In 2015, ZdK members also voted to demand the Church offer liturgical blessings for same-sex couples, and this is expected to be one of the first recommendations of the Synodal Forum on sexual morality. Such calls have been repeatedly made by prominent ZdK members, including the former German Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks, who has publicly criticized the Church's teaching on homosexuality. Hendricks entered a same-sex partnership in 2017.
In February this year, a number of senior ZdK members published an open letter in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, calling for a "fresh start" on sexual morality in the Catholic Church.
While the ZdK has called for such blessings for several years, several German bishops have indicated an increasing amount of support for the idea.
In August, 2019, the official media outlet of the Church in Germand carried an interview with emeritus Bishop Dieter Geerlings in which he said that in order to advance reform of Church teaching on sexual morality it is necessary to discard the "problematic understanding of unity of the Church."
"In agreement with the diocese of Münster, I submitted a paper on changing the Church's sexual morality for the synodal path," he said.
Cardinal Marx has also made numerous statements suggesting an openness to the idea of same-sex blessings in churches.
In a February 2018 radio interview, Marx said that he "did not see any problems" with allowing priests or pastoral workers "to give people in concrete situations some encouragement." Earlier this year, as he announced the German's "binding synodal path," Marx said that "We have lost the ability to talk to people about this. The Church does not understand what sexuality means to the individual."
In May 2019, the ZdK Plenary Assembly discussed the group's participation in the Synodal Way, while at the same time voting "to set up a forum in parallel to the forums already proposed by the [German Episcopal Conference] on the subject of 'women's access to ordination offices'."
In a recent interview, Sternberg was quoted in support of female ordination, saying that "We have been demanding female deacons for a long time."
With the announcement of the Synodal Fora by the ZdK in cooperation with the German bishops' conference, concern is growing in the wider Church, including in Rome, that the "binding synodal process" will lead to a series of public breaches with established Church teachings under the authority of the German hierarchy.
Pope Francis issued a lengthy letter to all the faithful of Germany in June, in which he told the German bishops that any synodal process would require years of careful preparation and study.
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Francis wrote that the German bishops must avoid seeking to "adapt the Church to the zeitgeist" or proceed with "plans and mechanisms" which could prove "anything but helpful for a common path." Instead, the Pope urged the bishops to focus on evangelization and respect for the sensus ecclesiae, which he said "frees us from self-loathing and ideological tendencies."
The subsequent announcement in July of the membership of the Synodal Fora, and the emergence of near-final draft statutes for the Synodal Assembly appears to some sources in Rome to be an implicit rejection of the pope's instruction, an impression seemingly underscored by the selection of the Central Committee as a key partner in leading the synodal process.
"No German bishop, no member of the ZdK wants to leave the universal church, which is not an issue at all," Marx told reporters in July. "Reading the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel, that's what matters," Marx said.
Some senior Church figures, however, have expressed concern that the synodal process could lead to a de facto German national church at odds with the global Catholic community.
Ed Condon is a canon lawyer and worked as Catholic News Agency's Washington DC editor until December 2020.