The increased criticism some Vatican officials have issued against the Synodal Path in Germany is astonishing, given that even the pope has adopted some of the body’s suggestions
As certain Vatican officials continue to criticize the Synodal Path that was recently concluded in Germany, the country’s experiment with synodality has gained a certain notoriety, but without the profound nature of the process having been fully explored.
Some believe the Synodal Path suffered from four serious imperfections: it was not theologically well-founded, therefore bordering on schism; it was the work of elites who were unconcerned with the situation of the poor; it was a concession to the spirit of the times; and it was free from the rules of law that prevail for the universal Church.
Solid theological foundations
As an observer who was invited from the outset to follow the debates and conclusions of the Synodal Path’s general assembly, I can only express my astonishment at the flimsiness of such criticisms, which pay little heed to Pope Francis’ invitation to local Churches to show creativity in the face of the new conditions of evangelization.
No, the Synodal Path was not lacking in solid theological foundations. It included the work of theologians from various disciplines, which were appointed by the German bishops. This can be seen in the general orientation text, which, to my knowledge, has not been contested.
No, the Synodal Path was not the work of elites who are cut off from the poor. On the lay side, the representatives chosen by the ZdK, the representative body of the laity as a whole, were the same as those who have been on the front line in welcoming refugees and migrants since 2015. And, as we know, Germany is the country in Europe that has taken by far the largest share of this population to date.
No, the Synodal Path was not an attempt to indulge the spirit of the times. I know, from having attended the intense debates that characterized the question of the place of women or that of taking gender diversity into consideration, that what was at stake was not complacency, but inculturation. This is a challenge inherent in the very history of the Church in its ongoing dialogue with the social sciences, a reciprocal confrontation that undoubtedly takes on a particular dimension in Germany, scarred by Nazi abominations.
No, the Synodal Path did not take any decisions that run counter to current magisterial teaching. Dr. Angela Kaupp, a member of the plenary assembly’s group of theologians, said it so well: questions have been put to the universal Church, but they have not been settled.
Is asking questions of the universal Church perhaps the original sin of the Synodal Path? How else can we explain the trench warfare that some Roman dicasteries seem to have engaged in against the implementation of practical decisions that seemed to be the responsibility of the Church at the local or national level?
For the past two months, negative opinions have been increasing: against the consultation of lay people during the preparatory phase for the appointment of a new bishop, on the grounds that it would contravene a concordat (there are several such concordats in Germany); against the authorization of blessings for homosexual couples, even though Pope Francis himself has admitted that this is a matter for a national episcopal conference; against the establishment of diocesan lists defining the conditions for the participation of lay people in the Gospel commentary during Eucharistic celebrations.
This guerrilla warfare, which we dare to call administrative, is all the more surprising given that Pope Francis is today announcing measures to open up the next world Synod assembly. There will be significant participation of lay people with voting rights, and the issue of remarried divorcees is to be reviewed. Who would think that these are concessions to fads, when what’s at stake is the continuation of an evolution that was begun at Vatican II?
German Catholics are not rebelling against Pope Francis. Rather, they prefer to think that he doesn’t understand them. They are now pinning their hopes on the debates that will take place this coming October in Rome at the Synod assembly. In any case, they are left with the immense consolation of having succeeded in rediscovering their unity and their desire to proclaim the Gospel – all thanks to an exceptional process of dialogue like the one advocated by the pope himself.
Jérome Vignon (b. 1944) is a practicing Catholic layman and president of France’s National Observatory of Poverty and Social Exclusion (ONPES), as well as an adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. He was the French observer at the general assembly of the Synodal Path in Germany.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International.