‘Synodal Way’ members back proposal promoting evangelization after voting mix-up

Thomas Sternberg and Bishop Georg Bätzing at the Synodal Way’s second Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 30, 2021 Thomas Sternberg and Bishop Georg Bätzing at the Synodal Way’s second Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 30, 2021. | Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner.

Participants in the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Way” approved a proposal on Thursday to emphasize the importance of evangelization amid confusion over voting procedures.

The call to “emphasize more strongly ... the intention of evangelization” was passed by a majority, but organizers initially said that the measure had failed to win approval, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The plenary session of the Synodal Way is taking place in Frankfurt, southwestern Germany, on Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

The event is the second meeting of the Synodal Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way.

The assembly consists of the German bishops, 69 members of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (Zdk), and representatives of other parts of the German Church.

The “Synodal Way” is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

Participants in the Synodal Assembly voted on Sept. 30 on 15 amendments to two foundational Synodal Way documents: the preamble and theological orientation text.

The sixth of eight amendments to the preamble called for a greater emphasis on evangelization.

It said: “The motion committee recommends that the intention of evangelization, which Pope Francis focused on in his letter ‘To the Pilgrim People of God in Germany’ and in the announcement of the worldwide Synodal Way, be given greater emphasis in the text as a whole.”

Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to German Catholics in June 2019, calling for evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods, and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” he wrote.

The assembly appeared to back the sixth amendment by a simple majority of 94 votes in favor, 86 against, and 15 abstentions.

But moderator Claudia Nothelle, a ZdK official, intervened, telling those present: “Abstentions must be counted as rejections, so the motion is rejected.”

The next day, Oct. 1, organizers said that the Synodal Way’s interpretation commission had ruled that abstentions should not have been counted as “no” votes.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, confirmed that the proposal had been accepted, saying: “We made a mistake there yesterday.”

CNA Deutsch reported that the ZdK had rejected a previous appeal to highlight evangelization at its plenary meeting in November 2019.

ZdK member Karl zu Löwenstein had reminded his fellow delegates of Pope Francis’ call for a new evangelization, arguing that the Synodal Way should put Christ’s message at the center of its statutes, before debating and passing resolutions about the structure of the Church.

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But two vice presidents of the lay Catholic organization disagreed. Claudia Lücking-Michel and Karin Kortmann argued that any amendment would delay the start of the synodal process by at least six months.

ZdK members voted on Nov. 22, 2019, by a large majority in favor of the statutes without the amendment on evangelization.

At a press conference on the second Synodal Assembly’s opening day, ZdK president Thomas Sternberg insisted that evangelization was a focus of the Synodal Way.

“Our goal is to do justice to the victims of sexualized violence,” he said, adding that the other goal was to “truly evangelize.”

On the eve of the Synodal Assembly, a group of German Catholics presented a new reform manifesto, reported CNA Deutsch.

The Arbeitskreis Christliche Anthropologie (Christian Anthropology Working Group) published the manifesto online on Sept. 29. It called for a new start in the German Church, arguing that the Synodal Way was failing “in a dramatic fashion” to offer authentic reform.

Earlier this month, Regensburg Bishop Voderholzer launched a new website that presented an alternative to the text endorsed by members of the Synodal Way’s Forum I, on the way power is exercised in the Church.

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The 36-page document, called “Authority and responsibility” and translated into English, is the first in a series that will also address the topics of the other three synodal forums.

The influential German theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper expressed support for the alternative text in an address in Rome on Sept. 17.

Pope Francis addressed concerns about 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 comparable 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.”

“It is a pastoral desire, but one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter that need to be taken into account.”

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