“What it means concretely and how it develops will certainly have to be considered even more deeply,” the pope wrote, reminding the Germans that synodality “means going out together with the whole Church under the light of the Holy Spirit.”
Francis warned that “the synodal perspective does not resolve opposites or confusions, nor does it subordinate conflicts to the decisions of a ‘good consensus’ that compromise faith, to the results of censuses or surveys relating to this or that subject.”
Despite the pope’s call for a deeper reflection on synodal mechanisms and a focus on faithful evangelization, senior sources in the German bishops’ conference told CNA that the conference is now in the final stages of completing the governing document.
The new Synodal Assembly would be presided over by Cardinal Marx, as the president of the German bishops’ conference, and Dr. Thomas Sternberg, the current president of ZdK. Each document and subject area will be treated by a smaller group, a “Synodal Forum,” membership of which is determined by the co-presidents.
A completed version of the statutes for the Synodal Assembly has yet to be released.
Nevertheless, Sternberg and Marx have confirmed on the ZdK website that the Forum groups for three of the four subject areas have already been constituted and begun their work:
“The first three forums have already started work,” according to a July 5 quote jointly attributed to Marx and Sternberg from July 5, in the days immediately following the pope’s letter to the German leadership and faithful.
The membership of working groups assigned to develop resolutions on ”separation of powers,” sexual morality, priestly life, and the role of women in the offices and ministries of the Church, is also published on the website of ZdK.
“The aim of this forum work is to deliver the first interim results in the autumn, in order to prepare the actual synodal way. Our joint timetable states that we want to decide on the exact form of the Synodal Path in September and November at the respective assemblies of the German Bishops' Conference and ZdK.”
The release of the interim reports is expected to coincide with the meeting of the Synod on the Amazon in Rome, in which members of the German hierarchy have taken a close interest and played an influential role in drafting the preparatory documents.
While the Amazonian meeting is intended to deal with a range of pastoral issues concerning the region, including environmental concerns, much focus has been placed on the proposal to permit a limited exception to priestly celibacy in the region by ordaining so-called viri probati, or married laymen deemed to be a proven worth.
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Pope Francis has insisted that the ordination of married men should not be the focus of the Amazon meeting. But one German bishop, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who is vice-chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said in a 2018 interview that if the priestly ordination of married men is authorized for remote regions, German bishops will insist on the same authorization.
“This is obvious,” Bode said at the time. The bishop said that “pastoral emergency” in Osnabrück, his diocese, and other German dioceses, is “different but also very severe.”
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who also serves as president of Adveniat, the Church in Germany’s aid organization for Latin America, has called the Amazonian synod “a point of no return” for the Church and that “nothing will be the same as it was” after the synod.
Pope Francis has instructed the German bishops that they must proceed in communion with the universal Church. The statutes for the Synodal Assembly make clear that the bishops intend to pass binding resolutions on matters touching universal Church teaching.
Recent statements from the ZdK indicate an expectation that the Synodal Assembly will become the principal forum for debating, and deciding, ecclesial issues in Germany.
The ZdK’s 2019 Plenary Assembly concluded that its agreement to participate in the Synodal Assembly was conditioned on a guarantee from the German bishops that synodal resolutions would be binding.