Overbeck also acknowledged that a “synodal committee” will begin work in Germany in November with the aim of establishing a permanent synodal council made up of bishops and laity to govern the Catholic Church in Germany. The Vatican has explicitly forbidden the establishment of this council as inconsistent with the Church’s ecclesiology, and four out of Germany’s 27 ordinaries voted in June to block funding for the synodal committee from a common fund.
Decentralization and ‘Convergence’
Notably, Overbeck’s inclusion on the panel and his comments came during the Synod on Synodality’s exploration of the theme of “participation, governance, and authority,” which includes a focus on the “decentralization” of Church governance.
To this effect, the synod’s working document quotes Pope Francis’ instruction in Evangelii Gaudium that “it is not advisable for the pope to take the place of local bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’”
During this part of the Synod on Synodality, participants are being asked to consider questions including: “What degree of doctrinal authority can be attributed to the discernment of Episcopal Conferences?”
Another question asks “to what extent” the “convergence” of local Church entities, such as episcopal conferences, on “the same issue commit the bishop of Rome to address it at the level of the universal Church?”
The founding president of the German Synodal Way said in December 2022 that the initiative was designed to create “pressure” on the universal Church.
Overbeck and Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, have both expressed their intention to advance the proposals of the Synodal Way at the ongoing Synod on Synodality. In fact, Bätzing reportedly shared a 159-page document detailing the Synodal Way’s findings with the rest of the Roman synod’s 365 members earlier this month.
Overbeck has previously said that the Synod on Synodality must take up the proposals advanced by the German Synodal Way, “from the role of women to the question of sexuality and the question of people who love each other.”
However, Overbeck added at the press conference that he may also be taking something from the Synod on Synodality back to Germany. He noted that the synod’s “conversation in the spirit method,” emphasizing listening without asking questions and times of silent prayer, could be incorporated into the German Synodal Way’s work going forward.