Four German bishops resist push to install permanent ‘Synodal Council’

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne attends a German Synodal Way assembly on March 9, 2023. | Credit: Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

Four German bishops on Wednesday distanced themselves from the controversial Synodal Way’s plans for a permanent body to oversee the Church in Germany, instead appealing for unity with the universal Church. 

The four bishops are the same who have previously blocked funding for this body: Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and three prelates from Bavaria: Gregor Maria Hanke, OSB, of Eichstätt; Stefan Oster, SDB, of Passau; and Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg.

In a joint statement, the prelates confirmed on April 24 that they would not be parties to a committee charged with setting up a German “Synodal Council, as this would conflict with the sacramental constitution of the Church.”

The four bishops also rejected the view that the German Bishops’ Conference could legally establish a “synodal committee” if four of its members did not support the committee. 

Given the Vatican’s repeated interventions against the German process, the bishops said on Wednesday they would instead look to the Synod of Bishops in Rome to point the way for “a more synodal Church [in Germany] in unity with the universal Church.

Warning of a threat of a new schism from Germany, the Vatican intervened as early as July 2022 against plans for a German synodal council. 

In January 2023, Rome asserted “that neither the Synodal Way, nor any body established by it, nor any bishops’ conference has the competence to establish the ‘synodal council’ at the national, diocesan, or parish level.” German Bishops’ Conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing immediately dismissed the warning. 

In the meantime, Synodal Way organizers have continued with plans to establish a synodal committee: On Monday, April 22, German diocesan bishops approved the statutes for a synodal committee.

The move is a significant development: The German prelates were initially expected to vote on the statutes for a preparatory committee during their February plenary assembly. 

However, that vote was suspended following another Vatican intervention

Following a March meeting where “differences and points of agreement were identified,” the Vatican and Synodal Way supporters announced they would work together to resolve the issues.

Given that the bishops have now adopted the statutes for a synodal committee and the lay organization ZdK already approved these on Nov. 25, 2023 — despite earlier warnings from Rome of the risk of a new German schism — it is unclear how, or if, the Vatican will respond. 

According to an earlier report on the official portal of the Church in Germany,, the synodal committee will still meet again in June to discuss plans. 

The Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg,” sometimes translated as Synodal Path — is not a synod but a highly controversial event designed to create “pressure” on the Church, as one founder has admitted

The German process, which cost several million dollars, not only aims to establish a permanent synodal council: Delegates also passed several resolutions to change Church practices based on transgender ideology and have called for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, as well as changes to Church teaching on sexual acts.

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