Catholic reformers optimistic after winning vote

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The Third Synodal Assembly of German Catholics should bring concrete reforms. © Sebastian Gollnow/dpa

In view of the massive decline in membership and growing criticism from politics and society, the Catholic Church is under pressure. Two votes are now encouraging the reformers.

Frankfurt/Main – After two important voting successes, the reformers among German Catholics showed optimism on the second day of the synodal assembly in Frankfurt/Main.

“The bishops heard the shot,” assured Beate Gilles, Secretary General of the German Bishops’ Conference. “This is by no means the breakthrough to a different and renewed church, but I believe it is a good foundation that has now been poured.” She said “a stone fell from my heart”.

Gilles pointed out that the bishops had passed two central texts with a two-thirds majority the previous evening, which recognize a need for reform and should form the basis for concrete reform decisions. Among other things, the reformers are striving for blessings for homosexuals, a relaxation of celibacy, the introduction of the diaconate of women and a right for believers to have a say in the election of bishops.

Gilles: We’re a big step further

“With the two votes, we are a big step forward,” said Gilles. Until now, one could only speculate as to how many bishops would actually support reforms. However, some well-known conservatives such as Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki did not take part in the voting. If they had all voted, the two-thirds majority would no longer have been so secure.

Gilles said the church is in a dramatic situation. “We have a deep crisis and we have lost confidence.” After the publication of the Munich report on abuse, the number of applications to leave the church skyrocketed again.

The general secretary of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Marc Frings, said there was a “remarkable dynamic” at the moment. The votes showed that around 80 percent of the delegates were behind the intended reforms. “Yesterday, when things got serious for the first time, when it came to second reading texts, we saw that there are a dozen bishops who may not support these reforms.” There are 69 bishops in total, 61 of them to the synodal assembly were registered. 59 took part in the voting.

Johanna Müller, the youngest delegate at 18, said that in the last few weeks it had become much more difficult to confess to the church. The way to Frankfurt was very difficult for her. “I feel the great, great pressure that rightly exists in our society in Germany. And there is absolutely nothing to justify why so many reform steps have not yet been taken.”

Debate on women’s offices

A similar urgency was felt in the afternoon’s discussion about the first reading of a text on women in ministry and ministry in the church. “This text finally opens up a future for women in the church,” said a representative of the Catholic Women’s Community in Germany. The nun Philippa Rath spoke of an almost historic hour: “Many women have been hoping, sometimes for decades, for changes and an end to discrimination.” It would do the church good to open all offices to women – or, as warned above all young delegates, for all gender identities.

Voderholzer asks for forgiveness

Meanwhile, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, who belongs to the conservative wing, has asked for forgiveness after making statements in connection with the Munich abuse report. “People, especially victims of abuse, feel offended by me, hurt, are outraged. It makes me sad and almost despairs,” he wrote in a statement. He should not have expressed his criticism in a short form the day before during the synodal assembly in Frankfurt am Main, “since the train of thought cannot be explained in a few lines or three minutes”. He is extremely sorry about that.

At the meeting the day before, Voderholzer had pointed out that a criminal law reform of 1973 no longer counted child abuse as a crime “on the basis of sexological judgments, which assume that the interrogations are much worse for the children and young people concerned than they are basically harmless cases of abuse”. And further: This must be taken into account when judging the behavior of the church in the 1970s and 80s. The bishop’s comments had sparked outrage. Several delegates sharply condemned her. dpa

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