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German Catholic Lay Group Challenges Bishops' Veto Power in Synodal Committee

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The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) has made a significant announcement, stating that it will no longer accept the ability of the German bishops to veto resolutions in the upcoming "Synodal Committee" if more than one-third of the committee opposes them. The ZdK's position, delivered by President Irme Stetter-Karp during the lay group's plenary assembly in Munich, has sparked discussions regarding the balance of power and the future of the synodal process in Germany.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
5/19/2023 (11 months ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Germany, Catholic, bishops, Synod, lay

The proposed change to remove the bishops' veto power represents a departure from the governing procedures followed during the Synodal Way assemblies conducted over the past three years. These assemblies resulted in the passage of several resolutions that deviated from established Church teaching, leading to controversies within the Catholic Church in Germany.

One of the contentious measures established during the Synodal Way was the formation of the Synodal Committee, a transitional body responsible for laying the groundwork for a permanent synodal council. The synodal council, consisting of an equal number of bishops and laypeople, would have the power to override decisions made by bishops in their respective dioceses. However, the Vatican explicitly rejected the establishment of a synodal council, stating that it contradicts Catholic ecclesiology.

The Synodal Committee, comprising 27 episcopal ordinaries, 27 lay delegates from the ZdK, and 20 "at large" delegates elected in March 2023, is scheduled to commence its work in November.

Stetter-Karp cited a "painful learning experience" from the previous Synodal Way assemblies as the rationale behind the ZdK's position on the bishops' veto power. The defeat of a "base text" on human sexuality at the September 2022 assembly, where 21 out of 57 voting bishops opposed it, likely influenced this decision.

However, the demand to eliminate the bishops' veto power raises questions, as organizers of the Synodal Way had already taken steps to neutralize potential veto threats. Procedural rules were changed to remove private voting at the March assembly, which affected the bishops' voting behavior and resulted in fewer opposing votes on implementation texts related to same-sex blessings and gender theory. Consequently, the number of opposing bishops decreased from 21 in September to nine and seven, respectively, in March.

While the composition of the Synodal Committee will differ from that of the previous assemblies, with only the 27 leading bishops participating, it is unclear whether the smaller setting would make a veto more likely. In March, only three ordinaries opposed the implementation text on gender theory, and four voted against the same-sex blessings resolution. To achieve the "more than one-third" threshold in the Synodal Committee, at least ten ordinaries would need to oppose a measure.

The ZdK's refusal to accept a bishops' veto comes at a time when two German bishops, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, have openly questioned their participation in the committee. This development is likely to deepen their hesitation and raises further questions about the motives behind the ZdK's demand.

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One interpretation is that the ZdK believes it has significant leverage over the German bishops, allowing them to dictate terms without resistance. In this scenario, eliminating the bishops' veto power would be more about asserting lay dominance in Church governance rather than practical necessity.

Another interpretation suggests that the ZdK's demand reflects a sense of desperation, with the organization attempting to preempt increasing episcopal opposition or save face in the event of failure. Given the Vatican's strong resistance to the synodal council, which the German bishops are likely to oppose, the demand to remove the veto power may indicate concern that they lack the necessary support to move forward.

The demand highlights the paradoxical relationship between the ZdK and the bishops. While the ZdK aims to minimize the role of bishops within the Church, they recognize that their reforms cannot be achieved without the bishops' cooperation. The ZdK's latest demand raises doubts about whether they truly have the support of the bishops, especially considering the Vatican's opposition to the synodal council.

The outcome of this power struggle will have significant implications for the future of the synodal project in Germany and the relationship between the laity and the episcopacy.

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Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

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