Thomas Sternberg speaking at a press conference for the German “Synodal Way” on Sept. 30, 2021, in Frankfurt. / Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 07:10 am (CNA).

The German Synodal Way was designed from the outset to avoid legal sanctions while simultaneously creating “pressure” on the Church to change Catholic teaching, one of the founders of the process told German media Friday.

Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the controversial process wanted to achieve changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and other topics, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Speaking to German diocesan broadcaster Domradio on Dec. 2, Sternberg said the Synodal Way was proceeding “much more successfully than I had thought.” 

In light of the Vatican’s interventions against the Synodal Way, he said it had become clear “it was right not to use the form of a synod, as that would have been sanctioned by canon law” and “would have given canon law properly then also the possibility to prohibit something like that.”

From the perspective of canon law, the Synodal Way was just “a nonbinding discussion process,” Sternberg said. 

Only in this way could the participants “actually operate freely. Then even prefabricated critical objections that have been raised by Rome come to nothing.” 

Together with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Sternberg launched the Synodal Way in 2019. Acknowledging the process is not a synod, Marx at the time said it was instead a “process ‘sui generis.’”

The pope’s letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany remained “very important,” Sternberg said Dec. 2.

Like many ZdK leaders, Sternberg is a professional politician. He described in detail some of the political tools and tactics the organizers of the German Synodal Way followed in their pursuit of achieving change, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

On the one hand, he said, it was clear the participants could not “decide the question of the ordination of women or the question of the abolition of celibacy in Germany.” 

However, he said, “I am a politician to the extent that I know that processes and developments are needed in order to make topics worthy of discussion in the first place.”

“When you get involved in a synodal process, you also have to reckon with the fact that sometimes you don’t win,” Sternberg said about the one text so far not adopted by the process — which led to tumultuous scenes at the Frankfurt event.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK Chairman Thomas Sternberg on July 5, 2019 Photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV.

“We have to talk about it, and we have to make demands,” the former ZdK president said of the approach chosen by the organizers. “Only through pressure does real change come about.”

Sternberg specifically mentioned the Synodal Way’s texts on ordaining women to the priesthood, clericalism, and homosexuality.

He said these topics were now being discussed “internationally, not only in Germany,” thanks to the German process.

The Vatican last week published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections.

The Synodal Way risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Cardinal Marc Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

The prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalized by this process, he added. 

Sternberg’s successor as president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp, accused the Vatican of “snubbing” German Catholics on Nov. 21.

The Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path — is still expected to continue as planned by organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly will take place in the spring of 2023.

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