Bishops and theologians have expressed alarm at the process, which is expected to end in February 2022, but German bishops’ conference chairman Bishop Georg Bätzing has defended it vigorously.
Days before Sternberg spoke to CNA Deutsch, a German bishop proposed an alternative text for the Synodal Way’s forum on power.
Introducing a new website featuring the document, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg wrote: “We are joining in the Synodal Way, but we are increasingly convinced that [this process] will not reach its goal if it continues along the path it has taken so far.”
“We are convinced that only a Synodal Way that is undertaken alongside and by the whole Church can be sound and achieve its goal. The whole Church is not only the worldwide Church, but also the early Church and the Church of the saints who have already arrived at their destination.”
In June, the Church in Germany was shaken when the powerful Cardinal Reinhard Marx offered his resignation to Pope Francis, saying that the Church appeared to be at a “dead end” because of the clerical abuse crisis.
The pope asked the 67-year-old archbishop of Munich and Freising to continue in the post, but Marx said later that he could not rule out seeking to resign for a second time.
In his interview with CNA Deutsch, Sternberg looked ahead to the second meeting of the Synodal Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way, later this month.
He said: “All four forums, each with their respective topics, will play a role in Frankfurt. In which of these the greatest debates will be held remains to be seen. It is difficult to predict.”
“However, I would warn against reducing the Synodal Way to vexatious issues. The task now is to make reforms possible. That’s where every single step toward changing the Church counts.”
“Remember that the abuse scandal was the trigger for the German bishops to ask the ZdK to embark on the Synodal Way together. Now we have to manage to establish structures that will help prevent sexualized violence in the Church in the future.”
Asked how he assessed the progress so far, Sternberg indicated that he was optimistic.
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“I continue to count on the good spirit of Frankfurt, which was already noticeable at the first synodal assembly [in January 2020],” he commented.
“There is this good, even euphoric, feeling that we are on the way together as God’s people, thinking independently of hierarchies about how this Church can find new credibility again.”
“The Synodal Way has already succeeded in breaking down the blockades that existed in ecclesial actions and words. There is debate [of issues], of which all too often there was silence. This is the prerequisite for real reforms to become possible.”
Pope Francis addressed concerns about the trajectory of the Synodal Way in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE aired on Sept. 1.
Asked if the initiative gave him sleepless nights, the pope recalled that he wrote an extensive letter that expressed “everything I feel about the German synod.”
Responding to the interviewer’s comment that the Church had faced similar challenges in the past, he said: “Yes, but I wouldn’t get too tragic either. There is no ill will in many bishops with whom I spoke.”