The third Synodal Assembly of the ‘Synodal Way’ in Frankfurt, Germany, on Feb. 4, 2022. / Max von Lachner/Synodal Way.
CNA Newsroom, Jun 20, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).
Four German bishops voted Tuesday against providing funding for the synod committee that is preparing to introduce a permanent German synodal council to oversee the Church in Germany.
The four bishops are Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and three bishops from Bavaria: Gregor Maria Hanke, OSB, of Eichstätt; Stefan Oster of Passau; and Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg.
The German Bishops’ Conference issued a statement June 20 saying: “For a large majority of the diocesan bishops, it is important that the 15 decisions of the synodal assembly be implemented as soon as possible.”
However, the statement continued, since a unanimous decision of the bishops is needed to provide financial and human resources, “and four bishops have declared that they will not agree to further financing of the Synodal Way,” it is now necessary to find other ways of financing, according to a report by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language partner news agency.
“The first meeting of the synodal committee will take place as planned on Nov. 10–11, 2023,” the bishops’ conference noted.
One of the key questions will be the financing for the controversial project, given the Synodal Way already cost several million dollars. Although funding figures for the three-year synodal committee have not been publicly released, German Bishops’ Conference (DBK) spokesman Matthias Kopp told the National Catholic Register in May that 5.5 million euros had been spent on the Synodal Way during its initial three-year phase of assemblies.
On Tuesday, the four bishops who voted against the funding of the synodal committee at a gathering of the 27 diocesan bishops in Berlin said in a joint press release that “the plan to organize a synodal committee in Germany now, which will then establish a synodal council, is against the clear instruction of the pope.”
“Therefore, we cannot go along with this step at this time,” the four bishops affirmed.
“It is not unlikely that at this point, with a lot of money and effort, we would set up another body whose competences are anything but clear — only to find out in the end that we cannot do it in this way,” Woelki, Hanke, Oster, and Voderholzer explained.
“At the Synodal Way, decisions have been made that cause anxiety among many believers throughout the world: These are deep questions of doctrine, especially the doctrine of the Church, of the person, of the sacraments,” they added.
“It would lead to an even greater polarization if it were to be pushed further in Germany. It is true that the themes of the German Synodal Way are also on the agenda in other Western countries, but there are also strong voices defending traditional Church teaching everywhere.”
The texts of the German Synodal Way that have already been adopted, the statement said, should now be brought into discussion with Rome and into the synodal process of the universal Church.
The joint statement affirmed: “This was also agreed upon during the bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome last November, but at no time was a new body discussed.”
Bishop Bertram Meier of Augsburg stated at the time: “As long as neither the exact goals nor the concrete competencies of the synodal committee have been clarified, the state of affairs in this regard is not yet ready for me to make a decision. This concerns both my participation and the co-financing of the committee.”
Meier, however, did not endorse the four bishops’ explanation of why they could not vote to fund the new body.
Pope Francis and other Church leaders have expressed serious concerns about plans to create a permanent synodal council for the German Church.
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.”
Warning of a threat of a new schism from Germany, the Vatican already intervened in July 2022 against a German synodal council.
In January, the Vatican asserted “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.”