Hollerich’s most recent statements go precisely in the direction of seeking mediation on different issues and between contrasting national sensitivities.
In common with Synodal Way members, Hollerich has called for a change to Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.
Asked by German Catholic news agency KNA how he dealt “with the Church teaching that homosexuality is a sin,” he replied: “I believe that this is wrong. But I also believe that we are thinking ahead in doctrine here. The way the pope has expressed himself in the past, this can lead to a change in doctrine. Because I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.”
Hollerich has also shown some openness to the abolition of priestly celibacy. “At one time,” he told the French Catholic daily La Croix, “I was a great supporter of celibacy for all priests, but today I hope there are ‘viri probati’ [mature, married men ordained as priests]. It is a deep desire. But I think we must go in this direction; otherwise, we will soon have no more priests. In the long term, I can also imagine the path of Orthodoxy, whereby only monks are required to celibacy.”
On women priests, he explained that the first problem “is not whether women should become priests or not, but first of all whether women have a real weight in the priesthood which belongs to all the baptized and confirmed people of God and whether in this way they can exercise the authority associated with it. Would this also mean a homily at Mass? I would say yes.”
In yet another interview, with the German magazine Herder Korrespondenz, he acknowledged that the rapid introduction of viri probati and women deacons would present “the danger of schism.” He emphasized that he had nothing against the changes, but said: “After all, it’s not just about the German situation, where perhaps only a small part would break away. In Africa or in countries like France, many bishops would possibly not go along with it.”
Through his interviews, Hollerich appears sympathetic towards the direction of the German Synodal Way, but also to suggest the need for mediation with the wider Church. For example, in the Herder Korrespondenz interview, he said that the German bishops misunderstood Pope Francis.
“The pope is not liberal, he is radical,” he commented. “From the radicality of the Gospel comes the change.”
Hollerich has also made it clear in the past that he is uncomfortable with some ideas being promoted within the Church in Germany. For example, on the question of intercommunion, Hollerich, who lived for years in Japan where he was vice rector of Sophia University, stressed that he had never denied Communion to anyone but would never concelebrate with an evangelical pastor.
He also clearly said no to “nuptial blessings” of same-sex couples because “we consider marriage only the union between a man and a woman.”
He has stood firm on abortion as well, with sharp words like those of Pope Francis, who likened the practice to hiring “a hitman to solve a problem.”
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The working group of Synodal Way leaders and Synod on Synodality organizers could use Hollerich’s positions as a starting point. But would this be enough to dovetail the German initiative with the synodal process that the pope wanted for the whole Church? It is a decisive question.
The recent votes cast by members of the German Synodal Way may appear to leave little room for further mediation. But the current phase of the global synodal process is dedicated to listening. The idea is that all positions should be heard so as to stimulate debate. But eventually, decisions will have to be made — and they will fall to the pope when the two-year process comes to a head with the Synod of Synodality in Rome next year.