In an exclusive interview with America, the general secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, Hans Langendörfer, S.J., shared his views via email about the German church’s “synodal way,” which is scheduled to begin on the first day of Advent, and addressed controversies surrounding it.
“We are emphasizing through the synodal way the community and bonds of all believers—not the difference between clergy and laity. All of us are baptized and confirmed. All of us stand in the same mission to witness the Gospel,” Father Langendörfer said. “We therefore want to be a listening church that courageously and freely grapples with the issues that are unavoidable if the church wants to reach people further and not dismiss itself from reality.”
The synodal way was developed as a joint effort between the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee for German Catholics, a lay leadership collective known as the ZdK, in response to a public outcry following the leak in September 2018 of a confidential document that detailed nearly 3,700 cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy over a period of 68 years. The 350-page document, known in Germany as the M.H.G. Study, was the result of an independent research project commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference seeking to define the extent of the abuse crisis in Germany. The conference was severely criticized for withholding the results of the study from the public.
“Last year, a study of ours was published with a title that could by no means be taken lightly: ‘Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, deacons and male members of orders in the domain of the German Bishops’ Conference.’ Once again, trust in the church was deeply shaken,” Father Langendörfer told America.
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