How is the Synodal Way being funded?
The cost of the Synodal Way is controversial because the Catholic Church in Germany is funded by a church tax.
If an individual is registered as a Catholic in Germany, 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The only way they can stop paying the tax is to make an official declaration renouncing their membership. They are then no longer allowed to receive the sacraments or a Catholic burial.
Around 27% of Germany’s 83 million population identify as Catholics, with only 5.9% of Catholics attending Mass in 2020. More than 220,000 people formally left the Catholic Church that year.
But the Catholic Church in Germany remains one of the world’s richest. It received more money in church tax than ever before in 2019 despite losing a record number of members, due to the growth of the German economy.
The Church tax finances groups such as the influential Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), which has campaigned for many years for changes in Church teaching and discipline.
The ZdK partnered with the German bishops’ conference to launch the Synodal Way.
The German bishops’ conference clashed with the Vatican after it initially suggested that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes.
Synodal Way participants voted in February in favor of draft texts calling for the abolition of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church, the ordination of women priests, same-sex blessings, and changes to Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
The Synodal Way’s critics speak out
The project has generated alarm among Church leaders outside Germany.
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In April, more than 70 bishops worldwide released a “fraternal open letter” to Germany’s bishops warning that initiative could lead to schism.
In March, the Nordic Catholic bishops issued an open letter expressing strong reservations at the project’s direction.
Their intervention followed the publication of a letter in February by the president of Poland’s bishops’ conference voicing “fraternal concern” over the initiative.
The Synodal Way has also faced criticism within the German Catholic Church.
Members of an initiative called “New Beginning” said that the process would deepen divisions among Catholics.
“The next schism in Christendom is just around the corner. And it will come again from Germany,” they said.