in critical phases through listening and discern ment. 

(35) The liberating power of the Gospel must be expressed in the interpretation of Scripture and tradition. For Scripture and tradition, by virtue of the Spirit of God, lead from the written word into the midst of life and from the past into the present and future. Scripture and tradition are decisive milestones for the path of conversion and renewal the Church is following. They open our eyes to all people who are searching for meaning and happiness, for comfort and strength, for solidarity and hope on the paths of their lives. 

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Exploring the signs of the time and the sense of faith of the faithful 

The Church is instructed to interpret the signs of the times in her respective present as places  of God’s salvific and liberating presence.  

(36) The Church is tasked with giving witness to the truth of God. She can only do so if, in addition to Scripture and tradition, she also carefully examines and interprets the signs of the time for traces of God’s salvific and liberating presence. For the signs of the time open up an important gateway to discover God in the people’s history and present. This will enable the Church to adequately answer the pressing questions about the meaning of human life and re demption from evil for the present and for the future. 

(37) The Second Vatican Council makes us discover that we have the task “of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4). In this context it is important “to decipher authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything […], and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.” (GS 11). In this specific sense we understand the signs as a place of theology. They can be recognised through discernment in the midst of epochal changes in all areas of human life and in all parts of the world. The Second Vatican Council gives examples of the ambivalence of phenomena typical of the times: “Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the world’s citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. Never before has man had so keen an understanding of freedom, yet at the same time new forms of social and psychological slavery make their appearance.” (GS 4). Among the hopeful signs of the times – “authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose” (GS 11) – Pope John XXIII counts, for example, the “improvement in the economic and social condition of working men”; the growing together of peoples into a “human family” that will soon know no more foreign domination; and, not least, the growing participation of “women in public life” (Pacem in terris 21-25; cf. 45-46.67.75). According to Pope John XXIII in these and similar signs of the time people discover “what is meant by truth, justice, charity and freedom. … And that is not all. Inspired by such principles, they attain to a better knowledge of the true God—a personal God transcending human nature. They recognize that their relationship with God forms the very foundation of their life—the interior life of the spirit, and the life which they live in the society of their fellows.” (Pacem in terris 25). 

(38) The signs of the time stand for moments in which something significant reveals itself and forces one to make a decision. They stand for a window, a momentum, a Kairos. This places all of the signs of the present time on a Biblical foundation (cf. Lk 12:56): Time fulfils itself with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth: The “kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15). The life and destiny of Jesus are the incarnate signs of God’s salvific and liberating nearness in the past, present and future of humankind. Such signs of the time must therefore never remain without conse quences. Jesus Christ already calls to conversion and discipleship in the face of the fulfilled time. Today’s signs of the time must therefore make us reflect; interrupt our habitual thinking and actions and make us consider new beginnings, also in the life of the Church. 

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(39) All signs of the time must be distinguished in the abundance of historical and societal phe nomena and determined in terms of their significance for faith and the Church. Only in this way may orientation be gained for personal and societal life and for the life of the Church. For the ” improvement in the economic and social condition of working men ” or the participation of “women in public life”, what is hopeful may be obvious. The crisis of growth, or the simultaneity of freedom and new forms of slavery, on the other hand, undoubtedly make the ambiguity of many signs of the time just as obvious. At the same time, they can point to both the salvific and to the unholy. The signs of the time must therefore be identified. What is the salvific element in which God’s presence may be perceived? And what is the unholy element which must be overcome in the light of the Gospel, that is in the light of the salvific and liberating nearness of God and the call of Jesus Christ to conversion? 

(40) This distinction is not new. The Scriptures of the Bible also call for the “discernment of spirits” (cf. 1 Cor 12:10), and warn against “false prophets” (1 Jn 4:1) leading people astray. The signs of the times must be interpreted in the spirit, life and destiny of Jesus Christ. The Risen One Himself sends the assistance of His Spirit to His disciples (cf. John 16:7-8). His spirit helps to distinguish and recognise the sinful from the righteous, the unholy from the holy, and the “authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose” (GS 11). 

(41) Recognising the signs of the time in the power of God’s Spirit, and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel, requires an interplay between all further places and sources of faith. The Holy Scripture opens up a view of criteria which result from the distinction between true and false prophecy. Tradition proves that the discernment of spirits has always been a task for all faithful and for the church office – under changing conditions, and with varying success. The interaction and expertise of all is needed: of those who have a special closeness to the everyday world of the people, as well as of those who are entrusted with the Magisterium, in order to ensure consistency and connectivity with the profession of faith. And theology ensures the con nection to the insights that must flow into the interpretation of all the signs of the times in the discourse of the sciences, in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and in attention to the different cultural realities. 

(42) The insights of other sciences are indispensable. For only they open up the reality of many areas of life that are not (fully) covered by Holy Scripture or tradition. The sciences decipher their inherent laws (“autonomy of earthly affairs”: GS 36). Therefore “if methodical investigation (…) is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms” scientific knowledge “never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God.” (GS 36). Therefore, dialogue with the sciences is essential for the inter pretation of the signs of the times as well as for faith as a whole. 

(43) The outcry of the victims of sexualised violence is truly a sign of the time. The outcry draws attention to a terrible evil – namely, decades of violence in which priests, religious and other employees abused their spiritual and administrative power over children and juveniles as well as over adults, and especially women. The outcry of the victims forces the Church into a salutary crisis of purification. It forces her as a whole to engage in conversion (cf. LG 9). Hearing this outcry and following it up through the renewal of the Church and its structures can itself become a sign of the times. It becomes a place to give witness to the Christian faith. The sign of the time making the outcry of the victims of sexualised violence effective is not inconsequential. It 

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brings into focus other questions of the life of the Church that in some cases have been open  for a long time: the question of power and the desire for the separation of powers; the sustain ability of priestly ways of life; the desire for equal access to the ministries and offices of the  Church for all genders; the reception of current research findings in the sexual morality of the  Church. They too could prove themselves to be signs of the times. They too call to be interpreted  on the trail of God’s presence and God’s counsel. The following also applies to them: “Do not  quench the Spirit! Do not despise prophetic utterances! Test everything; retain what is good.”  (1 Thess 5:19-21)  

In the intuition of their faith, the members of the Christian people of God assure themselves  of the truth of the Gospel.  

(44) The call of the Apostle Paul not to quench the Spirit of God was first addressed to the Church in Thessalonica. As part of the canonical Scripture, it is handed down for the Church into the present day. It is therefore a reminder to all the people of God. The people of God, in all its members, is gathered into a community in order to discover the abiding presence of God in the manifold signs, and to explore His counsel: in the Scriptures of the Bible, in the traditions of the Church, and not least in the signs of the time. And it is in God’s counsel itself that the whole people of God discover and explore Him. Only all the members of the Church together consolidate the intuition necessary for this. Only in this way does the sense of faith of the faithful (sensus fidei fidelium) develop; only in this way does it become an open ear, a seeing eye or the sensitive touch of God. Mary, the Mother of the Lord, puts this sense of faith into words that come to life in the prayer of the Church: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” (Lk 1:46-47). 

(45) The sense of faith of the faithful is rooted in the common priesthood of all who are baptised and confirmed. The common priesthood fundamentally allows active participation in the three fold ministry of Christ, the ministry of leading, the ministry of sanctifying, and the ministry of teaching (cf. LG 12 and 36). For the dogmatic constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the nature of the Church, this common priesthood has very far-reaching consequences for the teach ing of the Church. The common priesthood means that the people of God in its entirety “cannot err (…) They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural dis cernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ [St Augustine] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals.” (LG 12) 

(46) The sense of faith of the faithful includes the connection between life and faith. It consists not only in what is transmitted by Church teaching. It is also far more than the intuitions of believers who are able to sense the truth of the Scriptures, tradition or the Church’s teaching. The sense of faith of the faithful must also examine everything itself in the Spirit of God in order to find out what is good and right. The Spirit of God inwardly directs the faithful towards what determines everyone and everything: towards the spiritually-interwoven thread of personal con duct in life, the Church as God’s community of discovery and exploration – in constant conver sion, and on the path of discipleship of Jesus Christ. God thus communicates again and again in the sense of faith of the faithful. In this spiritual act, the faithful adopt the truth contained in Scripture, tradition or the signs of the time, out of an inner conviction. The role models are the 

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Saints, who themselves frequently struggled with their Church in their time, but in the midst of  all adversities gave authentic witness to and inspired the faith of God’s people, irrespective of  their gender, of their origin, and of any office in the Church.  

(47) The sacramental ministry of the ordained priesthood represents Christ as Head of the Church and ensures the unity of the Church – in all places and through all times. In this it serves the common priesthood of all who are baptised and confirmed. This ministry is indispensable. Unity of the Church does not mean uniformity. The unity of the Church consists in the unambig uousness of her mission and its many-voiced expressions. “The “visible and social union” of the Church (cf. LG 9) takes place as unity in the commonly shared faith, in the sacraments and in the communion of the Church under the successor of the Apostle Peter. 

(48) This unity must be struggled for again and again. It is put to the test when there is long lasting dissent within the people of God on central questions of faith. This becomes particularly evident when a church doctrine is not taken on board by a major section of the people of God despite many clarifications and explanations. Here too, the sense of faith of the faithful may emerge. Of course, ongoing dissent by no means automatically negates the truth of a theological insight or of a doctrine that is presented. But it does indicate that it must be examined, and if necessary further developed. It is the better arguments and more profound insights that count, and certainly not the number of loud voices or the forcefulness of power-conscious positions. Scripture and tradition never tell us about quick majority decisions, but they tell us a lot about the strenuous efforts of a common search for the truth. Decisions of faith in the Church should always be made according to the principle of unanimity. They aim at a consensus that is not an outward compromise but an inner coming together. The consequent involvement of the sense of faith of all the faithful in the other places and sources of faith prevents it being simply equated with a prevailing opinion in a present place. The sense of faith feeds on the sources of Scripture and tradition; it interprets the signs of the time, and is prepared to listen to the Magisterium. The Magisterium, in turn, presupposes and inspires the sense of faith of God’s people. Theology encourages it through analysis and critical reflection. 

(49) The sense of faith of the faithful expresses itself – guided by the Spirit of God – in particular in the “truth of conscience”4. Conscience confronts each person individually with God’s direct call. He calls on him or her to unconditionally direct conduct in life towards the love of God, and of his or her neighbour. Love of God and of one’s neighbour points to the conscientious insight of each one of the faithful into the common quest of all the faithful, indeed of all people of good will (cf. GS 16). No personal judgment of conscience could have permanence if it were to close itself to the pros and cons of common considerations with others. It must allow itself to be critically questioned in cases of doubt. It is quite possible that an idiosyncratically-accen tuated decision of conscience could pass its acid test in this respect. It is no coincidence that the word conscience refers to knowing together, to con-scientia, to syn-eidesis (cf. 1 Cor 10:28). But in the end, it always appeals to the individual’s own insight, to his or her own judgment, to his or her own decision. The deeply-personal, conscientious final decision about one’s own way 

4 Pope John Paul II, Enzyklika Dominum et vivificantem über den Heiligen Geist im Leben der Kirche und der Welt  (Encyclical Dominum et vivificantem on the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World) (18 May 1986),  31: Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 71 (Bonn  1986), P. 30. 

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of life is binding – even if it should turn out that it was made in error. To ignore conscience, to  control it from outside, to eliminate it, or even to neglect it, would be to negate the personal  centre of people and their dignity that was created by God. Conscience, for its part, finds ori entation in the light of faith. 

(50) The truth of conscience is the realisation of the human being’s rational nature and his participation “in the light of the divine mind” (GS 15). At the same time, the rational capacity for knowledge and judgement in many questions of faith and life unites believers with all other people: “In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individ uals from social relationships.” (GS 16). The conscience of the believers makes use of the find ings of different sciences. But this also shows that the sense of faith does not establish an exclusive claim to ownership by individual believers. The sense of faith of the believers pushes for a consensus, for a commonly shared sense – even if such a consensus is not always reached and the community of believers then has to live with dissent over a period of time. The Church is not only a community of remembrance, but also a community of dialogue. She fundamentally involves all who are baptised and confirmed. The bishops in particular are responsible for en suring that a dialogue may take place in alignment on the essentials, and does not end in a confusion of voices. As leaders of the local churches, they are advocates of unity, and bridge builders within the world-spanning community of dialogue. They thus serve the “truth of con science” – the formation of conscience in the community, as well as for each individual. These special advocates and bridge-builders can however never take their place.5 

Taking the Magisterium and theology seriously 

(51) In common with the other witnessing instances of faith, the Magisterium and theology are dynamic variables. They are represented by people who are called in various ways to testify to and teach God’s Word. The Magisterium and theology belong together from the beginning. For the Word of God is also the foundation of the magisterial proclamation. Theology is not only represented here by the scholarly discipline of that name, but ultimately by all those who are baptised who testify to their faith in various contexts, speak of their experiences with God, and pray to Him. The Magisterium and theology, like the entirety of the faithful, are bound to the revelation of the Word of God, to Sacred Scripture, tradition and the sense of faith of the whole people of God in the context of the signs of the times. The sense of faith of all the baptised, like all other places of faith, is grounded in the Holy Spirit. Lumen gentium 12 emphasises that the entirety of believers shares in the prophetic ministry and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that they have an inerrant teaching authority under the guidance of the Magisterium. 

(52) Tradition speaks with regard to the individual faithful of a sentire cum ecclesiam, of a feeling and breathing with the Church, to express that there is not only an outward, but also an inward relationship with the people of God. This connection can be perceived as a successful, joyful experience, or as a burdened, sorrowful one. Suffering under or in the Church is prevalent 

5 cf. Pope Francis, Nachsynodales Apostolisches Schreiben Amoris Laetitia über die Liebe in der Familie (Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia on love in the family) (19 March 2016), 37: Sekretariat der Deutschen  Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 204 (Bonn 2016), P. 30. 

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today in many, but especially among those who have fallen victim of abuse. This makes it diffi cult to live the joy of the Gospel and to experience the salvific dimension of the sacramentality  of the Church. The Magisterium and theology need to take feeling with the Church and the  sensus fidei seriously, given that any talk of a consensus in the Church would remain abstract  without these two dimensions. Church educator Catherine of Siena showed with her letters to  the Pope that the sentire cum ecclesiam also does not rule out constructive criticism of the  conduct of the Magisterium. 

The most important task of the episcopal and Papal Magisterium is the authentic proclamation  of God’s Word. 

(53) In this ministry of proclamation, the ministry of leadership is grounded in the people of God. The ordained ministry is oriented towards and is meant to serve the common priesthood of all the baptised. The bishops have been understood as vicars and ambassadors of Christ (LG 27) since the Second Vatican Council; the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place among their principal duties (LG 25). They are in collegial communion with one another and with the people of God appointed to the ministry of sanctification, teaching and leadership. 

(54) Universality and regionality make up the living diversity and unity of catholicity. The form of faith changes diachronically over the epochs, and synchronously distinguishes itself due to the different manifestations of the local church. A bishop, as representative of the faith of the apostles and at the same time of people within the respective local church, has to give voice to this faith in the universal community of bishops. The universal Magisterium of the Church is exercised not only by the Pope, but by the whole body of bishops, under his direction and in a collegial and conciliar manner. It is necessary to strengthen the synodal moment with the par ticipation of all the faithful also in the development of church doctrine. Infallible decisions of the extraordinary Magisterium are subject to special conditions, and for good reasons form the absolute exception in the Catholic Church. The ordinary Magisterium of the Pope and the indi vidual bishops may trust in the working of the Spirit of God. It is however not exempt from possible errors, unless everyone agrees in a consensus. 

(55) These forms of the exercise of the Magisterium have been supplemented by the synodal tradition at universal Church and regional level since time immemorial, and Pope Francis has declared that he wishes to enhance this. An ancient principle of the Church goes as follows: “that which affects all as individuals must be approved by all” (CIC ca. 119, 3) There is therefore a need to consider how participation of all faithful in the realisation of their common priesthood in future councils and at universal synodal level can be guaranteed. Unity in the Catholic un derstanding is no static concept. It takes place in concrete terms between ourselves and the triune God, in the diversity of the people, local churches and cultures. Unity, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is a characteristic of the Church and at the same time a task for all believers. We also notice this in the controversial debates within the Church, which show how lively and di verse the unity of the Church is. “It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it. So, we cannot claim that our way of under standing this truth authorizes us to exercise a strict supervision over others’ lives. Here I would note that in the Church there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects 

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of doctrine and Christian life; in their variety, they “help to express more clearly the immense  riches of God’s word”.6 

(56) The Magisterium is called to unlock the immense riches of God’s Word. In connection with the preservation of unity, the Magisterium is thus entrusted with the task of enabling and pro tecting the legitimate diversity of faith and doctrine that has always belonged to the life of the Church and to the working of the Spirit of God. The Magisterium had previously rather held back in theological disputes beyond conciliar decisions, and left the clarification of central questions to the theological debates that were shaped in the Middle Ages by the great traditions of the religious orders. The consequence of the First Vatican Council was that the Papal Magisterium, for apologetic reasons, increasingly claimed the task of and competence for theology for itself, and understood itself as a faith-defining defensive instance in the face of a modernity which it perceived as a threat to faith. In the anti-modernism controversy, this hindered the reception of knowledge from the humanities and the natural sciences and thus also prevented attempts by theology to open up new paths of faith in dialogue with contemporary thought and to make faith in God comprehensible to the people of their time. 

(57) A new epoch started in the Church with the Second Vatican Council. The deliberations that took place at this Council led to a constructive dialogue within the Church and with the world, and to a new attitude towards other denominations and religions, as well as towards philosophy and atheism. The Papal Magisterium increasingly sought to establish a dialogue with theology and with the other sciences, the insights of which were now also positively received. This also led to a new flourishing of theology, the independence and specific Magisterium of which were acknowledged. The Second Vatican Council chose a clearly different language than the councils before: it no longer separates, excludes or pronounces condemnations; it sees the world in the love of God and grants the possibility of salvation to people outside the Church. These depar tures of the Council must be strengthened and advanced. Thus, with regard to its language, the Magisterium must also take into account today how its words affect people. 

(58) The Popes and the Curia often reacted to reform-orientated synodal developments in the local churches with reserve or rejection, or did not even respond to pressing questions and urgent requests, such as the Würzburg Synod. This led to fresh disappointments and tensions. The Synodal Path notes that the Roman Magisterium also intervenes in our time in ongoing clar ification processes and discussions, and insists on doctrinal positions that many faithful, includ ing deacons, priests and bishops, far beyond Germany, no longer find comprehensible. The al ienation between Church teaching and the increasingly complex lives of people, as identified by Pope Francis and the Family Synod, is also becoming a challenge to the practice of proclaim ing the Gospel for the local churches in Germany. Particular significance attaches here to ad herence to the meaning of the Scriptures, to the living tradition, to the signs of the time, to research into theology, and especially to the sensus fidei. 

(59) The guidelines of church teaching are also to be critically reflected by theology. If the Magisterium points out that the Church does not have the authority to change a doctrine on 

6 Pope Francis, Apostolisches Schreiben Gaudete et exsultate über den Ruf zur Heiligkeit in der Welt von heute  (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate on the call to Holiness in today’s world) (19 March 2018), 43: Sekre tariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 213 (Bonn 2018), P.  26. 

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certain questions, then it must be examined what is at issue: In these cases, is it really a doc trinal position of the highest obligation? Or is it a doctrine that is to be located at the top of  the hierarchy of truths? Is ius divinum, divine law, to be assumed? Can the justifications put  forward be convincing? Every magisterial decision gains its authority only as an authentic form  of proclamation of revealed truth. The insistence on authority alone is not enough. Because of  the guilt of abuse and out of a pressing pastoral need, the Synodal Path is therefore looking for  new perspectives. It should also be pointed out that even the authentic ordinary Magisterium  can possibly err when it is in doubt whether it expresses the consensus of all in faith. This  question is of particular importance because we are experiencing that worldwide, in concern  for the future of the faith and the credibility of the Church, a not inconsiderable number of  ecclesiastical doctrinal positions are being questioned. It is the task of theology to take up such  questions and to support the Magisterium also through constructive criticism. It becomes evident  anew how necessary dialogue is in order to find a consensus in our time. “Such a mission requires  in the first place that we foster within the Church Herself mutual esteem, reverence and har mony, through the full recognition of lawful diversity. Thus, all those who compose the one  People of God, both pastors and the general faithful, can engage in dialogue with ever abound ing fruitfulness. For the bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything dividing them.  (GS 92). 

Theology is included in cooperation and dialogue between all places of faith.  

(60) Historicity and temporality also of the Church’s doctrinal statements are to be taken into account. The Synodal Path therefore attempts to present theological arguments in a differenti ated way. This is also to aid the Magisterium in examining previous statements in the light of scientific findings and reflections, whose inherent lawfulness is to be appreciated and examined and to realise necessary changes in teaching positions. This is at the same time a contribution to the discernment of spirits. Theology reflects faith in God in a plural way, and is tasked with permitting faith and rationality to come into their own as equals. In the same way as the Holy Scripture and tradition, theology as a science – in its exegetical, historical, systematic and prac tical manifestation – belongs to the witnessing instances and places of identification of the faith of the Church, along with the sense of faith of all the faithful and the Magisterium. It relies here on engaging in a dialogue with the other sciences, with which it seeks together to find the truth and its significance for people. There are different hermeneutical approaches in theology, and these themselves are open to the many schools of thought in an increasingly complex world, in order to be able to enter into a fruitful dialogue with them. Theology itself takes place in this rich plurality. 

(61) “Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word.” (DV 24). So just as the Church as a whole must reinterpret the text of the Holy Scripture again and again, because this text is not unambiguous, so too the soul of theology, that is the study of the Holy Scripture (DV 24), must lend a voice to the one truth founded in the mystery of God, equally in its diversity and multiplicity of meaning. 

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(62) In the dogmas of the Church, truths revealed by God are expressed in a historical and binding manner; they aim to illuminate and strengthen our faith. Nevertheless, they are also texts with multiple meanings, and in the course of history they have to be questioned again in terms of their meaning. Council texts are often compromise texts, given that they aim to achieve consensual unanimity. This is also taught by the Second Vatican Council, the reception of which is still underway in different and conflicting paths. Theology is aware of the tension of unity and diversity of such texts, of their binding nature, but also of their historicity and con textuality, which gives us food for thought. Pope Francis reminds us in this context that God has surprises in store for us again and again: There are no easy solutions when we ask in a differen tiated manner for the meaning of God’s Word for people in our time. “When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories. God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.”7 

(63) In common with the other sciences, theology must accept that each answer and every time gives rise to new questions, and that the search for the truth does not end, even if the truth has been found, until God brings time to an end. “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully” (1 Cor 13:12). God’s mystery is a lasting challenge for theology and for the Church as a whole. It leads to a properly understood self-critical attitude of humility in which one’s own interpretations and convictions are placed into perspective again and again, i.e. they are referred back to the mystery of God’s boundless love. Even if He is infinitely close to all people, He at the same time transcends all human thinking capacities. Theology is thus also tasked with countering fundamentalist temp tations where positions of individuals or groups are to be made absolute and not subject to debate in such a way as to make it incapable of dialogue. A self-correction emerges in the scientific community of theology via the critical scholarly discourse. A critical counterpart is also needed in dialogue with the Magisterium, that is for both partners in the dialogue. 

III. Deliberating and deciding in the power of the Spirit 

(64) Theological criteria have been identified in this text which guide the work of the Forums of the Synodal Path and the drafting of their resolutions. They aim to open up spaces for new paths, and show that there may be changes in the Church, indeed that there must be changes in times of crisis. How else could one speak of a serious conversion? 

(65) The concept of transformation is of central significance not only in the celebration of bap tism and the Eucharist. It is the guiding concept for Christian life: All are called by God to repent, to be constantly changed and transformed by His love. How does this happen? Is there really conversion and change or do the same familiar patterns, structures and attitudes remain? 

7 Pope Francis, Apostolischen Schreiben Gaudete et exsultate über den Ruf zur Heiligkeit in der Welt von heute  (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate on the call to Holiness in today’s world) (19 March 2018), 41: loc.cit.,  P. 25. 

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Does the Synodal Path bring about change? If, in the face of guilt and sin, there is no repentance  and new turning to the Lord, the Church becomes rigid; its members who are stuck in guilt  betray the living God and the people who are seeking God today.  

(66) The Church is a royal priesthood, a holy nation under God, so that they may announce the great acts of God in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Ex 19:3; 1 Peter 2:9). She is “in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1). Because of her holy origin, from which she can constantly draw strength, the Church can be called holy in spite of all her shortcomings. She lives by the promise so that she cannot be destroyed by the forces of evil (cf. Mt 16:18-19). 

(67) The profession of the holiness of the Church, which can only be founded in God alone, is connected with the admission of her sinfulness. The knowledge of the Church’s sinfulness must not be used in today’s crisis as an argument to simply carry on as before because sin and guilt have always been part of her. On the contrary: If the Church takes her own theology of repent ance seriously, radical self-criticism, honest repentance, open confession of guilt and a genuine change of direction in her attitude, her actions and, where necessary, also in the change of structures are indispensable. Only in this way can a path of reconciliation which the Church hopes for and which only God in His mercy can open up for her be taken. 

(68) Pope Francis paints a new picture of the Church today, which he sees as a “field hospital”8. The Church is to help heal the people’s wounds, and not to open up new ones. She should speak a language that people understand, which does not wound and discriminate, but allows people to recognise God’s kindness. Trusting in God’s mercy, the Church is called upon to confess her sins, to resolutely combat the structural causes of abuse within the Church and to courageously pursue new paths of the common mission. To respond to this call is the mandate of all members of the Church. This means that all those baptised shall assume their responsibility and use their right to give advice to each other and to take good decisions together. 

(69) The model of a self-renewing synodal Church, which Pope Francis resolutely promotes, is also the model of the Synodal Assembly, which seeks to involve itself in the worldwide Synodal Path. This universal process deliberately embraces the participation of the common priesthood of all who are baptised. The question of the appropriate participation of the whole of God’s people in the deliberations and decisions in the Church arises worldwide, and demands new answers. Above all, the victims and survivors of abuse must be heard. Their experiences, their indignation, and their complaints, must find an echo in the teaching and in the practice of the Church. The experiences of people and the proclamation of God’s Word are already inseparable for the Holy Scriptures. No one may tear them apart. 

(70) Due to the systemic increase of abuse within the Catholic Church the four themes of the synodal forums are indications of the first steps to be taken on the Church’s path of conversion and renewal. They are prerequisites for evangelisation that accompanies people’s lives, which is the mission of the Church, and draw consequences from the fact that the Church has to permit herself to be evangelised in order to bear credible witness to God’s Gospel. The theological clarifications needed to promote participation and the separation of powers, to shape priestly 

8 Pope Francis, Nachsynodales Apostolisches Schreiben Amoris laetitia über die Liebe in der Familie (Post-Synodal  Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia on love in the family) (19 March 2016), 291: loc.cit., P. 205. 

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life today, to strengthen women in ministries and offices in the Church, and to mediate between  the sexual teaching of the Church and the lives of people today, are dealt with in the texts of  the Forums, and lead to concrete options for action. 

(71) The synodal experience “allows us to walk together not just in spite of our differences, but seeking the truth and taking on the richness of the polar tensions at stake.”9 Pope Francis speaks of a diverse Church in which the image of unity is not a pyramid or a circle, but a solid polyhe dron, i.e. a three-dimensional polygon. This is an exciting image that combines diversity and unity. 

(72) Gathered and united by the Holy Spirit, the Synodal Assembly lives and experiences the rich diversity of the Church, united in the common faith. All members of the Synodal Assembly are called to pray to God, celebrate the liturgy together, and live the diaconal mission of the Church in service to all people. This unity does not rule out different positions also being taken up on certain questions of the Church’s life and doctrine in the future, and in mutual respect. Everyone involved in the Synodal Path will thus struggle for the path of the Church in the future, and will continue to seek a synodal understanding: The Synodal Path has not come to an end, but is to continue! 

9 Pope Francis, Wage zu träumen (Let us dream) (München 2020), P. 108. 

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Original language is German 

Foundational text

Power and separation of powers in the Church 

– Joint participation and involvement in the mission 

Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on February 3, 2022 

Introduction 

(1) The Catholic Church is in a serious crisis. She can, however, only fulfil her mission if she recognises the character, causes and dimensions of this crisis, faces up to the crisis, and makes a serious effort to find solutions. This concerns above all the systemic causes of abuse of power and sexualised as well as spiritual violence. 

(2) Even if the crisis of the Church needs to be defined within a broader context of societal and cultural change processes, it is not limited to such general factors. Firstly, there are tensions within and between the doctrine and practice of the Church. Secondly, there is a divide between the claims of the gospel and the way power is actually conceived and exercised in the Church. This divide must be closed under the demands of the Gospel. The standards of a plural, open society in a democratic constitutional state do not oppose this, but give room for a credible proclamation of the Gospel. 

(3) The conversion and renewal of the Church in particular concern her system of power.1 Ac cording to Lumen gentium (LG) 8, the Church is not only a spiritual entity, but she is also a society constituted in this world, because only this way she can serve the world. A look at history shows that there were many ways of shaping the structures of the Catholic Church. In the light of the Holy Scripture and of the Second Vatican Council they should be put to the test again and again – through a discernment of spirits. The abuse scandal confronts the Catholic Church with the question of which spirit she is guided by. 

(4) Only the entire people of God can give an answer to this question. The sense of faith of all who are baptised calls for greater shared responsibility, cooperative action and enforceable participation rights. Shared responsibility not least creates transparency in the use of church power. The research project “Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of orders in the domain of the German Bishops’ Conference” (MHG Study) carried out in 2018 has shown forcefully and in disturbing diversity that sexualised violence committed by clergy against children and juveniles, the hushing up of offences, and the protection of perpe trators, are caused not only by individual psychological factors, but also by systemic ones. In particular, the focus is on the current power structure within the Church. It favours certain 

1 The term refers to the structures of power in the Church and their principles. 

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criminal and abusive acts and makes it difficult or prevents to counter them internally as well  as to cooperate with the public authorities. It is therefore all the more important that those  with responsibility in the Church undertake a critical self-reflection with regard to these struc tural and ideational factors that enable or promote the abuse of power. Standards and criteria  for a sustainable spiritual and structural renewal have to be developed which then need to be  translated into concrete measures. 

(5) As the Synodal Assembly of the Catholic Church in Germany, we therefore recognise in con scientious and self-critical reflection, and in an effective reform within the Church’s power structures an essential prerequisite to realise the mission of the Church in the world of today. If the Church wishes to be able to claim spiritual and moral authority, her understanding and use of power must be critically examined, and if necessary reformed: Does the Church’s power really serve the proclamation of the Gospel, and does it serve people? Where does it become autonomous? Where does it promote and where does it hinder the experience of God’s unlimited creative life power? 

(6) A change in the ecclesiastical order of power is called for on the basis of the Church’s own history of the synodal principle, on the basis of democratic decision-making processes in orders and ecclesiastical associations, and for reasons of successful inculturation into a democratically shaped free society under the rule of law. This is not about uncritically adopting practices from society, for the Church also always has a prophetic-critical mission towards her social partners.2 The democratic society, however, can no longer understand and comprehend the Church’s sys tem of power in many instances. Yes, the Church is publicly suspected of using her own legal system to discriminate against people, to undermine democratic standards, and to immunise herself against critical enquiries about her doctrines and organisational structures. The Synodal Path builds on theologically-based reforms and concrete changes in order to address legitimate accusations, rebuild trust in the Church, and make space for faith in the God of life. 

(7) The kernel to the problem is the manner in which power – that is power to act, power to interpret and power to judge – is understood, justified, transferred and exercised in the Church. A theology of the Church has developed, a spirituality of obedience and a practice of the office which unilaterally bind this power to ordination and declares it to be sacrosanct. The Church is thus shielded from criticism, disconnected from supervision, and cut off from division. Con versely, vocation and charisms, dignity and rights, competences and responsibility of the faithful in the Catholic Church are not taken into account according to the significance that they have to the people of God. The access to the Church’s ministries and offices is restrictively regulated without the task of evangelisation coming sufficiently to the fore as a decisive criterion. The respective ministries, offices, roles and responsibilities too are not sufficiently closely linked to the charisms, competences and qualifications of the faithful. This is not only about a wrong understanding of power, but above all about the lost opportunities for the development of our Church. A restrictive leadership culture wastes potentials and competences of believers and ministers. Not only access to power, but also the selection and guidance of those to whom this power is entrusted, require an honest examination and reform. The Church-related exercise of power also requires a settled personality and spiritual maturity. 

2 Cf. Pope Francis, Letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany (29 June 2019), No. 7. 2. 

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(8) These factors justify, cause and promote the abuse of power, which obscures the mission of the Church. Precisely because this obscuration reaches into the institutional core of the Church, it also affects the image of God that is proclaimed and lived, and thus the innermost point of all evangelisation. The Church’s aspirations and reality must become closely aligned. 

(9) Since the problem of power concerns structural issues of separation of powers, power control and participation beyond the question of the individual behaviour of public officials, these issues are particularly in focus here. Questions closely connected to this include those of gender equal ity, and the question of the mission and shape of the ordained ministry. Regarding the question of options for a successful life in different forms of life, in addition to questions of content, there is also a debate about the criteria and competences according to which church authorities can be assigned sovereignty of interpretation and judgement. 

Part I:  

Reforming our own power structures as a fundamental activity of a Church on the move 

1. Where do we stand? And what lies ahead? 

Dimensions and challenges of the crisis 

(10) The Catholic Church needs a spiritual and institutional conversion that is sustainable. The crisis of the Catholic Church affects different levels, and has multiple causes. The crisis is mas sively exacerbated by sexualised violence and spiritual abuse of charges. 

– There is a serious institutional crisis in the Church. Individual misconduct is part of a culture of exaltation of the spiritual office and in structures and attitudes secured by church law which “protect” ministers from critical questioning, as well as from sustainable supervision and limitation. Committing sexual and spiritual abuse a perpetrator becomes guilty as does at the same time the institution that does not prevent such action and that protects the perpetrator. 

– There is also a severe crisis of credibility in the Church. The crisis is evident not only in the systemic causes of abuse, but also in a lack of openness to reform. Some who resign their Church membership retain their faith, but the failure of the Church costs others their faith. Alienation from congregations and from Church institutions, as well as from the Church’s rituals and offers of meaning, are as studies show an important factor motivating people to dissociate themselves from the Church, even in circles of highly committed church members. Often, the Church’s power structures are experienced as authoritarian. For many, her legal system does not meet the human rights-based standards of democratic societies. The Church doctrine on ethical issues, especially in the field of gender justice and sexuality, is perceived as hostile to life. 

(11) The institutional crisis and the credibility crisis of the Church make it considerably more difficult to communicate the Gospel. In parallel, profound religious-cultural changes are taking place worldwide, the consequences of which are not yet foreseeable. Spiritual and religious needs continue to claim space, but church ties are loosening. Fundamental Christian beliefs, namely the belief in the triune God, are evaporating. The confessional, symbolic and social form of the Christian faith is increasingly losing plausibility. Thus, appropriate measures are neces sary that might help to overcome the institutional crisis and the credibility crisis of the Church. 

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(12) We wish to understand, change and exercise power and responsibility in the Church in such a way that “God’s kindness and love for mankind” (Titus 3:4) can be rediscovered. 

(13) The proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of faith must correspond to the gospel of Jesus Christ, motivated by the service to the poor. Interpersonal relationships and organisa tional structures have to be guided by this gospel. Where this is not the case, sustainable cor rections have to be made. 

2. We have understood! 

The mission of the Church as a debt to culture and society 

(14) More than half a million people terminated their membership of one of the two major Christian Churches in 2019 alone. 272,771 people left the Catholic Church. The number of peo ple leaving the Church has doubled since 1990. This trend is continuing. Many church members are considering leaving. Not only in Germany, but worldwide, there are more and more new and disturbing reports about abuse of power in sexual, spiritual and financial terms. Whilst the anal ysis and correction of factors that enable or fail to effectively prevent violence against minor charges is gradually gaining (legal) contours, and has triggered intensive theological reflections, other problems such as spiritual abuse of or violence against (religious) women, and adult charges have so far hardly been recorded and dealt with. This also applies to sexualised vio lence, sexualised and spiritual abuse perpetrated by full-time and voluntary church workers, as well as the violence that has occurred in the many institutions, communities, groups, associa tions and federations of the Church. Nationally and internationally, depths of actions on the part of the Church have been revealed. The strength and willingness of many, especially many women, to continue to commit themselves in the Church, to shape the Church on the ground, and to stand up for this Church, are exhausted. 

(15) We have understood 

– that an enlightened and plural society must insist that such phenomena of structure-related abuse of power must be consistently exposed, charged and punished and that everything must be done to prevent their continuation. This requires active, transparent cooperation between the Church and state authorities. The Church can only be grateful for the critical public opinion; 

– that abuse of power may be legitimised and concealed neither in canon law nor theologically or spiritually. It distorts the idea of spiritual authority, and counteracts the theology of the office, which does not empower to engage in arbitrariness, but orders to exercise the min istry. It blatantly contradicts both Christian and social values and standards of law and jus tice; 

– that power is transferred as a ministry and requires spiritual depth. It can only achieve blessed effects when it is shared, limited and supervised in the spirit of the Gospel, and when it is granted, and if necessary withdrawn, within the framework of comprehensible quality standards. Where instruments to supervise power are lacking, the power to shape and interpret is transformed into arbitrariness – also and especially in the Church; 

– that the Church in a free, democratic society has to face public supervision; – that the legal culture of the Church must be aligned with fundamental and human rights; 

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– that also spiritually based leadership must be effectively bound to law and legal protection; – that transparency, accountability and effective checks on power prevent abuse of power, and the reliable administrative justice is needed in the event of culpable failure; – that leadership must always be co-decided by those over whom decisions are taken; – that sharing and supervising power do not signify opposition to the authority of offices. In fact, the attribution of authority increases when it commits itself to abide by unambiguous quality standards that have been established by others; 

– that power in the Church must not become independent, but should open up ways of life in the sign of the gospel of God’s love – and that it shall be measured by this. 

(16) We have understood that the Church has been guilty. We have understood that the Church has enabled and covered up massive sexual violence, sexual abuse and spiritual abuse and pro tected the perpetrators. We have understood that the causes of these cases are systemic and linked to the structure and teaching of the Church. We have understood that we need to resolve the systemic prerequisites for abuse in the Church. We have understood that many parts of society consider a Church which is primarily concerned with herself to be unattractive and use less. Questions of structure and legitimacy are undoubtedly challenges we have to face. How ever, this is not already the fulfilment of the set task, but only its prerequisite. People want a Church that offers them a space in which to experience and encounter God, and that fulfils a critically-prophetic mission towards society. To realise this is the task of all faithful. 

(17) We have understood that we will be judged on whether and how we honour this debt. 

3. We are on a path of learning. 

The breakthrough of the Second Vatican Council in terms of revelation theology and its ecclesiological formalisation 

(18) The Second Vatican Council has shown new ways of understanding Revelation that serve the renewal of the Church. It is guided by Holy Scripture and tradition; but it also relies on the sense of faith of God’s people and on the signs of the times (Pope John XXIII), especially on the dialogue, ready to learn, with the scientific findings and socio-cultural developments of the present day, which in their own way offer a key to understanding the Word of God. The Holy Scripture and Church tradition, as well as the “signs of the time”, give clear instructions for the possible aggiornamento- the updating – of the Church. None of the testimonial instances is to be made absolute or to be asserted uncritically. 

(19) The reference to Holy Scripture needs scientific exegesis. The reference to church tradition needs critical historical research and analysis that reveals the detours and deviations of the history of the Church and of dogma, reminds us of what has been forgotten and makes clear the respective time-boundedness of theological concepts and church structures. The interpretation of the signs of the times also needs an awareness of the possible dangers of an era and its current social order. A discernment of spirits is required. The signs of the time are to be inter preted in the light of the Gospel (cf. Gaudium et spes/GS 4). Orientation to the Holy Scriptures, interpretation of tradition and commitment to the aggiornamento of the Church are inter twined. 

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3.1 God’s revelation in the Church’s tradition 

(20) It was theologically decisive for the Second Vatican Council to describe revelation and faith in terms of a dialogue between the Word of God and the human response. “In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father. … Through this revelation, therefore, the invisible God out of the abundance of His love speaks to men as friends” (Dei verbum/DV 2). No tradition is thus started off by a text or a doctrine. Therefore, a network of witnessing instances of faith (loci theologici) is laid out in the event of revelation. At these “places” the event of salvation is perceived and passed on. Thus, the network of these places is of decisive importance in the Church’s teaching. 

(21) The “orientation text” presented by the Synodal Committee describes the individual wit nessing instances of faith and their interrelations. The Second Vatican Council highlighted the faithful and their sense of faith (cf. LG 12), and the signs of the time (GS 4) as places of theology: These include the significance of externally-gained insights for a deeper understanding of the Gospel, as well as a contemporary shaping of the Church’s structures (cf. GS 44). The dialogical interpretation of God’s Word by “lay” believers, theological experts, and representatives or instances of the Church’s Magisterium are also part of this. Determining this structure in a dif ferentiated way has consequences for the understanding of power and the separation of powers in the mission of the Church, which will be explained in the following. 

(22) The revelation-theological and the ecclesiological renewal of the Council thus intertwine. This is not a mere pragmatic reform of structures, but a demanding synodal renewal of the Church’s self-understanding. This also constitutes a major motivation for today’s processes of conversion of the Church. 

– God’s revelation has been handed down once and for all – but its reception and interpreta tion take place in a human way, i.e. within the framework of historically- and culturally determined understanding processes. This was already the case in the Bible. 

– These understanding processes do not take place in a monological or directive witnessing instance but within a network of different instances. None can be replaced or superseded by another. Weight is given to each witnessing instance; each is historical, i.e. dynamic and time-bound in equal measure. 

– Insights, experiences and developments of the time are resonating spaces of the Gospel, in which proclamation can, on the one hand, trigger a new echo and, on the other hand, absorb new impulses. 

(23) In a synodal church, this interaction of witnessing instances must be expressed. 

3.2 The Church on the path through time 

(24) The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) portrays a pilgrim Church which has not yet reached her destination. She is not rigid in her structures, but alive in her mission; not self-sufficient, but capable of learning. The Church is out to seek and find God and His traces, also in the “strange”, unexpected places (cf. GS 4, 11, 44). She is moving on with all people of good will on the Path in a joint quest for truth (cf. Dignitatis humanae/DH 3), in solidarity with their joys 

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and griefs, their thinking and deciding (cf. GS 1; Ad gentes/AG 22); with respect for their dignity  and conscience (cf. GS 16).  

(25) This self-understanding reflects the willingness, as a Church, to learn from the surrounding culture and society: from its language and experiences, its perceptions and ways of thinking, its social processes and organisational structures. “With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and inter pret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage.” At the same time, the Church “can and ought to be enriched by the devel opment of human social life, not that there is any lack in the constitution given her by Christ, but that she can understand it more penetratingly, express it better, and adjust it more suc cessfully to our times” (GS 44). 

(26) We see ourselves as a learning Church. To this end, we want to use the whole network of witnessing instances to reveal the meaning of the Gospel in our time. We want to learn our common Church’s mission anew – together with the people for whom we are on the path as a Church. 

4. We want to learn to embody theological diversity in the unity of the Church. Plurality as legitimate diversity of different core beliefs – also within the Church 

(27) Church and theology were and are plural which is neither a weakness of the Church, nor a failure of leadership on the part of those with responsibility. Cultivating diversity without break ing apart as a community can be understood as the very hallmark of what it is to be Catholic. This is shown by Church history and this becomes more and more urgent as regards the global character of the Church. Openness to different ways of thinking and living is indispensable with regard to the cultural linguistic ability of the church, because the gospel addresses all people. 

(28) Unity and diversity in faith must be balanced anew. We believe that God keeps his people in the truth revealed in Christ. It is the fundamental task of the teaching authority in the Church to authentically testify to this truth and thus to preserve the Church in unity. This does not release us from the need to constantly search for this truth of salvation history in the diversity of times, cultural forms and concrete social challenges. We can only speak honestly of the one truth entrusted to us if we are aware of the complexity of such approaches and open the dis cursive space for this without restriction. Dealing with complexity in an ambiguity-sensitive manner is due to the historical character of the truth of salvation and at the same time proves to be a fundamental signature of intellectual contemporaneity, especially today.as a fundamen tal signature of intellectual contemporaneity. For this reason, it is a prerequisite for today’s theology. It does not only pursue the one core perspective, not the one truth of the religious, moral and political worldview, and not the one form of thought that can lay claim to ultimate authority. Legitimate views and ways of life can co-exist in the Church too, even on core beliefs. In fact, they can even simultaneously assert a theologically-justified claim to truth, accuracy, comprehensibility and honesty, and still contradict one another in terms of their statement or in their language. Not infrequently in history, the Magisterium has deliberately not resolved such tensions, but has only recorded the mutual dependence, as for example in the central 

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question of grace and freedom. The fact that plurality is also legitimate and an opportunity in  the interpretation of doctrinal statements also relates to the debates along the Synodal Path. 

(29) Given a legitimate diversity of interpretations of how and for what purpose the Church is to serve, the task is to develop a Church culture of conversation and of learning from one an other. This also applies to coordination in the different universal Church contexts, and on the different levels of the universal Church. 

(30) A church culture of conflict presupposes: 

– to avoid denying one another Catholicity and Catholic legitimacy. It is important to learn from the others’ positions, to listen to one another and to the working of the Spirit in this dialogue. In doing so, people challenge each other to critically examine their own position. 

– a commitment to conducting debates in a solution-oriented manner and making well founded decisions. However, decisions may need to be addressed even if solutions have not yet been conclusively found. 

(31) Conflicts must be interpreted and solved in community, in which the faithful listen to one another and to the working of the Holy Spirit, with different attitudes. In such joint learning processes, which serve the purpose of unity and the strength of the faith of the Church, funda mental questions can thus be posed which aim to further develop the doctrine, and in line with the latter, the Church’s legal order. 

(32) As a Synodal Assembly, we know that our debating and deciding can always only be of a provisional nature. But this insight must not prevent us from acting responsibly. We know of our fundamental common origin and of our different interpretations. We struggle with each other to find the best possible solution. We respect our differences, even when it comes to core convictions; we strive to perceive the legitimate concerns in other positions. We expect every one to do their part to promote the ability of the Synodal Assembly to act and that majority recommendations and decisions to also be supported by those who themselves have voted dif ferently. We count on everyone to examine the implementation of the decisions in a thorough and publicly-transparent manner. 

5. We follow the aspiration to be signs and instruments of unity and salvation. 5.1 The sacramentality of the Church …  

(33) The Second Vatican Council declared in programmatic terms: “Christ is the Light of nations” – and developed the essence of the Church from this starting point: “[…] the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1). From this faith follows the need for a sustained conversion of the whole Church, spiritually and institutionally. 

(34) As the Synodal Assembly, we accept the sacramentality of the Church as a challenge: We want the Church to become credible again as a place where people find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and experience God’s healing power in the sacraments, in proclamation, in the ministry to the poor and distressed (cf. GS 1) and in fellowship. In order to be authentically and effectively regarded as the sign and instrument of this connectedness with God and with one another, we are working to reform the Church’s system of power. 

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(35) A “sign” must be the bearer of a message. It must make itself heard and resound in the heart of the people. And what is to serve as a tool (“instrumentum”) must be handy and effi cient. In short: A sacrament must have a signal effect! Transferred to the Church this means: Meaning and credibility must be expressed in the structure (cf. LG 8). The system and exercise of the Church’s power must prove itself worthy of the trust that the faithful are to place in her. Through a misguided internal power structure, the Church obscures her mission. Instead of pre venting abuse, she has enabled it, instead of investigating it, she has all too often covered it up. This was also made possible because the Catholic Church has not consistently taken up the demands of the Gospel, nor the achievements of liberal standards such as transparency, partic ipation and control. When the church is not experienced as a sign of salvation but as a space of disaster, its sacramental identity is called into question. 

(36) The reform of the Church’s power structures is therefore not some kind of manoeuvre involving cultural refinements that adapt the Church to the zeitgeist. It is required for the sake of the sacramentality of the Church. In this sense, Pope Francis has set the worldwide synodal process in motion so that in the various local church contexts areas of qualification in church structures and attitudes can be developed which make the idea and essence of the Church to be a sign and instrument of unity with God and with one another credible and real. 

(37) Whilst the Church is not an end in herself, this also applies to the sacramental office. This office is responsible not for human rule becoming effective in salvific terms, but the life-giving power of God. It is a sacramental sign which points to Christ and receives its authority from Him. This does not absolve the minister from supervision and criticism. In fact, quite the re verse: For the sacramental office serves the life of the people in the sign of the Gospel and is to be measured by this. It is not only a function, but is based on an empowerment. Those who exercise the office represent Christ, the Head of the Church. For this reason, the church office always calls to mind the difference between Christ and the minister. Those ordained are called and authorised for the “formation of a genuine Christian community” (Presbyterium ordinis/PO 6) which, imbued with the spirit of Jesus Christ, lives by His word and proclaims His death and resurrection in the Eucharist. The Church must lead to life and allow herself to be transformed by the Spirit of God where she does not do so. 

(38) As the Synodal Assembly we wish to help ensure that the Church can be experienced as a space in which to experience community with God and with one another. In view of the Church’s abuse of power the theology and organisation of the Church’s structures and offices must be refined in such a way that the Church can better fulfil her mission today. 

5.2 … as an inspiration and a task to be performed  

(39) The Second Vatican Council related the sacramentality of the Church not only to her insti tutional side, but also to the community of the faithful. In the same way as the Church is called on to be the sign and instrument (LG 1) of unity, the faithful are called on to be a “witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself” (LG 33, cf. Apostolicam actuositatem/AA 2). They have been consecrated to a “holy priesthood” by virtue of their baptism and confirma tion (LG 10) and sent out to build up and shape the Church and the world in the spirit of the Gospel. All faithful, laity and clergy, without prejudice to any further differentiation in the 

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manner of their participation, have their part to play in all the essential processes of the Church:  proclamation, pastoral work and the liturgy. (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium/SC 14 and frequent  other mentions, LG 10; 30–38).  

(40) In this newfound view of the Church and the sacramental ministry the Second Vatican Coun cil takes up fundamental Biblical insights. Baptism forms the basis for partaking of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), and calls us to play an active role in the life of the Church (1 Cor 12:12- 27). Baptism is the full expression of being a child of God, vested with all the rights arising from this status (Gal 3:26–4:7). There is one baptism – for all who believe in Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 4:4– 6). In the power of the Spirit, baptism overcomes the discriminatory differences that prevail between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free persons, male and female (cf. Gal 3:28). It must also exert its anti-discriminatory effect within the Church today. Paul says that the unity of the body of Christ goes hand in hand with the diversity of the members that form this body, and are indispensable in their respective distinctiveness (cf. 1 Cor 12:14-27; cf. Rom 12:6–8 and Col 1:18; Eph 1:22; 4:15). Paul refers these members to the charisms which are given to all the faithful (cf. 1 Cor 12:1–11,28-31; Rom 12:3–5). They contribute to the inner and outer growth of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 14). The Apostolate too is a charism according to this understanding, as are prophecy, teaching, helping and leading: All these gifts establish responsibility; they demand recognition and enable cooperation. Based on the work of the apostles and prophets, the ministry of church leadership with its own indispensable task develops into the common priesthood of all believers in a tense relationship with and to one another (cf. Eph 2:20-21; Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1-7, 8-13; Tit 1:5-9 etc.). It is in these processes of institutionalisation that the approach described by Paul comes to the fore that it is the Spirit of God who gives the many gifts, some of which become permanent leadership ministries without being distinguishable by virtue of greater or lesser grace. 

(41) The ecclesiological task to be accomplished today is to define – both in the understanding of the sacramental ministry and in understanding as well as exercising the leadership tasks – the interaction within the common priesthood of all and the particular priesthood of the ministry in such a manner that the communio structure of the Church is clearly expressed and takes on a social and juridical form which makes one-sided relationships of domination impossible and cre ates a commitment to those possibilities of participation by all. 

(42) We take up this approach on the Synodal Path in the theology of baptism and in the gifts of the Spirit including ordination. God’ spirit makes the faithful living witnesses of the common mission of the Church, whom the sacramental ministry serves, and lending it concrete shape for the legitimisation of tasks, responsibilities and competences in a variety of Church ministries. 

Part II:  

Necessary steps on the way to reform church power structures 

(43) The Catholic Church must constantly re-examine the structures in which she lives her power. She must change these structures where service to the people requires it and develop them further to ensure the proper governance of the Church in the spirit of the Gospel. She must listen to the voice of those who have been and are affected by the abuse of power in the 

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Church. In them, according to the testimony of Holy Scripture (cf. Mt 5:1-12; Mt 25:31-46), the  voice of Christ becomes audible. Their cry is a special locus theologicus of our time.  

(44) The necessary changes strengthen the unity and diversity of the Catholic Church, which is sent to proclaim the Gospel. They intensify the interaction between all members of the Church who have different ministries and tasks. The specific ministry carried out by bishops, priests and deacons is renewed spiritually and structurally. The relationship between the sacramental structure and the organised acts of the Church is intensified because the richness of vocations and gifts is put to better use. The tasks of pastoral leadership increase in meaning by taking on forms in the sense of an ecclesia semper reformanda, which serve the inculturation of the Gos pel into the respective time and society. 

6. We need clear terms and precise distinctions. 

(45) In common usage the term “power” refers first and foremost to opportunities to influence human interactions and to shape their structures. People who have power have opportunities to realise their convictions and to enforce their will even in the face of opposition. This is precisely why power must be tied to legitimacy: to procedures, above all to communicative understand ing. In this respect, power is not only a question of structure. In following Jesus, power is to be exercised as service: not as oppression of the weak, but in the sense of strengthening the pow erless in solidarity (cf. Mk 10:41-45, Mt 20:24-28; Lk 22:24-27). This biblical orientation does not call into question that power is always necessary for leadership and organisation. But power relations are provided with a qualitative reservation: Authoritarian rule must be effectively prevented; precisely in the Church, power must become effective in service to the powerless. This is how she gains authority and legitimacy. 

(46) The power that is legitimately exercised in the Church can be traced back to the authority (potestas) with which Jesus Christ has endowed the Church so that she can perform the ministry of preaching the Gospel in word and deed. Because the place of the Church is the world, power to shape – as power to act, power to interpret and power to judge – must also be organised in it, not least in the leadership of the Church. The Synodal Path focuses on making a precise distinction between christologically-founded authority, and forms of exercising power that are necessary from an organisational point of view. This differentiation does not mean opposition, but makes it possible to clarify competences, hone profiles and create new connections between the members of the people of God. 

6.1 Terms clearly defined in canon law  

(47) When it comes to dogmatics, canon law speaks of three offices or tasks (munera) of the Church: leading, teaching and sanctifying. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium refers them back to the three offices of Jesus Christ, pastor, prophet and priest (LG 10): All the faith ful, laity and clergy participate in all three offices, in different ways: by virtue of sacramental authorisation through baptism and confirmation or by virtue of sacramentally conferred official authority. Canon law lays down this principle (can. 204 § 1 CIC), thus underlining the active participation in the mission of the Church of all who are baptised. Official authority is given to 

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express that the Church cannot be Church on her own, i.e. proclaim the Word of God and cele brate the sacraments on her own strength, but that Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit,  renders the Church the instrument of God’s universal salvific will. 

(48) According to the Church’s theory of powers, which is incorporated in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) of 1983, the Church’s power is concretised in two differentiated powers, the “power of ordination” and the “power of governance” or “power of jurisdiction”, detailed in canon law. 

– The “power of ordination” (potestas ordinis) is conferred when priests and bishops are or dained. It is based on divine law. The power of ordination enables acts to be carried out which are reserved to the ordained, especially in the liturgy and in the celebration of the sacraments. This entails above all the possibility to preside over the Eucharist; the power of absolution (potestas absolvendi), which is central to the sacrament of confession, is based on the priestly power of ordination. 

– The power of governance (potestas regiminis), which is regarded together with the power of jurisdiction (potestas iurisdictionis), is based on divine law and relates to the Church’s offices of divine or Church law in order to empower the minister to lead the Church, and so to promote the life of the Church in faith. The power of governance includes legislative (potestas legislativa), judicial (potestas iudicativa) and executive power (potestas executiva vel administrativa). 

(49) The service rendered by bishops and pastors as their co-workers in the Church is character ised by the connection between the ordaining power and the governing power (can. 129 CIC).3 However, it does not exclude a separation of powers in the area of governance appropriate to the Church, in which executive, legislative and judicial powers can be distinguished in order to enable more transparency and control as well as more participation and cooperation. […]The aim is better participation and involvement of all the baptised and confirmed in the life and mission of the Church. This insight takes up important impulses from Scripture and Tradition; it corresponds to the signs of the times and allows the sense of faith of God’s people to take effect anew. 

6.2 Precise distinctions 

(50) The Church’s legal system is open to structural reform that gives space to the sense of faith of God’s people. Spiritual power is rooted in listening to God’s Word. Spiritual leadership is tied back to the witness of faith in the entire people of God. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure the responsible participation of all the faithful. 

Differentiations in canon law  

(51) Canon law caters for essential differentiations which show that the assumption of important tasks in worship (liturgy), in the proclamation (martyria) and in Caritas (diaconia) may not be 

3 This connection has been underlined again with regard to the priest by the Instruction of the Congregation for  the Clergy “The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the  Church” (29 June 2020): Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen  Stuhls No. 226 (Bonn 2020). 

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understood as a privilege of ordained ministers of the Church. Rather, all faithful are called by  their baptism and encouraged by their confirmation to take their share in the fulfilment of all  three basic tasks (tria munera). This is shown by many examples from practice and the law. 

(52) The distinctions made in the Church’s law and already realised in Church practice must be taken up and enhanced.4 One approach is to coin a broader definition of “ministries” (ministe ria) determining the official acts of the Church.5 Pope Francis’ motu proprio “Spiritus Domini” opens up far-reaching possibilities in this regard, which should be fully exploited. It gives space for the responsible performance of tasks by all those who are baptised. 

(53) This participation can be assured via diocesan law to a certain extent. In many dioceses, structures of shared responsibility and decision-making by the faithful and priests in the parishes and at diocesan level have already emerged and proved their worth. They need to be strength ened. There is, however, also a need to readjust the Church’s constitutional structure in order to strengthen the rights of the faithful in the governance of the Church. Experience here shows that contributing to bodies of the Church becomes more attractive as the elected members of the Church discover that they can participate in decision-making and in shaping the Church. 

Perpetuating a living tradition  

(54) The scandal of sexualised violence perpetrated by clerics, and the glaring errors committed in dealing with these crimes on the part of individuals with responsibility, have aggravated a profound crisis in the Church. This also affects its institutional form. It has become obvious that the aforementioned traditional narrowing within the Church’s power structures have to be over come in order to discover the genuine breadth of the Church’s ministry anew. In relation to the Church’s constitution, there is also a need for a living tradition in the present. The task to be performed in our time is to develop structures in which power is exercised in the Church that prevent sexual and spiritual abuse as well as poor decision-making on the part of ministers, enable transparent decisions to be taken, sharing responsibility with the faithful, and promote the ministry of the Gospel in all these. 

(55) We advocate using the current canon law to establish precise definitions and distinctions in order to remove obsta.cles which complicate or prevent participative structures of pastoral work in the Church. 

4 On 8 February 1977 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated during the process of the reform of the  Code that only offices that were intrinsically hierarchic (uffici intrinsecamente gerarchici) were the preserve of  the ordained: Pontificium Consilium de legum textibus interpretandis, Congregatio plenaria diebus 20-29 octobris  1981 habita, (Vatican 1991), 37. 

5 Pope Paul VI took an important initiative with his motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, in: Acta Apostolicae Sedis  LXIV (1972) 529–534. This text names, together with the abolition of the consecration of the lower orders, the  liturgical services of the lector and the acolyte. These may also be conferred on lay people. The approach of the  motu proprio still refers to pre-clerical ministries, and it only speaks of men. As a consequence of the approach,  ministries are described which can be assumed by all faithful on the basis of the grace that they have received  on baptism, and with the power of confirmation. This development is opened by the statement: “There is nothing  to prevent the Bishops’ Conferences from requesting from the Apostolic See, in addition to the ministries common  to all in the Latin Church, others which they consider necessary or very useful to introduce in their countries for  particular reasons.” 

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(56) We are committed to applying the existing canon law in such a way that power is transferred in the dioceses to those who are baptised and confirmed, and that effective supervisory proce dures are established. 

(57) We are also committed to amending the existing canon law in such a way that a system of separation of powers, participation in decision-making, and independent scrutiny of power, is established which is appropriate for the Church and which is based on the independent dignity of each baptised person. 

(58) We are convinced that, for the sake of the vocation of all God’s people, the monistic struc ture of powers must be overcome according to which the legislative, executive and judicial powers are bundled exclusively in the office of the bishop, and where all leadership authority at the level of the parish lies with the parish priest, who whilst he can delegate this partially to others, can also reassume it at any time in the event of a conflict occurring. 

7. Defining standards and criteria together. 

(59) Standards and criteria for the organisation of formative power in the sense of strengthening the rights of all believers follow from the theological principles of Catholic ecclesiology as well as from experiences made with the free democratic basic order of our society. 

(60) Social psychology recognises that the uncontrolled, non-transparent exercise of power trig gers fear, and political science recognises that the exercise of power without supervision and transparency leads to power being abused. This is also the case in the Catholic Church. She must however be a welcoming Church because she proclaims Good News. She is charged and com manded to convey nearness, trust, encounter and attentiveness, without becoming overbearing or indiscreet. 

7.1 Common standards  

(61) Taking a look at the New Testament reveals a wealth of situations, challenges and decisions which have been taken by virtue of the Holy Spirit on the basis of broad participation by the congregations, with special responsibility assumed by the Apostles. The history of the Church reveals numerous constellations in which not only bishops but also religious and qualified lay people have taken responsibility with regard to questions of faith, morals and discipline, ranging right up to resolutions of the Council. Beginning with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Second Vatican Council clearly corrected the previous opposition of active ministers and passive laity in pursuing the goal of also enabling and promoting the active, conscious partici pation of the faithful without ordained ministry in the Church, in the liturgy, in proclamation, and in pastoral leadership. It was ultimately a matter at the time, and to the present day, of the common responsibility of all who are baptised and confirmed for the mission of the Church. With regard to the Church’s leadership structures, it is important to formulate participation rights that also facilitate, promote and guarantee this shared responsibility in cases of conflict. 

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Creating spaces, securing participation rights and preventing abuse 

(62) The Church must create space for the faithful so that they may develop their personal gifts and their mission for evangelisation. Therefore, in the sense of “checks and balances”, the asym metry of power, which is also unavoidable in church leadership offices, must be combined with transparency and accountability obligations as well as with consultation and co-decision rights. In order to secure the participation rights of the faithful and to prevent the abuse of the power of ordination and leadership, standards arising from the mission of the Church in the world must be observed. 

Inculturation into democracy  

(63) Taking a look at the democratic societies of the present, we see that there are guaranteed rights and organised processes of participation in politics, industry and administration, in edu cation and in associations and societies, which are characterised by regular elections and the separation of powers, by accountability, supervision and limits on the number of terms of office, by participation and transparency. If the Catholic Church is to remain faithful to her mission she must become inculturated into societies characterised by democratic processes. 

(64) Democratic society is founded on the idea of freedom and the equal dignity of all people: Decisions that affect everyone are made together. This perception of humankind is founded in the Biblical narratives, which present humankind as made in God’s image (cf. Gen 1:26-28), and called to responsibility and freedom. This image of the human being gives rise to the obligation of state institutions to guarantee or realise human rights and to enable the members of society to jointly shape the rules and conditions of their coexistence themselves. This is the idea on which liberal democracy is based. 

(65) Democracy is not rendered obsolete by virtue of the fact that institutions and their prac tices are deficient, e.g. because powerful interest groups seize control of politics and steer it in a direction that destroys the natural environment and harms social cohesion.6 It is precisely in the moment of danger that the high value of democracy becomes clear. Where today’s pop ulist movements deny pluralism, set themselves up as spokespersons of a ‘true people’ against ‘the elites’, and “classify entire peoples, groups, societies and governments as “populist” or not”7 , it is necessary to defend democracy and its institutions, but not to compromise the guiding principle of democracy. 

Democracy as a place of learning for the Church 

(66) The Church recognises democracy and human rights as a form of coexistence that corre sponds to people’s freedom and equal dignity. In line with the Second Vatican Council (cf. LG 32), canon law speaks of the true equality of the faithful on the basis of baptism (can. 208 CIC). 

6 Cf. Encyclical letter Laudato siʼ by Pope Francis On Care of Our Common Home (24 May 2015), et al. 53 f., 156,  189: Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.):Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls Nr. 202 (5. Auf lage, Bonn 2022), P. 41-42, 112, 132-133. 

7 Encyclical letter Fratelli tutti of the Holy Father Pope Francis on fraternity and social friendship (3 October 2020),  No. 156: Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 227  (Bonn 2020), P. 98.  

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Despite the need to distinguish between the Church and the State, this normative foundation  must also be recognised and made effective in the Church’s system of power: in the shape of  equal participation and shared responsibility for her mission. The goal of a separation of powers  appropriate for the Church is first of all to effectively bind ministers’ actions to a law with  which they must comply, and to have this legal obligation reviewed by courts which are not  subject to instructions. Over and above this, the demand for supervision of power aims to ade 

quately involve those who are affected by the actions of the ministers in all important decisions,  and to provide them with effective instruments of supervision. In these processes, it is mostly  elected representatives of those affected who are to participate in the decisions and supervise  power effectively. 

(67) Democracy is not only a form of state governance, but also a way of life: People come together as free and equal, learn from one another, listen to the experiences and arguments of others, and struggle together to find good solutions. Such learning processes are possible when a willingness to engage in dialogue, mutual respect, and openness to new, different arguments shape the interactions. People who encounter one another as equals in this manner and live in a vital democratic state also expect this in their Church. 

Synodality as a principle of the Church 

(68) The Church has a long tradition of joint deliberation and decision-making structures in the shape of synods.8 This synodal momentum must be enhanced in view of the vocation and rights of all believers9 and be translated into concrete procedural steps.10 Church law currently pro vides that only bishops have decision-making rights at synods. This restriction must be overcome without denying the bishops pastoral leadership ministry. The synodality of the Church is more than the collegiality of the bishops. The synodal momentum in the Church includes a new to getherness of all who are baptised and confirmed, in which the differences between the various vocations, including those between ministries and offices, are not levelled out, but attention is given to ensuring that all concerned are heard and that the voice of the poor, the weak and the marginalised is heard in particular. The special spiritual quality of synodality lives from listening together to each other and to what the Spirit tells the congregations (cf. Rev 2:7). Synods that meet in the spirit of Jesus Christ cannot merely deliberate, but will also decide. The synodal momentum belongs as much to the parish level as it does to the diocese and to the bishops’ conference, all the way to the level of the universal Church. 

8 Cf. Internationale Theologische Kommission, Die Synodalität in Leben und Sendung der Kirche (2 March 2018):  Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Ed.): Verlautbarungen des Apostolischen Stuhls No. 215 (Bonn  2018). 

9 Cf. Central Committee of German Catholics, Synodalität – Strukturprinzip kirchlichen Handelns (Bonn 2016). 10 “The words “communion” and “mission” can risk remaining somewhat abstract, unless we cultivate an ecclesial  praxis that expresses the concreteness of synodality at every step of our journey and activity, encouraging real  involvement on the part of each and all.” Address of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Opening of the Synod  (2021). 

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7.2 Joint criteria  

(69) The criteria mentioned below presuppose the current law of the Church, which emphasises pastoral leadership carried out by bishops and parish priests. They show the means by which the participation of all faithful in deliberative and decision-making processes in the Catholic Church can be assured on a sustainable basis. Much in this respect can be drawn from tried and tested traditions of the religious communities and Catholic associations. 

(70) It is important for the Catholic Church that decision-making processes are linked with the interests and ideas of the faithful, which in turn are rooted in their sense of faith. 

(71) This linkage requires qualified and legally guaranteed participation in all of the Church’s consultative and decision-making processes: 

– through co-consultation and co-decision; 

– at the level of Church bodies; 

– through building and securing effective supervision; 

– by transparency in decision-making processes; 

– by limiting the time for holding church leadership positions. 

(72) It is important for the Catholic Church that decisions are bound to the law in such a way that general rules of fairness, transparency and supervision, recognised as legitimate, are com prehensively guaranteed so that arbitrariness is effectively ruled out. The participation of the faithful must depend on the goodwill of the bishop or pastor in question. This is made possible by: 

– an effective improvement in the possibility for the faithful to assert their rights before an ecclesiastical administrative jurisdiction or the Apostolic See; 

– strengthening the rights of parishes and communities vis-à-vis those of the diocesan decision making and administrative powers; 

– a strengthening of the formative rights of the diocesan bishops or the bishops’ conferences vis-à-vis the Apostolic See with regard to pastoral care in the dioceses. 

(73) For the Catholic Church, it is important that procedures are further developed or introduced that strengthen the acceptance of ministers, facilitate binding dialogues between them and the faithful and enable conflicts to be dealt with in an orderly manner: 

– by the direct or indirect participation of the faithful in the appointment of leading offices; – by requiring those who hold leadership positions to regularly account for the administration of their office; 

– by agreeing on procedures to ensure that in the event of misconduct on the part of the office bearer and in the event of undesirable developments for which he or she is responsible, a good solution is sought together, but that in the exceptional case of a blatant failure in office, an orderly resignation takes place. 

(74) Legal security and protection must be guaranteed for all members of the Church. To this end, the discussion on a Lex ecclesiae fundamentalis, and its norms which are fundamental for the legal system of the entire Church, must be rekindled and brought to a positive conclusion. 

(75) Decisions in the Catholic Church must be factually appropriate. This requires the following principles to be taken into account: 

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Professionalism: Qualification is a prerequisite for the assumption of responsibility and of decision-making powers. 

Diversity: Bodies are to be composed on the basis of the equal dignity of all who are baptised (can. 208 CIC), that is they are to be as representative as possible, including gender-appro priate, cross-cultural and diverse. 

Effectiveness: Tasks are to be assigned and procedures are to be structured in such a way that the necessary resources are available for power to be exercised effectively. – Transparency: The objects of planning procedures and decision-making processes are to be disclosed. 

Communication: The aim is to reach a consensus with all parties involved. – Verifiability: Processes and decisions must be documented and evaluated at regular inter vals. 

Solidarity: Decisions must enhance the Communio of the Church, and in particular help those who are weak to assert their rights. 

Subsidiarity: Decisions are made by the lowest authority that is able to do so in terms of personnel, institutions and expertise. 

Sustainability: Decisions are also taken in the interest of future generations. 

(76) We advocate ensuring that the possibilities which exist in the law of the Church are put to better use so that all who are baptised and confirmed play an active role in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the pastoral work in the parishes and – through elected representatives – in all important decisions of the Church. 

(77) We are committed to the synodality of the Church being sustainably developed so that the rights of deliberation and decision-making of the entire people of God are guaranteed. 

(78) We are committed to ensuring that the Church’s decisions link in to the sense of faith of God’s people – in innovative procedures promoting dialogue between those who exercise lead ership tasks and the other members of the Church. 

(79) We are also committed to reforming canon law in such a way that the general principles of fairness, transparency and supervision are implemented on the basis of a fundamental rights charter of the Church. 

(80) We are convinced that the structural changes in the Catholic Church’s system of power promote freedom of faith in the community of the Church, and at the same time make the ministry exercised by bishops and priests clearer and more attractive, because on the one hand it is relieved of overburdening and excessive demands, and on the other hand it is embedded more deeply in the community life of the Church by enhancing synods, bodies and elections. 

8. We address requirements for access and promote competences. 

(81) Reforms are not only called for to manage flaws and seek stopgap solutions. 

(82) Common goals are to prevent suffering and violence, to promote evangelisation, to strengthen the unity of the Church and to make better use of the competences of the faithful. 

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8.1 Leadership tasks  

(83) It is certainly possible and necessary given the provisions of canon law as it currently stands for faithful who are qualified and called to assume leadership tasks in the Church which are usually, but by no means necessarily, assumed by clerics. Particular significance attaches in this context to the establishment of full equality and participation of women. 

8.2 Celibacy  

(84) Celibacy has profoundly influenced the spirituality of the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. But the fact that those who are proven in faith and life can also be ordained as priests needs to be reconsidered in view of the pastoral challenges and the manifold charisms within the Church. This should lead to a vote being taken in Germany which is addressed to the Apos tolic See and gathers together experiences of the universal Church so that different pastoral situations can be responded to in the field in different ways. 

8.3 Enabling women to access the ordo  

(85) Due to the exclusivity of access, the question of admitting women to ordained ministries, is also a question of power and of the separation of powers. It is important to reinforce the living unity of the Church, and at the same time to allow regional differences to apply. 

(86) We advocate ensuring that the possibilities that church law already offers are consistently applied to promote equality. 

(87) We are also committed to ensuring that ministries and offices in the Church are made accessible to all who are baptised and confirmed, and assigned according to their charisms and vocations, their aptitude, qualification and performance. We encourage a synodal understand ing at universal church level. 

(88) We are convinced that the re-clarification of the access requirements creates a basis en suring that the gifts of the Spirit which are given to the Church are more effective, and the witness of the Gospel becomes stronger. 

9. We describe areas for action and decision-making procedures. 

(89) The stimuli for reform which the Synodal Path triggers through its resolutions relate to all areas, levels and decisions of the Church’s activities. 

9.1 The Church’s fundamental activities: Liturgy, Martyria and Diaconia  

(90) Liturgy (worship), Martyria (witness to faith) and Diaconia (charity) realise the Church as Communio. Real Communio requires the participation of all baptised people with guaranteed rights in these fields of action. 

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Liturgy  

(91) The celebration of the liturgy is strengthened when the entire gathered community is in volved. The liturgy becomes all the more alive when it is celebrated authentically and in a variety of ways, not only in the Eucharist but also in services led by faithful who are not or dained. 

Martyria  

(92) The martyria requires competent intermediation between the witness of faith from Scrip ture and tradition on the one hand, and the signs of the time and sense of faith of God’s people on the other. Only a church that is focused on proclaiming the Good News of God’s unconditional care in word and deed to the people in the world in which they are living fulfils her mission. 

Diaconia  

(93) Diaconia is a fundamental aspect of the Church’s activities. Diaconia commits to the option for the poor, for those who are weak and the people deprived of their rights. A Christian profile requires support for those who need help and especially for those who are otherwise forgotten; demands justice for those who are wronged and solidarity especially with those who have expe rienced abuse of power – in society as well as in the Church. 

9.2 The levels of organisation of the Church: local, regional, national, universal 

(94) The resolutions of the Synodal Path aim to develop procedures at all levels that enhance synodality, collegiality and subsidiarity, participation and cooperation. This also includes the levels not specifically reflected here, namely the pastoral realm, the deaneries and the regions. 

The parish level11 

(95) The dioceses have opted for different models of how parishes are formed, structured and led. What has to be safeguarded and developed is the active participation on the part of those concerned in the structural decisions that are taken. With regard to the subsidiarity principle, there is a need to markedly reinforce the possibilities for action at the foundation of the Church. These include parishes and local communities, but also the varied institutions of categorial pas toral work and other places belonging to the Church. 

The diocesan level  

(96) A key role is played by the dioceses, in both legal, financial and organisational terms. The bishop is entitled and obliged to improve the conditions for a life of faith that is characterised 

11 The pastoral landscape is currently very much in flux. Different reform processes are being organised in various  dioceses, with different terminology. The focus here is on the “parish” because it is a defined term in the Code  of Canon Law. The term “parish” is however sometimes defined in different ways in diocesan structural reforms. 

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by participation and sharing, by strengthening and protecting rights and promoting compe tences. In the interest of the unity of the Church and of legal security for all the faithful, bishops  are required to undertake to abide by framework regulations. They respect the independence  of the Church’s courts. There is a need for synodal structures at diocesan level which organise  a counterpart to the bishop and define the manner in which they work together. These struc tures are to be networked with the existing bodies and councils and revised and further devel oped in the sense of the synodal principle in such a way that transparency and supervision, co consultation and co-decision are guaranteed.  

The level of the Bishops’ Conference  

(97) In the spirit of the principle of subsidiarity, there is a need to reinforce the organisations and institutions at supra-diocesan level. The cooperation on which the Synodal Path has em barked must be strengthened and made permanent. Binding decisions that affect all Catholic dioceses in Germany are to be discussed and decided together by the Bishops’ Conference (DBK) in cooperation with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) that represents the faith ful in a democratically-legitimised way. The existing joint institutions of the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics are to be reviewed and developed further along the lines of the synodal principle. 

The universal church level  

(98) Pope Francis has not only initiated a worldwide synodal process, but speaks of a Synodal Church. The Synodal Path in Germany strengthens this concern, because there is a need for an open dialogue, including with the Apostolic See, on reforms that do not take the same shape in every time and place, but reflect in their dynamism the richness of the gifts and tasks that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church. The Synodal Path also advocates at the universal church level for changes in all systemic conditions that are responsible for the abuse of power in the Church. 

9.3 Finance, human resources development and planning: matters of church governance  Finance  

(99) Canon law provides for participative structures in financial matters, and these need to be elaborated: in terms of expanding the supervisory powers of independent bodies whose mem bers are elected by the faithful (directly or indirectly), and in terms of systematically incorpo rating criteria of ethically-sustainable asset management. 

Human resources development 

(100) The Catholic Church must carefully select, prepare and guide those individuals who pro claim God’s Word, make God’s love tangible, and celebrate hope on her behalf. 

(101) Especially in the church context, the expectations placed on persons with responsibility are high, since they must embody the message of faith, hope and love with their actions, words 

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and attitudes. This is contrasted by the experience that superiors do not live up to their lead ership responsibility, or abuse their power in an authoritarian way. There is a need for preven tion of abuse of power, protection of victims and reparation. 

(102) In matters of personnel 

– the task is to organise the cooperation of bishops, priests, deacons, full-time, part-time and voluntary pastoral workers in a transparent, reliable and crisis-proof manner by means of framework regulations, 

– the task is to determine more precisely how the legitimacy and quality of leadership per sonnel can be enhanced through elections, taking into account the applicable conditions of church law and state-church law both for bishops and pastors, as well as for all other persons holding leadership positions, 

– the task is to make job posting and application procedures transparent and comprehensible. 

Planning: decision-making processes  

(103) When it comes to planning, there is a need not only to clarify the leadership responsibility of bishops and pastors in cooperation with bodies and staff, but also for those affected to be involved in an organised, legally-clarified way. 

(104) We advocate ensuring that the opportunities for participation and the rights of all who are baptised and confirmed are reinforced in the liturgy, in the proclamation of faith and in diaconia through organisational and structural changes on the basis of the applicable church law. 

(105) We are committed to ensuring that the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity are binding standards of action at all levels of the Church’s activities. 

(106) We are also committed to ensuring that the criteria of participation and legality, trans parency and supervision, professionalism and the preservation of legitimate expectations apply in all areas of the Church’s activities, from the financial regulations through personnel devel opment to the planning processes. 

(107) We are furthermore committed to ensuring that the profound changes to the power struc ture of the Catholic Church which are necessary for the sake of evangelisation take place, and will agree on ways to initiate these changes, also with regard to amendments to canon law. 

(108) We are convinced: that the individual is the starting point and objective of all decisions. He or she takes responsibility to the degree to which he or she is involved in decisions. For this reason, the Church’s decision-making structures are also to become participatory. For we are “called for freedom” (Gal 5:13). 

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Original language is German 

Foundational text 

Priestly existence today 

Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on March 9, 2023 

1. Guidance/Introduction 

(1) The theology and everyday reality of the priestly ministry have been in a state of crisis for years, and this has implications for the whole life of the Church. Some of the questions being asked relating to the priestly existence have been under discussion for as many as 50 years, and have not been answered satisfactorily. Others have been newly added due to changing pastoral conditions and the shock over abuse by priests. The priestly ministry in all of its dimensions is being questioned in this context. 

(2) There is no doubting the fact that there are many priests who exercise their ministry in a good and appropriate way and bear witness through an authentic celibate way of life. The changing pastoral conditions, however, and not least the many cases of sexualised violence perpetrated by clerics call for significant changes in view of the number of unreported cases1 that can be assumed to exist. The increasing number of failings that have been uncovered in connection with cases of sexualised violence, and the dynamics of concealment that have been revealed in this process along with the loss of image of the Catholic Church is one of the main reasons for the alienation of many believers up to the departure from the Church, even of those who have been active church members so far. 

(3) The call for substantial systemic change has become evident. However, there is a certain bewilderment with regard to the question of a viable vision for the future of the priestly minis try, which after all is a constituent element of the sacramental constitution of our Church and which has to be further developed theologically. From today’s perspective, the theological rea soning often comes up against the limits of logic, whilst many questions reach a broad-based consensus: 

(4) A priesthood that is theoretically reserved for heterosexual men alone seems questionable and not compatible with actual practice. The gender-dependent admission to the priesthood causes incomprehension, is discriminatory and must be abolished. The justification for celibacy as an obligatory priestly way of life is largely no longer accepted and convincing. The equal acceptance of homosexuality, also among priests, is explicitly demanded. 

1 The study presented on 13 June 2022 referring to the diocese of Münster assumes that there are up to ten times  more minors affected, and thus clearly goes far beyond the assumptions of the MHG Study. https://www.uni muenster.de/news/view.php?cmdid=12635, most recently retrieved 16 June 2022. 

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(5) On the other hand, there is an increased tendency towards conservative status quo-ism, and even a rejection of change. Many priests are themselves ultimately asking the question as to the why and wherefore of their vocation and the specific tasks involved in the priestly ministry. 

(6) A prolonged process of discernment, under the guidance of the universal Church, is evidently needed. The question of why the ordained priestly ministry is needed can only be answered in part at present and requires a differentiated answer which integrates new developments, ex periences and insights. 

(7) This question has been raised urgently for some time – not only in Germany, but worldwide. It can no longer be avoided. The basic text “Priestly Existence Today” sets out to find appropriate and sustainable answers in the face of the crisis, but without being able to give definitive an swers. 

(8) The following reflections do not only explore the status quo of the priestly ministry, but they embed it in the baptismal and confirmation vocation in the sense of the theology of the people of God, as formulated by the Second Vatican Council. The Biblical testimony is unequivocal in the thematic context. In the strict and proper sense, there is only one (high) priest, namely Jesus Christ. And the talk is of the royal priesthood and holy nation on which redemption has been conferred (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). 

(9) It is therefore clear to what the official priesthood, as a priesthood of ministry, is orientated and assigned: to the Lord and to the people, on which the common priesthood has been con ferred. 

(10) Firstly, the priesthood testifies in a polar relationship to the abiding presence of Jesus. He is present in His Church, especially also in the sacraments, but in His sovereignty He is unavail able. The priesthood of ministry stands for the divine call to the congregation, and so stands opposite it in a certain way but together they bear witness as the people of God to the salvific presence of the Risen Lord in the world. 

(11) On the other hand, it is the task of the priesthood of ministry to ensure that all members of the priestly people can develop their dignity, their gifts and charisms and thus, in following Jesus Christ, can contribute to the life of the congregation, i.e. its service of love, its procla mation and its liturgical action. The priesthood of ministry has a multifaceted and important mediating task here. 

2. Church developments 

(12) Since the Second Vatican Council, the social and, in this context, also the ecclesial situation worldwide and in Germany has changed considerably, for which reference is often made to the political and cultural developments after 1968, after the events at the turn of 1989/90 (“fall of the Berlin Wall”) as well as to 9/11 (2001). Many of these changes have had far-reaching effects on the life of religions in general as well as on the life of the Church and the faithful. First of all, some ecclesiastical developments are discussed, whose effects on the question of the priest’s understanding of his role and ministry are to be discussed. 

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(13) The number of members of both the Catholic and the Protestant Church in Germany is declining sharply.2 Whereas in the year of reunification there were still 28.3 million Catholic members, thirty years later in 2021 only 21.6 million are recorded, while Germany’s population has risen from 79.75 million to 83.1 million in the same period; this means that from 35.5% of Germans before, only 26% are Catholic in the year 2021.3 A major reason for the decline in the number of Catholics is the total of over 3 million people who have left the Church in the past 30 years. 

(14) Add to this the demographic development (ageing of the population) and – though not only for this reason – declining baptism numbers: from almost 300,000 Catholic baptisms (1990) to 141,992 baptisms (2021). Is the Catholic Church on her way to becoming an irrelevant minority? For a similar development is shown by the decline from 114,000 Catholic marriages to 20,140 in the same period. Catholic burials show the same trend, albeit less drastic.4 All this is likely to have been exacerbated by the pandemic of recent years. 

(15) Another indicator of the crisis in the Catholic Church is the average number of worshippers, which has fallen from 6.19 million in 1990, representing 21.9% of the membership, to 923,000 (4.3%).5 This development is also massively reflected in the number of priests (religious and secular). In 1990, there were still almost 20,000 priests in Germany, but their number has fallen to 12,280 in 2021, which corresponds to a decline of about 40%. In addition, the number of priests from abroad working in Germany has risen steadily. In 2021 there were 2,279 priests, the majority from India and Poland. This represents an enrichment, but it also makes it neces sary to reconcile different mentalities and ecclesiastical socialisations with each other. Even more obvious is the decline in the number of ordinations to the priesthood, which in 1990 was still 295 and in 2021 reached a low of 48 which corresponds to a decline of as much as 83%.6 

(16) It is also worth mentioning the number of priests who have left the ministry for various reasons.7 One of the main causes is that the priest in question does not feel able to live the promise of celibacy.8 In this context, the accusation is repeatedly made that priests do not keep their promise of celibacy and that this leads to a loss of credibility in the exercise of the priest hood. Repeatedly, the problem of loneliness of priests is pointed out, which increases in old age.9 

2 The data are mainly taken from: “Katholische Kirche in Deutschland Zahlen und Fakten” (Arbeitshilfen, Secretar iat of the German Bishops’ Conference, most recently Arbeitshilfe 325, 2021). 

3 The increase in the number of Catholics with a migration background is interesting in this context. 4 Whereas 288,945 of the 297,179 Catholics who died in 1990 were also buried as Catholics, the number of Catholic  burials fell to 236,546 in 2020, whilst the number of Catholics who died rose slightly. 

5 The peak in the post-war period was reached in 1960 with 11.9 million churchgoers. 

6 The Church’s 2021 statistics list 62 new ordinations for 2021: 48 secular priests and 14 priests in religious orders  (German Conference of the Superiors of Religious Orders – not including from other provinces. See:  https://www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/diverse_downloads/presse_2022/2022-101a-Kirchenstatistik 2021_Flyer.pdf. 

7 According to the initiative called “Priester im Dialog” (“Priests in Dialogue”), the number of priests who have left  the ministry since Vatican II because of compulsory celibacy is a good 1,500. 

8 The “Priests in Dialogue” initiative was launched in 2005 by dioceses that regularly invite their priests who have  left the ministry, with the aim of overcoming disenfranchisement, preventing alienation, and exchanging ideas  on how to improve relations with one another. The Pi Dialogue was held in Würzburg from 2005-2018. The Arch diocese of Munich adopted the Pi Dialogue in 2016, and was joined by the diocese of Augsburg in 2021. 

9 Cf. https://www.kirche-und-leben.de/artikel/ueberfordert-der-zoelibat-unsere-priester; staff in the Recollectio  House in Münsterschwarzach indicate a close link between loneliness and burn-out among priests. 

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(17) The figures for the other pastoral staff, on the other hand, are different.10 Above all, the number of permanent deacons has increased by over a third. The number of lay people in pas toral ministry rose from around 5,200 in 1990 to 7,516 in 2021. However, in recent years this trend has also been reversed from growth to stagnation or decline. 

(18) In youth work, which reaches a large number of children and young people in the areas of social commitment, altar servers and church music, especially in choirs,11 it is to be feared that the consequences of the pandemic will make themselves felt, which could have an effect on the number of vocations in all church professions. For example, the number of students in all theological subjects in Germany is in extreme decline. 

(19) Pastoral developments in the dioceses also have an impact on the question of priestly iden tity. The figures and trends have had a far-reaching, comprehensive impact on pastoral work and forms of organisation in pastoral work in the German dioceses in recent years, and have led to processes of change being initiated in pastoral care and congregational structure. Church buildings have been abandoned, sold or assigned to another purpose in numerous dioceses. A number of dioceses have plans to assess the church buildings in order to determine which ones should be retained in future. In addition, the number of legally constituted parishes is being drastically reduced in some cases. This has an impact on the self-image of many priests and the cooperation among all pastoral staff. 

(20) In addition to this development, there have been extensive changes in the pastoral care field in almost all German dioceses which have led and are continuing to lead to parishes being merged to form pastoral care units or parish associations. A variety of leadership models are being proposed in this context, from a priest exercising leadership in the pastoral sphere with in some cases more than 20,000 congregation members12, so that one might speak of an “epis copalisation” of the priestly ministry, through leadership models consisting of several pastors according to the solidarity-based governance model “in solidum” to multi-professional teams. These new models of pastoral work, and also of leadership in large new units, pose major chal lenges to the leaders as well as to the teamwork skills of both the priests and all pastoral em ployees. New forms of voluntary leadership by lay people are being developed, thus creating a need for new job profiles to be developed. Many priests feel unable to cope with these changes, or do not recognise the motivations of their vocation in them. Conflicts also arise in connection with the priest’s ambition for power and his role in the Church. The question arises in this respect of the identity of the priest in this new phase of the development of the Church, irre spective of his ministry actually carried out. In this context, pastoral care must be given priority over administrative tasks. 

(21) All reflections on the priestly existence and on collaboration between priests and pastoral workers must take account of these fundamental changes, and develop visions, prospects and most of all options for actions for pastoral care and for shaping the Church in the future. A reform aimed at providing for parishes to also be led by lay people was assessed as not possible 

10 Permanent deacons, parish expert workers and pastoral assistants. 

11 There were about 360,000 altar servers in 2021, 660,000 members between the ages of 7 and 28 in the member  associations of the Federation of German Catholic Youth, and about 66,000 young people are involved in some  3,630 choirs in the Catholic Church. 

12 Some newly-planned parishes are to include as many as up to 100,000 congregation members. 

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in July 2020 by an Instruction of the Vatican.13 The traditional parish model of a parish led by a  priest as a pastor will nevertheless have to be increasingly supplemented or replaced by new  forms of leadership. The focus must always be on the fundamental service to God’s people. In  this respect, too, there is an urgent need for reform. 

3. Change structures that promote abuse 

3.1. What the MHG study says: offender profiles 

(22) The so-called MGH study published in 201814 on the “Sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic priests, deacons and male religious in the sphere of the German Bishops’ Conference,” revealed that it is not only transformation processes in society and the Church that make it necessary to fundamentally re-orientate the priesthood. The high number of priests who became offenders, and the systemic facilitation of acts of sexualised and other abuses of power that have been exposed, intensify the need for a re-examination. The data of the study shows a perpetrator quotient of 5.1% of priests working in diocesan ministry (roughly one in 20 priests), although the proportion is likely to be considerably higher in view of the high number of unre ported cases, which must be assumed.15 These are therefore by no means isolated cases, as is sometimes argued! Far too much harrowing suffering and life-long traumatisation of the victims of sexualised violence could have been prevented if consistent action had been taken in time. But even now, the forces of inertia within the church are immense, although the phenomenon of an irritated system has been evident since 2010. Yet it is clear: systemic changes are inevi table and require all hierarchical levels to take responsibility. In this context, it makes sense to first look at the typology of accused persons, also in order to counteract a general suspicion. Analogous to typologies of sexual abusers outside the church context, the study identifies three basic patterns of accused persons. 

(23) “Accused persons who had committed sexual abuse on several persons affected under the age of 13, who committed such offences over a period of more than six months, and with regard to whom the first accusation was documented not long after their ordination, can be assigned to a “fixed type” in which there are indications of a possible paedophilic preference disorder 

13 The text of the Instruction can be found at: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pub blico/2020/07/20/200720a.html. 

14 The Study, commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference, is named after the research locations Mannheim,  Heidelberg and Gießen. 

15 “The number of clerics accused – 38,156 sets of personnel records and reference files from the 27 dioceses dating  from 1946 to 2014 were reviewed as part of the research project (SP6). Information regarding allegations of the  sexual abuse of minors was found to exist with regard to 1,670 clerics of the Catholic Church. This represented  4.4 percent of all clerics from 1946 to 2014 whose personnel records and other documents were reviewed in the  dioceses. This figure constitutes a conservative estimate, and findings from research into the unknown area sug 

gest that the actual value is higher. The share among diocesan priests was 5.1 percent (1,429 accused persons).  It was 2.1 percent (159 accused persons) among priests within religious orders who are governed by “Gestellungs verträge” (a contract conferring a form of stipend), and 1.0 percent (24 accused persons) among full-time dea cons. Where the personnel records of clerics who were accused in the course of the application procedure for  “benefits in recognition of the suffering imposed on the victims of sexual abuse” were reviewed, only 50 percent  of the personnel records or other church documents relating to clerics with regard to whom the allegations had  been classified by the Catholic Church in the applications as being plausible were found to contain a corresponding  reference to the accusation or offence. This means that half of all cases would not have been discovered as part  of a review of personnel records pure and simple, had the persons affected not actively applied for “benefits in  recognition of the suffering imposed on the victims of sexual abuse”. This provides an indication of the extent of  the unknown area that can be assumed to exist” https://www.dbk.de/filead-min/redaktion/diverse_down loads/dossiers_2018/MHG Studie-Endbericht-Zusammenfassung.pdf.  

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in the sense of a primary or secondary paedophilic tendency. The life of a priest in the Catholic  Church, with its extensive opportunities for contact with children and juveniles, is highly likely  to attract this type of individual.  

(24) A “narcissistic-sociopathic type” of accused person can be described as a second charac teristic. Such a person exercises his power not only in the sexual abuse of children and juveniles, but also in an inappropriate manner in other settings. Sexual abuse manifests itself here as one among several forms of narcissistic abuse of power in such cases. (…) The power available to an ordained priest by virtue of his office offers many different opportunities to this type (…). 

(25) A third group of accused persons can be described as a “regressive-immature type”, which refers to accused persons whose personal and sexual development is deficient. These include both heterosexual and homosexual accused persons. (…) The obligation to remain celibate could offer members of this type a misconceived possibility of not having to adequately confront the formation of their own sexual identity. (…).”16 

(26) Conclusions about the changes needed in the selection, training and guidance of seminari ans, as well as lifelong guidance for priests, can already be drawn after reading these offender descriptions. In doing so, the research consortium urges that one should not only aim “at the symptoms of an undesirable development, and thus prevent a debate taking place on the fun damental problem posed by clerical power (…)“17. The Synodal Assembly also confronts this analysis of structures which favour abuse with the text on priestly existence today. 

3.2. Recommendations of the MHG Study with regard to the priestly existence today  

(27) What is required is a mature personality that is also self-confident in the context of sexu ality. In this context, a purely project-related examination of one’s own sexuality is not suffi cient.18 A selection of candidates with appropriate use of established psychological methods as well as their accompaniment “with regard to the challenges of a celibate life, not necessarily chosen voluntarily, but obligatory as a prerequisite for priestly ordination is to be ensured.“19 In-service psychological counselling for priests is to be made a permanent feature here, not only in the form of a pastoral-spiritual approach20

16 MHG Study: Research project, Sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic priests, deacons and male religious  in the sphere of the German Bishops’ Conference, p. 12, source (in German): www.dbk.de/filead min/redaktion/diverse_downloads/dossiers_2018/MHG-Studie-gesamt.pdf, most recently retrieved 8 January  2022. Emphasis by the authors “What is more, the inability of individuals of this type to enter into a mature  partnership does not need to be socially justified if they become priests. The first accusation often does not occur  in this group until after a prolonged period of latency that occurs subsequent to being ordained as a priest. One  reason for this might be that the barrier to sexual abuse offences is not broken down until overburdening, isolation  and a lack of support from the Church with regard to such problems have increased over time.” (ibid.) 17 Ibid., p. 18. 

18 “Celibacy is not an eo ipso risk factor for sexual abuse. A commitment to a life of celibacy however requires an  intensive examination of one’s own emotionality, eroticism and sexuality. A predominantly theological and pas toral approach towards these developmental requirements is not sufficient.” (Ibid., p. 17) 19 Ibid. p. 13. 

20 Cf. ibid. 

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(28) The Synodal Assembly therefore sees both the need to discuss the appropriate rationale and necessary changes regarding mandatory celibacy, as well as to reflect on improved profes sionalism and personal development, which includes the further development and evaluation of training and continuing education, and to adopt appropriate recommendations for action.21 

(29) The present priestly formation must be put to the test under these aspects. In view of the decreasing number of candidates, comprehensive training in separate, closed institutes seems increasingly questionable, but joint training of all pastoral professional groups seems more sen sible and necessary – also with regard to professional standards and the avoidance of misogyn istic tendencies as well as the prospect of interprofessional cooperation in the future pastoral (large) spaces.22 In this context, the admission of women for ordination is also often seen as beneficial.23 The training for the priesthood to date should be put to the test with regard to these aspects. 

(30) Many of the needs for change that have been highlighted stem from a lack of standards for professionalisation and professionalism. Developing appropriate standards, enabling a feedback culture, and if necessary establishing sanction measures, are the tasks that are introduced in the implementation text entitled “Professionalisation and personality development”. Such a feedback culture is intended not only to enable unilateral feedback, but by using reflection and regulation to make sure that proximity and distance of priests to members of the congregation, families, and especially children and young people in basic and further training, accompanied by trained experts and other assistance from the Vicariates General/ordinariates, are appropri ately shaped, and assume binding legal force. 

(31) Large numbers of offences committed by the third group of offenders did not begin until after an average period of service of approx. 8-14 years. The assumption that this has to do with overburdening and loneliness after a certain period of service has implications for the standards that need to be developed with regard to professionalisation. Considerations with regard to way of life are addressed in the implementation text on celibacy to some extent. This also needs to be considered when revising the “ratio nationalis” (the nationwide framework statutes for train ing for the priesthood), which has already been drawn up by a working group of the German Bishops’ Conference. The implementation of these statutes should be based on broad expertise. The issue of homosexuality among priests and candidates for ordination must not be ignored.24 Special needs are also seen with regard to the Sacrament of Penance. While the Sacrament of Penance offers the opportunity to experience the heart of faith as a place of God’s love and readiness to forgive, a double sensitisation is advisable nevertheless: Firstly, the possibility of abuse, including of a spiritual and intellectual nature, to which the Sacrament of Penance is particularly susceptible, needs to be addressed in formation and professional accompaniment. Furthermore, increased sensitisation is required with regard to possible insinuations and naming 

21 Cf. Implementation text “The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening”. 

22 Cf. Implementation text entitled “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening”. 23 The Synodal Forum “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church” has developed some points on this question.  From the forum “Priestly existence today” there is the implementation text “Plural ministry structure as an op portunity – overcoming clericalism”, which also touches on this question from another perspective. 24 In this regard, reference is made to the implementations texts “A re-evaluation of homosexuality in the Magiste rium” and “Breaking with taboos and normalisation – Votes on the situation of non-heterosexual priests.  

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of those affected in confession. The same applies to confidential conversations in any spiritual  accompaniment. 

(32) On the other hand, confession has been used by perpetrators of sexual abuse as a way of disclosing acts in a way that avoids further prosecution.25 There is a need for increased aware ness and training for confessors on how to proceed in such cases; if necessary, new regulations under church law (prohibition of absolution, etc.) must be adopted. 

(33) All this shows that beyond the “clarification, processing and prevention of individual acts of sexual abuse”, a fundamental examination of the ordained ministry of the priest and his understanding of his role vis-à-vis non-ordained persons is necessary26. It is therefore a matter of sometimes profound and sometimes painful changes in the priestly self-understanding and in the image of the priest of many believers, as they are addressed in the following text (especially in chapter 5). 

3.3. Overcoming clericalism! Topics and cross-references to other Forum topics 

(34) Not only the MHG Study, but also other diocesan studies, and the inclusion of the victims in the process of analysis, are pushing for a renewed examination of the Church’s understanding of ministry. The misconception of priestly ordination, which can be summarised under the key word clericalism, is to be considered in this context above all other things. Pope Francis con fronts this with a reinforced approach to Synodality27. The under-secretary of the Synod of Bish ops, Nathalie Becquart, clarifies this idea by stating that “the vision of a synodal Church is a means to overcome clericalism and get rid of it (…)”28. There seems to be a consensus in the universal Church that clericalism runs counter to the fundamental understanding of the priestly ministry, and that changes are necessary. The “internally-blind regime of monopolised male celibate sacral power”,29 as Gregor Hoff puts it, needs to be overcome. 

(35) This has implications among other things for the theology of the “repraesentatio Christi” (see Chapter 5). 

25 “Accused clerics not infrequently see confession as an opportunity to reveal their own abuse crimes. The pro tected sphere of the confessional box was even used by accused clerics to prepare or conceal offences in some  cases. The Sacrament of Confession is therefore particularly significant in this context. From a scientific point of  view, the responsibility of the confessor for adequate clarification, confrontation and prevention of individual  acts of sexual abuse should be emphasised.” https://www.dbk.de/themen/sexualisierte-gewalt-und-praeven tion/forschung-und-aufarbeitung/studien/mhg-studie, Research project, Overall final report. p. 17. Most recently  retrieved 25 April 2022. 

26 Cf. ibid. “A change in clerical power structures requires a fundamental discussion of the ordained ministry of the  priest and his understanding of his role vis-à-vis non-ordained persons. This must not remain lip service by those  responsible for the Church. The sanctioning of individual accused persons, public regret, financial payments to  those affected and the establishment of prevention concepts and a culture of respectful interaction are necessary,  but by no means sufficient measures. If the reactions of the Catholic Church are limited to such measures, such  fundamentally positive approaches are even likely to maintain clerical power structures, as they only target  symptoms of an aberrant development and thus prevent the fundamental problem of clerical power from being  addressed.” (p.18). 

27 As he emphasised back in 2015: “What the Lord is asking of us is already in some sense present in the very word  “synod”. Journeying together — laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome — is an easy concept to put into words, but  not so easy to put into practice.” https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/october/docu ments/papa-francesco_20151017_50-anniversario-sinodo.html, most recently retrieved 25 April 22. 28 Lebendige Seelsorge: Klerikalismus. Vol 1/2022, Echter-Verlag Würzburg, p. 34. 

29 Ibid. P. 39. 

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(36) As far as the issue of improperly-exercised power is concerned, cross-references need to be made to Synodal Forum I. Synodal Forum III discusses the potential to rectify the power imbalance and the male-oriented structures by opening up ordination admission and increased involvement in leadership functions not only for men. The “repraesentatio Christi” with regard to gender affiliation is also discussed here. The topic of sexuality is not only addressed in Synodal Forum IV, but also has a direct impact on the reflections of the Synodal Forum “Priestly exist ence today”. Confronting one’s own sexuality, and the topics related to eroticism and emotion ality, is increasingly being set as a topic in training and in occupational standards. This seems to become particularly necessary irrespective of the request to lift the general obligation of celibacy. 

(37) As the ongoing discussions on the basis of the abovementioned studies reveal, protecting the offenders has too often been prioritised over protecting victims of sexualised violence. This does not only refer to the priestly ministry, but also to the understanding of ministry and the exercise of the episcopal ministry. This must be considered elsewhere and the necessary con sequences have to be drawn. It is important to develop an awareness of the problem where insufficient measures of sanctioning and prevention tend to help preserve clerical power struc tures if they merely target the symptoms of an undesirable development.30 The implementation text entitled “Prevention of sexualized violence and dealing with perpetrators in the Catholic Church” also takes a look at concrete measures to this end. 

(38) The very nature of the professional groups of parish and pastoral assistants who have re ceived theological training and are active in pastoral care, as well as other professions which are in the process of developing and which exist in the German-speaking world, also invites reflection in pastoral practice and in theology on the understanding of pastoral care and of the ministry. The implementation text entitled “Opportunities through a plural ministry structure – Overcoming clericalism” suggests such a reflection. 

4. The purpose and the goal of the sacramental ordained ministry 

(39) The various demands on the Church and the forthcoming processes of processes of change also confront the Synodal Assembly with the fundamental question of whether and for what purpose the priestly ministry is needed. This question also seems urgent, since many congrega tions have to organise their lives without an ordained priest due to the shortage of priests. In this context, it must be guaranteed that there are no clerical misinterpretations, as if there were the privilege of a higher Christianity of the ordained. 

(40) The sacramental necessity of the priesthood is being questioned. In many parishes the specific ministry of the priest is no longer plausible. For in view of the existing shortage of priests, many parishes are finding quite pragmatic ways of organising church life without a priest. Many of the arguments for the tasks reserved for the ordained priest are no longer con vincing. The traditional priestly ideal has not only been deeply damaged by the abuse crisis. Due to a theological and ecclesiastical adaptation that has long been refused or delayed, and 

30 Cf. MHG Study: Research project, Sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic priests, deacons and male reli gious in the sphere of the German Bishops’ Conference, pp. 15-19, source: www.dbk.de/fileadmin/redaktion/di verse_downloads/dossiers_2018/MHG-Studie-gesamt.pdf. 

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not least because of many status relics that are by no means part of the ministry, it seems in  many respects to have fallen out of time. All this needs to be perceived objectively. A conscious  re-accentuation on the basis of the biblical and theological sources and the ecclesial tradition  is therefore necessary in order to find credible and sustainable answers to these problems in  the present. In this process, the question of the necessity of the priestly ministry can also unfold  salutary-critical or de-clericalising dynamics in these search movements, which deserve appre 

ciation and acceptance. This fundamental question must be addressed in a credible way, among  other things with regard to changed admission conditions and the opening of ordination to all  genders.  

(41) According to Catholic tradition, the ordained minister constitutively keeps present in the church the essential counterpart of the divine promise and claim in the congregation. 

(42) The Catholic tradition is currently faced with the task of revising the theology of ministry in such a way that the counterpart of Jesus’ saving action (triplex munus christi = teaching, guiding, sanctifying) is credibly implemented in the actions of ordained priests. 

(43) The priesthood has the special responsibility and mission to realise the sacramentality of the Church in and with the people of God. The sacramentality of the Church is manifested by being a sign and instrument of God’s salvific nearness to all people and of the unity of all people (LG 1). 

(44) The priesthood has special responsibility for the sacraments. To this end, priests step back as persons and in their actions give space to the work and presence of Jesus Christ and his message of God’s love for every human being. 

(45) They invite and preside at the communion of the Eucharist on behalf of Jesus Christ. They open spaces of reconciliation and unity, especially symbolic in the sacrament of reconciliation. Through their devotion they allow people to experience God’s healing devotion to all people, especially to the poor and suffering, as in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Their ministry aims to ensure that all the baptised and confirmed live out their common priesthood, in the celebration of the sacraments and in their whole lives. 

(46) Such a ministry is indispensable for the sacramentality of the Church. 

(47) In order for the priesthood to be a sign and instrument of God’s salvific nearness and the unity of people, it must be freed from everything that stands in the way of this: from separation from people’s lives, from an idealisation of the minister, from privileges of status and exaltation. For if the official role and the person are not thought to be congruent, the priestly ministry becomes liveable and does not fail because of the excessive demands of (self-)imposed perfec tion. 

(48) The priesthood can be understood as a sign when its members and their actions credibly point to the work of Jesus Christ. This succeeds when they do not focus on themselves but on God’s action in the church community. And it succeeds when it is noticeable that they strive to live as followers of Jesus Christ and His message. 

(49) It can be an effective tool when the healing and unifying closeness and love of God can be experienced in the actions of the ministers. This succeeds when they bring people together, 

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proclaim the Gospel and are close to people in their joys and hopes, sorrows and fears, espe cially to the poor and disadvantaged. 

(50) “Whilst the Church, understood in the sacramental sense, is not an end in herself this also applies to the sacramental office. This office is responsible not for human rule becoming effec tive in salvific terms, but the life-giving power of God. (Foundational text “Power and separation of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”) Power exercised by priests for and on behalf of God’s people must be exercised in the spirit of Jesus: Empowering the weak and acting in a participative, communicative and transparent way without putting oneself first. This is a consequence of Jesus’ mission: “But it shall not be so among you”, as in the case of those in power who abuse their power (cf. Mk 10:43-44). 

(51) “The church ministry is a sacramental sign which points to Christ and receives its authority from Him. This does not absolve the minister from supervision and criticism. In fact, quite the reverse: The sacramental office does not establish privileges, but is a call to render service. Precisely because it not only organises a function, but is based on an empowerment and makes it possible to represent Christ, the Head of the Church, the sacrament of the ordo always calls to mind the difference between Christ and the minister”. (Foundational text “Power and sepa ration of powers in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”) 

(52) The biblical statements on the priesthood are somewhat cult-critical in their orientation, and thus always priest-critical. The First Testament is reserved vis-à-vis the hereditary priest hood, since this priesthood is always in danger of turning its “ministry” into an instrument of domination. The Second Testament radicalises this critical view of the priesthood. For Chris tians, there is no priest but Jesus: “There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human” (1 Tim 2:5, cf. also Hebr). There is hence only one priest in the Church, the Lord Himself. Any priesthood can only be accepted if it points directly and existentially to the mission of Jesus and makes His presence felt. 

(53) The Church needs priests because she lives from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the celebration of which is presided over by a priest. The priest is ordained (“consecrated”) so that he as a person stands for Jesus Christ himself presiding over the celebration of the sacra ments. His ministry aims to ensure that all the baptised and confirmed live out their common priesthood, in the celebration of the Eucharist and in all their lives. The ordained priest, within the framework of his specific tasks as a minister, stands for the legitimate making present of the action of the risen Christ. 

(54) The actions of the priest can only be understood if they personally stand up for the holiness and radical otherness of the divine claim. The why and the wherefore of the ordained priestly ministry will only be understandable today if the minister’s serving pro-existence effectively liberates people, and the liberated individual may perceive in it a sense of God’s holiness. The Church requires priests in order for this message to be proclaimed. 

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5. Theological reflections on the priestly ministry 

(55) All the considerations so far show that there is a need today for a renewed pastoral imple mentation of the sacramental priesthood, and this begins with an honest assessment31 and lo cates its theological foundations in it. As Pope Francis stresses in his Letter to the pilgrim people of God, we are “living in times of change” which raise “new and old issues, in view of which a discussion is justified and necessary”.32 

5.1. The priestly ministry in the people of God 

(56) In his Letter to the pilgrim people of God, Pope Francis desires a “pastoral conversion”,33 which is measured by the primacy of evangelisation, as the Church is to be a “sign and instru ment both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1), and to share “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” with all (GS 1). In synodal terms, this can only be realised as the path of the whole people of God.34 It is from this vocation of God’s people alone that reflection on the ministry of the priest is possible. For the priest comes out of the people of God, and his ministry is always to be understood in terms of this setting. 

(57) 1 Peter and other New Testament Scriptures already speak of the common dignity and the unity of all in the one people of God. The Biblical theology of baptism includes the awareness of all who are baptised being anointed by the Spirit (1 John 2:20) and forming a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). Hebrews in particular develops an awareness that there is only one priest, namely Christ himself, through whom all who are baptised gain access to the Father. He brings salvation, and there can be no other mediator. His giving His life makes all sacrifices complete, so that nothing must be added to His sacrifices, except that the faithful follow His gift and so give the praise due to the Father. Therein lies the priestly dignity of all who are baptised. By being anointed with chrism in bap tism, the newly-baptised are assured of being members of God’s people and of sharing in the priestly, royal and prophetic ministry of Christ. The common baptism is the bond that brings everyone together and unites them in the one people of God. This pneumatological origin of the people of God is confirmed and always recalled by the priest.35 Even before the New Testament speaks about different services and offices, baptism and anointing with the Spirit form the sac ramental foundation of churchhood. Each and every baptised person represents Christ and the Church. 

(58) The different representations of the Church already convey in the New Testament the per spective of serving. There are images that express in strong words the nearness between Christ 

31 Cf. Baumann, Klaus et al. (eds.), Zwischen Spirit und Stress. Die Seelsorgenden in den deutschen Diözesen, Würz burg 2017. 

32 Pope Francis, Letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany. VAS 220 (29 June 2020). 33 Pope Francis, Letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany, No.6. 

34 Cf. Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in: VAS 194 (24 November 2013), No. 111: “Evangeli zation is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierar chical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God. She is certainly a  mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, trans cending any institutional expression, however necessary.” 

35 PO 11. 

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and His Church, for example in the reflection on the Church as the body of Christ (e.g. Eph  4:12), whilst others consider the juxtaposition of Christ and the Church, such as when Christ is  seen as the Bridegroom of the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33) – an image for His covenant of loyalty,  which, by the way, must not be misinterpreted in a gender-specific way. This is insofar signifi 

cant, as the Church must not equate herself with Christ. The ordained minister performs a  service to the community as a member of the people of God. He is to perform his service in a  community-building, motivating way for others, not in competition with the other baptised in dividuals. His service largely consists of promoting and affirming the revealed being of the  Church and the ecclesial action of all the baptised.  

(59) The Biblical archetype of service is the washing of the feet, which Jesus concludes with the instruction: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:1-17). Historically, a one-sided view has emerged. The ordained became clerics: from around the 3rd century onwards, they were understood to have their own ecclesiastical sociological status (ordo), which was distinguished from the status of the “laity”. This difference in status, with which different rights and duties are associated, still shapes church law and liturgy today. However, this is not biblical. Clericalism is rooted in the emphasis on this difference of status. 

(60) Sacramental ordination has nothing to do with sacralising the person. By no means does the ordained priest become an image of Christ in all aspects of life. Nor is it an enhancement of the common priesthood of all the baptised (sacerdotium commune), but rather an authorisation of the ordained to act in persona Christi capitis for the benefit of the faithful in certain, narrowly defined sacramental acts (Presbyterium Ordinis no. 2). It is no coincidence that the Decree on Priests of Vatican Council II consistently does not use the term priest (“sacerdos”) for the minis ter, but “presbyter” (elder, authorized). They are distinguished from the bearers of the common priesthood, the faithful, by their office and role, not by a priesthood, however enhanced. 

(61) The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church “Lumen gentium” of the Second Vatican Council attempts to eliminate potential, i.e. historically-conditioned, flaws. The concept of the Church as a hierarchically-ordered “societas perfecta”, that is as a society of unequals, can still be found in the draft versions.36 Lumen gentium itself then prefers the ecclesiology of the people of God such that the unity of the people of God precedes the hierarchical order of the Church. The equality of the dignity of the baptised goes first, and conditions the diversity that we find. The priesthood of the ministry is preceded by the common priesthood of all the faithful, which expresses itself in prophesy, leadership and witness. Thus, the Council has laid the foundation for embedding the ministry of the priest in the many ministries and spiritual gifts in the Church. 

(62) The texts of the Council remain authoritative for today’s reflection on the people of God and the priestly ministry. The German bishops considered and developed concrete consequences in their statement on the renewal of the pastoral ministry “Gemeinsam Kirche sein” of 1 August 2015.37 Esteem for the gifts of the Spirit and the recognition that all are called through baptism 

36 Cf. Wenzel, Knut, Kleine Geschichte des II. Vatikanischen Konzils, Freiburg, Basel, Vienna, 2005, 61-66. 37 Cf. Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference (publisher), Gemeinsam Kirche sein. Statement by the German  bishops on the renewal of the pastoral ministry, in: Die deutschen Bischöfe 100, Bonn 2015. 

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to live a holy life and to contribute their own gifts to the Church is significant here.38 The  charisms of all who are baptised are emphasised as the richness of the Church. The text recalls  the priestly dignity of those who are baptised, which cannot be enhanced. Ordained priests are  to be instruments, but are not to form an estate of their own.39 

(63) These texts also constitute an important foundation for the further work of the Synodal Path. The reception of the Second Vatican Council is not complete with regard to the question of the essence of the priesthood. What is more, priests’ self-perception and the perception of others do not always coincide. This may lead to (personal) crises of identity for priests and to confusion among the remaining faithful. It is then tempting to seek clarity through demarcation. Priests do not gain authority in the sense of auctoritas over the people of God by these means; at most they can rely on potestas. This touches on the issue of power.40 

5.2. The common representation of Christ by the baptised and the representation of Christ  by the priest 

(64) Each and every baptised person represents Christ, the only “high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebr 5:10), who has made His Church into a kingdom of “priests for his God and Father” (Revelation 1:6). “The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly”.41 The representation of Christ by the priest in the administration of the sacraments reserved for him is distinct from this, especially the celebration of the Eucharist. It is clear in Magisterial texts that the “repraesentatio Christi” by the priest is not limited solely to the sacramental celebration of or presiding over the Eucharist, but concerns the entire priestly existence.42 This opens up the question of the relationship between the representation of Christ by the priest outside the Eucharist, and similarly the representation of Christ by all faithful. 

(65) The priestly existence is not different from that of all faithful outside his sacramental acts. The fact that the “sacramental representatio” of the priest shapes his whole life does not mean that he is different in everyday life. The opposite is the case: His sacramental ministry, which is characterised as receding behind Christ, will also shape his behaviour in everyday life. 

38 Cf. Pope Francis, Letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany, No. 9: “The anointing of the Holy which was  poured out on the whole body of the Church “distributes special graces among the faithful of every state and  condition of life, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. (1 Cor 12:11). Through these he  makes them suitable and ready to undertake various works and ministries for the renewal and full construction  of the Church, according to the word: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit” (1 Cor  12:7). 

39 Medard Kehl, Stephan Ch. Kessler, Priesterlich werden. Anspruch für Laien und Kleriker, Würzburg 2010, 19. 40 The group of topics “office and leadership” is dealt with by the Synodal Forum “Power and separation of powers  in the Church – Joint participation and involvement in the mission”. 

41 CCC 1546. 

42 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, in: VAS 105 (25 March 1992), No.  14: “In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ – the  head and shepherd – authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salva tion – particularly in baptism, penance and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift  of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a  word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name  and person of Christ the head and shepherd.” Pastores dabo vobis No. 16 notes: “Inasmuch as he represents Christ  the head, shepherd and spouse of the Church, the priest is placed not only in the Church but also in the forefront  of the Church.” 

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(66) Whereas the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Orders, acts “in the person of Christ the Head” (LG 10) when administering the sacraments, and the faithful hence receive an assurance that the grace of the sacrament applies regardless of the holiness of the person administering it, this ministry to the people of God has no higher dignity or holiness. “The configuration of the priest to Christ the head – namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others. In the Church, functions do not favour the supe riority of some vis-à-vis the others.”43 

(67) Not only against the background of the scandal of sexual abuse in the Church, and of the findings of the MHG Study, it is important that the priest, outside the celebration of the sacra ments, does not take on the role of Christ Himself and confuse himself with the voice of God, and is not mistaken for this voice by the faithful. Such sacral glorification can lead to spiritual abuse of power. 

5.3. The sacramental nature of ordained ministry 

(68) The sacramental ministry is part and parcel of the “essence” of what is Catholic. The sac ramental understanding of the priest corrects a purely functional view of the ministry. The priest’s sacramental ministry is in essence a service rendered for unity “which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” in the celebration of the Eucharist (LG 11). This ministry of unity, as assessed in “Gemeinsam Kirche sein”, which is indispensable for the Church, is the unique feature of the priestly ministry. The sacramentality of the priesthood, and the holiness of the Church, by no means imply flawlessness. Pope Francis emphasises unequivocally: “The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative”.44 

(69) The ordained priest has the task of expressing the standard of the Gospel, and of making clear in his sacramental actions “that God is faithful, that Christ Himself is present in the Church: real, concrete, personal and unadulterated”.45 Ordination does not release him from the necessity to strive for credibility. “Gemeinsam Kirche sein” explains the wording of the 

43 Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, No. 104. A note on the orientation of ontological statements towards the priest hood. A person who is ordained to the priesthood is the holder of a “character indelebilis”; he has been given an  “indelible stamp”, and differs in “essentia” (ablative) “in essence” from the non-ordained faithful. These state ments are not easy to understand. Firstly, because they presuppose an Aristotelian teaching of reality, which is  not readily compatible with today’s understanding of reality. But it would be possible to cope with this given a  few hermeneutic aids. It becomes more difficult if one interprets the ontological statements, which has often  happened, in the sense of an essential superiority of the priest, thus encouraging a form of clerical glorification.  It is therefore important to recall the meaning and the purpose of the ontological statements: If the Lord brings  about grace and salvation in the Church through the sacraments, then the effective potential of the sacramental priestly ministry must be existent independently of the moral disposition of the minister. This could however only  be expressed in ontological categories. Perhaps an image helps to understand this: There is a road, a path to  salvation, and it is secured with guard rails. The ontological reflections are, as it were, guard rails for reflection:  If the believing person is so disposed, the administration of the sacrament by the priest can only be one thing,  namely the mediation of salvation, regardless of the circumstances. However, if one confuses the reflections that  are supposed to protect the lasting effectiveness of the priestly action with reflections that have the priestly  state at their centre, then one confuses the road and the guard rail. But engineers who know how to make guard  rails are neither road workers nor vehicles, nor the drivers who use the roads. The Church has unfortunately  trained far too many engineers who only know how to build guard rails and crash barriers, and has sadly neglected  road construction, vehicle construction, as well as driving instruction. 

44 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exultate on the call to holiness in today’s world. VAS 213 (19  March 2018), No. 52. 

45 Gemeinsam Kirche sein, 37. 

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constitution resulting from the Council Lumen gentium 10, “Though they differ from one another  in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or  hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated”. It is said not to be a matter of a larger  quantity of holiness or dignity; in fact, the essential difference consists in the sacramental min 

istry to the community and the congregation. Such ministry of unity may also be realised by  priests through their ministry of leadership. Here it is entirely at the service of the episcopate,  which is the primary addressee of the ministry of unity.  

(70) Leadership is a broad and open term.46 It serves in essence to enable participation by many in the diverse tasks of the Church. Leadership seeks the spiritual gifts, and it enables their realisation among other things in the ministry for the unity of the Church. Leadership by priests understands “being church together” not in the sense of an isolated “rule”, but as a relational event. The priest himself is already in a sacramental relationship with the bishop, and shares in his leadership ministry. For without the bishop, there is no priest. Priests act “in collaboration with their bishops.47 The fellowship of the presbytery should also clarify the ministry of unity as a relational event. Baptised Christians participate in leadership with their gifts and professions. In addition, leadership is more than mere decision-making competence. With regard to the Vat ican Instruction entitled “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” of the Congregation for the Clergy of 20 July 2020 it has to be pointed out: An expanded concept of leadership is called for in order to not only carry out the debates on competences and tasks under church law. Priestly leadership does not merely consist of being a pastor, but it is rather to be understood from the three offices of Christ. Proclaiming the Gospel is the primary task of the leadership ministry48

(71) It is a much-lamented dilemma of the pastoral profession that administration and organi sation overshadow the necessary pastoral care and spiritual leadership. This also entails the danger of functionalising the priestly vocation. The functions of other pastoral vocations, and their derivation from the episcopal ministry, should also be considered in this context. 

5.4. The evangelical counsels 

(72) The evangelical counsels which Jesus proposes in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), namely of poverty, chastity and obedience, can be adopted by all believers as an expression of a life of following Christ. (cf. LG 39). All three are mandatory under church law for faithful who have opted for them through profession in institutes of consecrated life or societies of apostolic life (cf. can. 573 §1 CIC). They are a possible answer to the question of what it means to leave everything and follow Christ (Mt 10:28). Especially when it comes to possessions, celibacy and power, they also serve to flesh out discipleship for the so-called secular priest, who is called “to live these counsels in accordance with those ways and, more specifically, those goals and 

46 Cf. Gemeinsam Kirche sein, 41 et sqq. 

47 PO 77. 

48 For priests are brothers among brothers (74) with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font. They are  all members of one and the same Body of Christ, the building up of which is required of everyone.(75) Priests,  therefore, must take the lead in seeking the things of Jesus Christ, not the things that are their own.(76) They  must work together with the lay faithful, and conduct themselves in their midst after the example of their Master,  who among men “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as redemption for many”  (Mt 20:28). (PO 74-77a). 

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that basic meaning which derive from and express his own priestly identity”.49 This applies not  only to celibacy (chastity), but also to the way he deals with property (poverty) and power  (obedience). 

(73) The ministry of a priest is not only to be characterised by solidarity with the poor and deprived, but it is necessary to allow oneself to be evangelised by them.50 As an indication of this, he is to live out his interactions in accordance with the evangelical counsel of poverty, which also needs to be re-examined with regard to remuneration and a critical handling of other financial possibilities (cf. can. 282 §1 and 2 CIC). 

(74) The evangelical counsel of the obedience of the priest towards the bishop and the Church in relation to the ministry to the people of God concerns the area of power, and is spelled out anew in practical terms in the implementation texts, which themselves deal with professional isation. 

(75) Chastity, or celibacy, is intended to signify the representation of Christ and the prophetic dimension of the priestly ministry. Despite and due to manifold encounters and commitments, many priests lack both the experience of being embedded in the everyday life of the people of God, as well as that of experiencing acceptance of and support for their way of life by the concrete community of the faithful. The lack of having a home may lead to loneliness through one’s own fault and the fault of others. This background is also significant with regard to of fender type 3 (cf. Chapter 3). 

(76) The celibate way of life presupposes a way of life that is rich in relationships, both within the Church as well as with regard to wider worldly relational structures. This however poses a risk of the celibate way of life leading to marginalisation if the symbolism is no longer supported by large sections of the people of God. In addition, sacramentality itself is at risk if celibacy is neither spiritually understood nor lived out in concrete, credible terms, and is tacitly and col lectively undermined in a double life that is tolerated by the church leadership. We therefore propose a review of the link between the conferral of ordination and the commitment to celi bacy.51 

5.5. Working as a priest in a synodal Church 

(77) Around 10,000 secular priests, and roughly 2,000 priests in religious orders, ordained in Germany, as well as about 1,400 priests ordained in a foreign diocese, are active in the Church in Germany in a wide variety of areas.52 A majority, but not all, are active in pastoral care in parishes. Other areas of activity include pastoral care of foreigners, pastoral care in universities and schools, adult education, or academies, Caritas, the associations and spiritual communities, youth pastoral care, hospital pastoral care and pastoral care for persons with disabilities, the Church’s administration or the exercise of priestly activity in a secondary office (e.g. “worker 

49 Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, No. 27. 

50 Cf. Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, No. 198. 

51 For more detailed explanations see: implementation text “The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening”. 52 Cf. in this regard: Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference (publisher), Kontinuierliche jährliche Erhebung statistischer Eckdaten über Priester, Diakone und andere hauptamtliche Mitarbeiter/innen in der Pastoral. May  2021, 3. 

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priests”). Bishops are ordained deacons or priests, too.53 The ministry of the priest cannot there fore be reduced to that of the parish priest, but is regarded in terms of its sacramental dimen sion.  

(78) The jointly-trodden path (syn-hodos) is largely determined by the method (“met-hodos” – the path towards something). Pope Francis referred to this method in his address at the opening of the synod on young people as “an ecclesial exercise in discernment”, consisting in a three step process of spiritual discernment – perceiving, interpreting and choosing.54 If the Church and the synod are synonymous,55 then priests serve to call the people of God in their respective areas by accompanying them in spiritual processes, in joint consultation, decision-making and leadership. 

(79) This requires a twofold perception and connection which establishes a joyful identity of the priest, as Pope Francis sets forth in his “Letter to priests”: “For our hearts to be encouraged, we should not neglect the dialectic that determines our identity. First, our relationship with Jesus. […] The other essential aspect of this dialectic is our relationship to our people”.56 In the second step of the synodal method that what has been perceived has to be distinguished.57 Synodality is not an end in itself after all, but “the innermost goal of the Synod as an instrument of the implementation of Vatican II can only be mission58

(80) The synodal approach means a change and inculturation of attitudes and structures, as explained in the corresponding implementation texts. 

5.6. The priest’s following of Christ in this time and in this society 

(81) Pope Francis calls in “Querida Amazonia” for an “Inculturation of forms of ministry”.59 This applies not only to the Amazonas.60 Inculturation is a twofold movement which includes both 

53 Cf. in this regard: Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference (publisher), Kontinuierliche jährliche Erhebung  statistischer Eckdaten über Priester, Diakone und andere hauptamtliche Mitarbeiter/innen in der Pastoral. May  2021, 9-19. The age structure will be added to. 

54 Cf. Pope Francis, Address at the opening of the synod on young people (3 October 2018): http://w2.vati can.va/content/francesco/de/speeches/2018/october/documents/papa101francesco_20181003_apertura sinodo.html. 

55 Pope Francis, Address to the Ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of  Bishops (17 October 2015), in: Die Berufung und Sendung der Familie in Kirche und Welt von heute. Texte zur  Bischofssynode 2015 und Dokumente der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Arbeitshilfen 276), published by the Sec retariat of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bonn 2015, p. 28. 

56 Pope Francis, Letter to priests on the 160th anniversary of the death of the Holy Curé of Ars (4 August 2019). 57 Cf. Pope Francis, Address to the Ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Institution of the Synod  of Bishops, p. 27. Cf. for the interaction between hierarchical and charismatic gifts: Congregation for the Doctrine  of the Faith, Letter “Iuvenescit Ecclesia” to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Regarding the Relationship Be tween Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church, in: VAS 205 (15 May 2016). 58 Cf. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Address at the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Institution  of the Synod of Bishops (17 October 2015), in: Die Berufung und Sendung der Familie in Kirche und Welt von heute.  Texte zur Bischofssynode 2015 und Dokumente der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz (Arbeitshilfen 276), published by  the Secretariat of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bonn 2015, p. 92. 

59 Cf. Pope Francis, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia, in: VAS 222 (2 February 2020), Nos. 85- 90, here No. 85: “Inculturation should also be increasingly reflected in an incarnate form of ecclesial organization  and ministry. If we are to inculturate spirituality, holiness and the Gospel itself, how can we not consider an  inculturation of the ways we structure and carry out ecclesial ministries?”. 

60 Cf. Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, No. 115: “Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the  culture of those who receive it.” 

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the transformation of culture through the Gospel, as well as receiving the Holy Spirit from cul ture.61 This leads to two questions, on the one hand with regard to the way of life of the priest  in our society, but on the other hand concerning the concrete life of the individual priest: (1)  What does inculturation mean for a specific way of life of the priest in our secular and global  society in which individual freedom and equality are highly valued? (2) This poses the following  question for the priest, as it does for all faithful: How can faith be lived in an inculturated  authentic and dialogic manner, i.e. in dialogue and thus full of tension, between a religiously motivated counter-culture and a bourgeois way of life, and against the horizon of globalisation  and the changes that it brings? All processes of change in the present reveal only one thing in  the final analysis: The priesthood is embedded in history, and is therefore always to be under stood as an incarnatory process. New forms of organisation, as they are to be shaped in the  future and to some extent already now after the end of the popular church structures, call for  a variety of configurations of priestly ministries. 

6. Final remarks 

(82) We are faced with the challenge of developing the theology of ordination in such a way that its essence, founded in Scripture and tradition, is preserved, while at the same time over coming its elements that are no longer in keeping with the times, that promote clericalism and encourage abuse. 

(83) In order to enable a genuine inculturation of the Catholic theory and tradition of priestly ministry into today’s society, other topics also need to be considered which, however, to a large extent have universal church dimensions. 

(84) For this reason, the developed implementation texts are to a large extent proposals to the universal church processing, primarily in a synod or even in a council. This also applies to a gender-just approach and systemic corrections in view of the crimes of abuse. At the same time, the tasks that can already be implemented are urgent: the change in the training regulations that takes all pastoral professional groups into consideration, the needs of professionalisation and personality development, joint leadership and decision-making. 

(85) With the implementation text “The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening”62 and further considerations to “Plural ministry structures as an opportunity – Overcoming clericalism “, the Synodal Assembly formulates petitions to the universal Church. The same applies to the demand for the admission of women and queer people, which is largely uncontroversial in Ger many, as it is the subject of the implementation texts from the Synodal Forum “Women in Min istries and Offices in the Church” as well as the reflections on participation from the Synodal Forum “Power and Separation of Powers in the Church – Joint Participation and Involvement in 

61 Cf. Pope Francis, Querida Amazonia, No. 68: “On the one hand, a fruitful process takes place when the Gospel  takes root in a given place, for “whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches  its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel”. On the other hand, the Church herself undergoes a process  of reception that enriches her with the fruits of what the Spirit has already mysteriously sown in that culture. In  this way, “the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face”.  In the end, this means allowing and encouraging the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel to be preached “in cate 

gories proper to each culture, creating a new synthesis with that particular culture”. 

62 Cf. implementation text “The celibacy of priests – strengthening and opening”. 

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the Mission”63. At the same time, the bishops in Germany are looking for ways to implement the  recommendations of the MHG study. 

(86) With the presented fundamental approach to the priestly form of life, to the re-accentua tion of the theology of priestly ministry, as well as the view of the pastoral practice of the local churches in Germany, a basis for further work is presented here, which requires further discus sion. 

63 Cf. for example https://www.kirche-und-leben.de/artikel/umfrage-zwei-drittel-gegen-pflichtzoelibat-und-fuer priesterinnen.  

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Original language is German 

Foundational text

Women in ministries and offices in the Church 

Decision of the Synodal Path adopted by the Synodal Assembly on September 9, 2022 

1. Introduction 

(1) Demanding gender justice as the basis for all future courses of action in the Roman Catholic Church is the guiding principle of the following observations. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). These encouraging words of Paul guide the reflections that follow below. Divisions according to origin, status and gender are abolished in the community that confesses Jesus as Christ. A consequence of the common priesthood of each individual believer in Christ, founded in baptism, is the participation of all in the mission of the Church to proclaim the Gospel in the world. Because all are “one in Christ Jesus” the non-admission of women to ec clesiastical ordained ministry urgently requires a renewed theological and anthropological re view in the light of the current signs of the times. Living out gender equality in the sense of God’s instructions as handed down in the Bible in the changing cultural and social contexts shall form the basis for the future course of action in the Roman Catholic Church. 

(2) This means in concrete terms that all who are baptised and confirmed, experience acknowl edgement and appreciation of their charisms and of their spiritual vocation, which must not depend on their gender identity; they become active, according to their aptitude, their abilities and skills, in ministries and offices which serve the proclamation of the Gospel in our time. 

(3) The institutional, official form of the Church is to be shaped at all times in such a way that She opens up a broad space for the message of God into which all people would like to enter. Every course of action which strengthens faithful trust, which substantiates the hope of Easter, which enables love to be experienced, and which serves to build up the Christian community, is to receive recognition. To be excluded as a woman* from the official representation of Christ is scandalous. For many Christians, it obscures the message of the Gospel, the proclamation of which was entrusted to the female Easter witnesses. Put to constructive use, this has an ener gising impact and motivates people to act. It is in the sense of the proclamation of the Easter Gospel, to which Jesus Christ also called women from the beginning, to call for a new orienta tion: 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 fundamen tal question is: What is the will of God with regard to the participation of women in the ministry of proclamation of the Gospel? Who can claim to be able to give an answer to this question for time immemorial, and on the basis of what criteria? 

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(4) The doctrine of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’1 is not accepted and understood by the people of God in large parts. Therefore, the question must be addressed to the highest authority in the Church (Pope and Council) whether the teaching of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ should be reviewed: In the service of evangelisation, it is a matter of enabling the appropriate participation of women in preaching, in the sacramental representation of Christ and in the building up of the Church. Whether or not the doctrine of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ binds the Church infallibly must then be examined and clarified bindingly at this level (cf. also 5.3). 

(5) The question of the ministries and offices of women in the Church of Jesus Christ, especially participation by women in the sacramental ministry, makes it seem necessary to learn to read the “signs of the times”, in addition to looking at Scripture and at tradition, and at the potential given in these sources for opening up the ministries to women. This absolutely must include reflecting on the different theological positions from the perspective of gender equality, enter ing into a close exchange with the social sciences, cultural studies and human sciences, and constructively taking up their reflections on gender theory. It should also be borne in mind in this context that there are people in the Roman Catholic Church who do not feel that their gender identity is adequately accommodated in the distinction between men and women. They are not specifically addressed in this text, but as people who are also affected, they are included in most of the statements on gender justice presented here. It should be noted in our thematic context that reservations against women’s participation in the sacramental ministry in the rep resentation of Christ are derived from the Scripture and from tradition. A critical examination of these arguments goes hand in hand with openness to the possibility of all people participating in the ordained ministry. 

(6) There are many ways to approach the goal of gender equality that has been formulated. An argumentative effort has been selected here: The memory of experiences of sexualised violence and spiritual abuse committed by men against women inspires to decisive action, in which a readiness to repent is central (Part 2). There is a need to ground the argumentation in Biblical theology (Part 3). Anthropological, historical, systematic theological and practical theological arguments justify the position that has been taken up (Parts 4 and 5). The outlook for the Church’s present proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be considered in view of the arguments set out above (Part 6). 

(7) There is a wealth of literature worldwide on all the aspects that are addressed here. Our contribution has been written with the perspective that it will be heard by the universal Church and that it will be implemented accordingly. It is highly desirable that in all places of the earth people will embark together on a journey of dialogue regarding the concerns and insights pre sented here. Every theological argument is placed in a context. The perception of spiritual abuse and of sexualised violence against women and girls has caused resistance to injustice to grow strong in the Church in Germany and has demanded theological thinking and appropriate activities with a great degree of urgency. 

1 Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men  Alone Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994)

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2. The challenges of our time 

2.1 Frightening: clerical and sexual abuse as well as sexual and sexualised violence  against women and girls 

(8) Girls and women had remained largely invisible as victims of sexual abuse in the Church until very recently. It is only of late that the German-speaking world has started to look at those victims who suffered spiritual and sexual abuse in the Church as adults. Many of them find it difficult to tell their stories. In addition to the often traumatic and shameful experi ences, they are frequently not believed, or are even blamed, or thought to share the blame, for what they have suffered. The women affected are often confronted with institutional “non-competence”, for instance by victims’ commissioners who point out that they are al legedly not responsible for adults. This makes them victims of an abuse of power once more. Retraumatisation may occur as a result of such actions. 

2.1.1 The potential dangers lying in the doctrine and the system of the Roman Catholic Church 

(9) Abuse takes place in specific power and gender constellations. It is a question of the credi bility of the Church and of justice to take note of the group of women victims, and to take them seriously. The Church is exposed to the same dangers as other communities: Weaknesses among particularly vulnerable persons are exploited; existing inequalities are consolidated, and power is abused. Special systemic factors need to be taken into account in the Church. Spiritual abuse is an integral part of the planning and preparation of sexualised violence in many cases. Partic ular potential for danger lies in a double asymmetry that is specifically Roman Catholic in na ture: When priests commit abuse, they are endowed with spiritual authority as clerics; as men, they are in a privileged position because of their gender. The MHG Study has identified a certain dominant habitus of priests as clerics who are likely to commit abuse: It can be observed in cases of sexual and spiritual abuse that church ministers sacralise their own person, and legiti mise their deeds by claiming to act in the name of Jesus Christ. Victims furthermore report that they were placed in a docile, servile or even submissive role with reference to Mary in which they felt that they had to tacitly accept the abuse although in the “Magnificat” a self-deter mined, courageous, strong woman, namely Mary, prophesies that the dynamics of power rela tions will be overthrown. As long as women continue to be identified with the image of Eve as a seductress, they seem responsible for the actions of men, who are supposedly defenceless against seduction. In many cases, it is perpetrator-victim reversal strategies that lead girls and women in the context of abuse to feel ashamed of their experiences of abuse because they feel guilty, and it is suggested that they are complicit in what has happened – an event that they neither sought out nor provoked, nor actively shaped. 

(10) Women have been and still are perpetrators, connivers and concealers in many contexts of abuse in the church sphere, in addition to male decision-makers. This has to be taken into account when it comes to reappraising and preventing abuse. There are also modes of conduct on the part of Christians, both women and men, that reinforce the dominance of men in the clergy, and enhance the danger of spiritual and sexual abuse, for example by adopting a sub missive attitude towards ministers. 

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2.1.2 The potential dangers lying in pastoral care and the celebration of the sacraments 

(11) Acts of pastoral care and the celebration of the sacraments, as forms of human communi cation, are always sensual, for example when it comes to the laying on of hands, anointing, distribution of Eucharistic gifts, and gestures of blessing. These acts are beneficial, but they also constitute a potential danger. Spiritual and sexual abuse frequently happens in the context of sacramental celebrations, or in other pastoral care situations, because they involve a complex relationship of power and dependence, and this is rooted in the professional role of the pastoral worker. Such constellations pose the risk of favouring physical, emotional, spiritual or psycho logical assault and manipulation. The fact that girls and women predominantly encounter male pastoral workers in most pastoral situations is a challenging issue against the background of these experiences. Especially the official ministry reserved for men in the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation was abused despite significant threat of punishment; for this reason the confessional became a place of horror for large numbers of girls and women. Stories from affected women reveal the extent to which their faith was damaged by the abuse that they suffered. Every further liturgical celebration can then have a re-traumatising effect. The victims are thus denied an important source of resilience. All that remains are the communal sacramen tal celebrations of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, which, however, women cannot lead, but can only help to organise. 

2.1.3 The danger to women in church employment 

(12) Women are underrepresented in positions of responsibility in many church contexts, espe cially in pastoral care. This also applies to women in leading positions within voluntary work. In this structure, many of them have to deal with sexism that is experienced on a daily basis which not infrequently emanates from male superiors. The relationship between proximity and dis tance is not easy to regulate appropriately. Abuse of power perpetrated by clerics humiliates women who work in full-time and honorary positions. Such discrimination reinforces women’s desire to exercise leadership in pastoral and sacramental contexts themselves. Such aspirations on the part of women are often defamed as an illegitimate assumption of power, without at the same time admitting that the existing constellations particularly imply such relationships of power. 

(13) When describing the motivation of women to take on and shape ministries and offices in the church, it is obvious from the position of the office holders to see in them above all people who want to be on an equal footing with them. Such a view, influenced by issues of power, changes when the realisation is achieved that many women do not aspire to an office previously denied to them, but out of pure joy in proclaiming the Gospel, respect their own charisms and feel called by God to render service in the community of faith. 

2.2 Insight: Gender equality in the debate within society 

(14) The demand for justice concerns all types of social relations and relationships, and there fore also gender relations and social gender relationships. Gender equality is achieved when every person in the respective social context, irrespective of their gender affiliation or identity, 

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has equal rights and opportunities to partake of assets, and has access to positions, and is thus  able to lead a self-determined life. 

(15) European traditions in philosophy, theology and politics have led in the Christian era to identifying what is “human” with the male, and have thus brought about an androcentric gender order. The hierarchisation to which this has led has resulted today in all “non-male” people having to repeatedly demand universal equality in terms of human rights. Agreements such as the European Convention on Human Rights (and in particular Article 14, Prohibition of discrim ination) are therefore needed, as are strategies that lead to a reduction in man-made gender related inequalities, and thus to gender equality. 

(16) The Basic Law (Grundgesetz) that is in force in Germany establishes in Article 3 the funda mental equality of all human beings, irrespective of all existing differences in regard to gender, parentage, language, disability, homeland, faith, religious or political opinions. Thus, the state is to promote “the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist” (Art 3 para. 2 of the Basic Law). In order accommodate this, further detailed legal provisions are constantly being made in order to overcome enduring disregard for gender equality. The existing situation still leaves much to be desired; there is a constant need for new changes and adaptations. 

(17) There are different ideas in the debate within society as to what gender equality could and should look like. Social developments such as globalisation, migration, European integration, pluralisation of lifestyles, demographic change or social movements, include diverse perspec tives concerning this topic. It must be borne in mind, for instance, that not all women can be subsumed under one “we”; one might name as examples migrant women, women of colour, Jewish women, lesbians, or women with disabilities. Their experience around the world, and in Germany, is that they are also regarded as “the others”, over and above the question of their gender identity and are consequently excluded. There is an urgent need for a differentiated analysis of the manner in which injustice is created, experienced and justified (not only) via gender. 

(18) Gender should therefore be seen in a multidimensional perspective. Social or socio-cultural gender, as it presents itself or is taken for granted in a specific cultural context, is the result of a social process. Thus, the manifold differences within the genders are taken seriously. At the same time, the question of the binary understanding of sexuality is to be posed with renewed sensitivity against this background on the basis of experience and of research findings. 

(19) When speaking about a person’s gender, judgments are made about different androcentri cally-defined characteristics, abilities, interests and needs of women and men, which are often regarded as biologically determined. They become the basis of argumentation for a definition of the relationships between the genders, as well as for justifying their supposedly just place in society. In order to achieve gender equality, the respective understanding of the gender rela tionship must therefore be discussed above all. There are positions here which emphasise the difference between the genders more strongly. Others stress the equality of the genders over their differences. In addition, there are approaches that elaborate a conceivable coexistence of difference and equality. 

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(20) The position of the difference was formed in bourgeois society as a model of gender com plementarity. It assumes that the female complements the male, or it even tends to subordinate the female to the male. As a response to the assumption of this hierarchical-patriarchal order of the genders, feminism brings about a positive re-evaluation of female values and ways of life, and thus of traditional gender roles and characters. However, such a view, positive in itself, according to which women are assigned their own sphere in society, or such a role is claimed by them, also has its dangers: It can have a suppressing effect, and may neglect the criticism of the lasting validity of prevailing power dynamics. 

(21) By contrast, the equality position especially put forward in sociological concepts is thus opposed to traditional gender characters and gender roles, androcentrism and the various forms of sexism. The goal of the equality approach is for women to participate in the male-dominated spheres where power, wealth and prestige are distributed. However, it tends to reduce justice to formal equality, and to consider in abstract terms the differences between the genders that exist in the cultural and social spheres. 

(22) Equality and difference are correlated in the methods that seek to overcome the dilemmas arising from these positions. The demand for equality has its starting point in the fact that what is being compared is different. This approach is based on the idea of the subject as an autono mous, self-identical individual: There is neither the woman nor the man. The diversity of life contexts and of lifestyles, as well as of individual experience, have meaning and intrinsic value when it comes to determining gender equality. This approach presents a difficult task: The principles of difference and equality must be combined: Neither can difference be intrinsically justified, nor can equality be conceived without heterogeneity. Following on from this concept, it is important to perceive each person as a distinct personality, and to hold his or her charisms in respect. 

(23) The question of gender equality is constantly being raised anew, also at worldwide level, in view of the processes of social transformation and of the changes that are currently taking place in the world of business, work and life. The answer to this question is closely connected to the questioning of the conditions prevailing in each case, and exerts an impact on the possi bilities and opportunities of a gender-independent perception of all functions, offices and oc cupations in society as well as in the Church. Role attributions as part of a polarity that is orientated towards the supposedly natural nature of the sexes are often very critically ques tioned in today’s society; there is frequently a lack of an echo of this in a church context. The structures and power relations in the Roman Catholic Church today are essentially determined by cultural patterns shaped over thousands of years. While the images of women and men are changing rapidly in our culture, the Church is officially sticking to the old roles and tasks for women and men for the time being. As in society, women are underrepresented in church lead ership despite current efforts. Jobs held by women are lower in the hierarchy, have less social prestige and are paid less. Women’s access to sacramental ministry is closed. Critical questions are increasingly being asked of the Church, both from society and from within the Church. As a result, the Church is now supportively accompanying the struggle for gender relations and gen der justice, which has been going on for more than a century but is still far too hesitant to make it a matter of Her own heart and is even less likely to accept it as a mandate for Her own work. 

**

How did the “synodal path” come about?

From 2011 to 2015, the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) held an initial discussion process in response to cases of abuse becoming known in the Catholic Church.

Read more: Final report of the supra-diocesan discussion process 2011 to 2015

On August 28, 2013, the interdisciplinary research project “Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male religious in the area of ​​the German Bishops’ Conference” will be openly advertised by the Association of German Dioceses (VDD). A consortium of experts from several university institutes in Germany was awarded the contract. The project duration is agreed from July 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017, later extended to September 30, 2018 due to the scope and complexity. Due to the abbreviations of the institute locations of the consortium members (Mannheim, Heidelberg, Gießen), the research project is given the acronym “MHG Study”.

The results of the MHG study will be published on September 25, 2018 at the autumn general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference in Fulda. On September 27, 2018, the DBK declared: “We will discuss the challenges specific to the Catholic Church, such as the questions about the celibate lifestyle of priests and various aspects of Catholic sexual morality, in a transparent discussion process with the participation of experts from various disciplines.”

Read more: Statement by the German bishops from September 27, 2018 in Fulda

The spring general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference from March 11 to 14, 2019 in Lingen, Emsland, will use the MHG study to concretize the challenges facing the Catholic Church. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Prof. Dr. Thomas Sternberg, takes part as a guest and describes the situation at the ZdK general assembly on May 10, 2019 : “Based on the shock caused by the study results and the associated loss of trust, it was about the overarching questions about power in the church, according to the priestly way of life and Catholic sexual morality. It was very impressive for me to see the bishops in exchange after the presentations by the invited experts. In addition to being deeply concerned, the vast majority of them see the current situation as a turning point and are ready for reforms.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx explains in the final press conference of the Lingen General Assembly that it has been decided to “take a binding synodal path as a church in Germany, which enables a structured debate and takes place in an agreed period of time, together with the Central Committee of German Catholics . We will create formats for open debates and commit ourselves to procedures that enable the responsible participation of women and men from our dioceses. We want to be a listening church. We need advice from people outside the church.”

On June 29, 2019, Pope Francis sends a letter addressed to the “pilgrim people of God in Germany”. Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Prof. Dr. Thomas Sternberg: “For the process ahead of us, Pope Francis urges us to adopt a new way of listening to one another, so that we, as part of the universal church, can put ourselves at the service of the faith with all our creativity, spirituality and passion.”

Read more: Statement by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Prof. Dr. Thomas Sternberg

Prof. Dr. At the joint conference on July 5, 2019, Sternberg emphasized the ZdK’s determination to help shape the synodal path in partnership: “Against the background of epochal upheavals and profound crises, the church as a body of meaning and authority is being questioned. Because in times when people of different mindsets are looking for meaning and orientation, especially in this crisis, our church is trusted less and less and trusted less and less. We need to talk about this and find answers to the challenges. And we have to act!”

Cardinal Marx and Prof. Dr. Sternberg emphasize that the Synodal Path would be prepared and supported jointly by the German Bishops’ Conference and the ZdK: “We would like to involve many people. In addition to the committee work of the synodal forums and the synodal assembly, we are thinking about a number of other events. The aim is to create a discussion with people in order to discuss burning issues from the church and the world. The first three thematic forums have already started their work. The aim of this forum work is to deliver the first interim results in autumn in order to prepare the actual synodal path. Our common roadmap stipulates that we want to decide on the exact design of the synodal path in September and November at the respective general assemblies of the German Bishops’ Conference and ZdK.”

What’s next?

After the Extended Joint Conference on 13/14. In September 2019, the autumn general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference (23 to 26 September 2019, Fulda) and the general assembly of the ZdK (22 to 23 November 2019, Bonn) will discuss further steps. According to current planning, the Synodal Path will officially begin on the 1st of Advent 2019.

Letter from Pope Francis to the pilgrim people of God in Germany

On June 29, 2019, Pope Francis sends a letter addressed to the “pilgrim people of God in Germany”. Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Prof. Dr. Thomas Sternberg: “For the process ahead of us, Pope Francis urges us to adopt a new way of listening to one another, so that we, as part of the universal church, can put ourselves at the service of the faith with all our creativity, spirituality and passion.”

At this link you will find the letter from Pope Francis and the Statement by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Prof. Dr. Thomas Sternberg

Extended Joint Conference on 13/14 September 2019 in Fulda

The expanded Joint Conference consists of representatives from the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics. This expanded Joint Conference addresses various issues relating to the Synodal Way. This concerns the status of the preparatory forums, questions about the statutes and how we will continue to work. Around 50 delegates (members of the German Bishops’ Conference and representatives/members of the ZdK) take part in the joint conference. The discussions of the joint conference will then flow into the general assembly of the German Bishops’ Conference a week later and into the deliberations of the general assembly of the ZdK.

Read more: Participants of the Extended Joint Conference

Sermon by Bishop Dr. Franz-Josef Bode on September 14, 2019

Extended Joint Conference in Fulda – Working Paper

of the preparatory forum on power and separation of powers in the church

Extended Joint Conference in Fulda – Working Paper

of the preparatory forum on sexual morality

Extended Joint Conference in Fulda – Working Paper

of the preparatory forum Priestly way of life

Extended Joint Conference in Fulda – Working Paper

of the preparatory forum for women in church services and offices

Photo gallery Extended Joint Conference September 13th/14th, 2019

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