Is the threat of schism between the German bishops and the Vatican real?

By Renardo Schlegelmilch, 10 August 2022
Image: MARROS/Pexels


The Vatican is concerned with ideas coming from Germany to reform the Catholic Church. On July 21, a statement was published through official channels of the Holy See warning Germany’s “Synodal Path” reform project against breaking with the universal church. Tensions are rising between Germany and Rome. Is the threat of schism real?

First of all: No. Germany does not want to split with the Catholic Church. However, tensions seem higher than they ever have been before. The accusation is that German Catholics want to fundamentally change the church, that they are going rogue. The Vatican has a problem with that.

The German bishops’ conference drew a conclusion — that church has to change. The bishops established a completely new process they called the “Synodal Path.” Not a synod, but a kind of parliament, recruiting half its delegates from the bishops and half from Germany’s powerful lay committee. The delegates consist of professors, experts, and men and women from various Catholic professions. Every decision — on church hierarchy, Catholic teaching, or structures — must be passed with majorities from both the bishops and the lay experts.

Can the “Synodal Path” change Catholic teaching about homosexuality, the role of women or celibacy? No. But it can vote on those issues and present its votes to the Vatican, hoping to change minds there. The only thing they could actually change themselves are questions of organization and structure of the local German church, but even there are limits.

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Renardo Schlegelmilch is a freelance journalist and author based in Cologne, Germany.

With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Renardo Schlegelmilch, where this article originally appeared.


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