From left: Katharina Westerhorstmann, Dorothea Schmidt, Marianne Schlosser, and Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz. / Credit: Screenshot/YouTube /K-TV // courtesy photo // EWTN // Diocese of Münster

CNA Newsroom, Feb 22, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Ahead of the German Synodal Way’s final meeting next month, four prominent participants — all of them women — officially announced they were quitting the controversial process on Wednesday.

The theology professors Katharina Westerhorstmann and Marianne Schlosser — together with philosopher Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz and journalist Dorothea Schmidt — raised fundamental objections about the direction and the conduct of the German event on Feb. 22, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The Synodal Way was “casting doubt on central Catholic doctrines and beliefs,” the women said in a statement published by the newspaper Welt. They also accused organizers of ignoring the Vatican’s repeated warnings and interventions.

What is more, the departing delegates — three of whom are university professors, and two are Ratzinger Prize winners — accused the process organizers of using pressure tactics not commensurate with synodality.

In response to a request for comment from CNA Deutsch, the communication directors of the Synodal Way, Britta Baas and Matthias Kopp, offered a brief statement on Wednesday: “The presidium of the Synodal Way has noted the decision with regret.”

In December of last year, however, a key architect of the German process freely admitted that the Synodal Way was designed to create “pressure” on the Church to change Catholic teaching.

Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the controversial process from the outset wanted to achieve changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and other topics.

The German Synodal Way is scheduled to conclude with a final meeting in Frankfurt from March 9–11. 

While delegates have voted for several controversial demands — including the ordination of women priests — previous meetings have also led to tumultuous scenes, making it clear that not all participants agree with the organizers’ agenda.

However, the four women on Feb. 22 said they could no longer in good conscience participate in a process that was “more and more” separating the Church in Germany from the universal Church.

“The resolutions of the past three years have not only called into question essential foundations of Catholic theology, anthropology as well as Church practice, but have reformulated and in some cases completely redefined them,” the women said.

“We cannot and will not share responsibility for that.”

‘Fixation on ordination’ of women?

The 2018 Ratzinger Prize winner Marianne Schlosser has previously raised concerns, identifying a “fixation on ordination” of women at the process.

A professor of theology at the University of Vienna, Pope Francis appointed Schlosser as a member of the International Theological Commission in 2014. She was also appointed a member of the study commission investigating the female diaconate in 2016.

In an interview with CNA Deutsch last year, Schlosser pointed to several problems with the process, in particular, demands for the ordination of women to the priesthood.

She warned that the sacrament of holy orders could not just be conflated with hierarchical positions of power.

Vatican concerns ‘not forwarded’

In their Wednesday “departure note,” Westerhorstmann, Gerl-Falkovitz, Schmidt, and Schlosser also said the Vatican’s concern about introducing a permanent synodal council in Germany “has not been forwarded to the members of the synodal assembly nor otherwise brought directly to their attention.” 

Pope Francis and other Church leaders have expressed serious concerns about the idea. Such a body would function “as a consultative and decision-making body on essential developments in the Church and society,” according to a Synodal Way proposal.

More importantly, it would “make fundamental decisions of supra-diocesan significance on pastoral planning, questions of the future, and budgetary matters of the Church that are not decided at the diocesan level.”

Last month, in response to warnings from Rome about taking such a step, the president of the German bishops’ conference suggested he would pursue a “fallback option.”

In their statement, the four signatories on Wednesday said they saw “the need for a profound renewal of the Church, which also has structural relevance.”

“At the same time, we are convinced that there is a renewal worthy of the name only in the preservation of the ecclesial communion across space and time — and not by rupturing from it.”

So far, no bishops have opted out of the controversial process. In 2020, Auxiliary Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp of Cologne renounced his participation in the synodal forum on sexual morality.

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