Berlin, Germany, Sep 6, 2019 / 07:00 am
Following the news that the Church in Germany will proceed to form a new Synodal Assembly as part of a “binding process,” questions have been raised about the Central Committee of German Catholics, a lay group which will play a key role in the new structure.
The ZdK is one of the most prominent Catholic organizations in the country, counting a number of active and former politicians, including its current president, Dr. Thomas Sternberg, among its members. It has about 230 members, up to 90 of whom are elected by diocesan councils. Another 100 members are drawn from the Association of Catholic Organizations in Germany, an umbrella group which includes the Church in Germany’s overseas aid agencies, the Catholic Teachers’ Association, and other similar groups. This body then selects a further 50 members, usually politicians.
As leader of the ZdK, Sternberg would serve as co-president of the new Synodal Assembly being established now in Germany. The group would also provide 70 of the new assembly’s members.
While the statutes for the Synodal Assembly have yet to be completed or formally approved, several of its working groups, called Synodal Fora, have already been established by the German bishops and the ZdK, and have begun examining the announced synodal topics of clerical power in the Church, sexual morality, priestly life, and the role of women in the offices and ministries of the Church.
Despite a history of dissent from Church teaching on a range of issues, including those covered by the synodal process, the group has remained a close collaborator with the German bishops. It played a leading role in the Church’s response in Germany to the abuse crisis which, the ZdK has repeatedly said, requires a zäsur, or radical “break” in response.
A major study of clerical sexual abuse in Germany concluded, with ZdK support, that clerical celibacy was a primary cause of sexual abuse, as was the Church’s rejection of homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered.
Julia Knop, a theologian and senior figure in the ZdK, and a member of one of the Synodal Fora has stated that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is a cause of sexual abuse and must be changed.
“There can be no doubt that not homosexuality as such, but its ecclesiastical tabooing and pathologization is a risk factor for sexual abuse by narcissistic or even sexually immature clerics,” she said in a widely publicized speech to the German bishops in May, 2019.