German Laity Ready to Supplant Their Bishops

May 10, 2023
ZdK General Assembly on May 5-6, 2023

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) met May 5-6, 2023 in Munich, to consider the future of the Synodal Path in its installation and implementation phase of reforms, decided in the active phase of the synodal assemblies.

Minister-President Markus Söder (CSU) paid tribute to the delegates. The absence of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who was invited, was particularly noted. But the leaders of the ZdK did not make a federal case of it. They still feel supported by him, especially in Rome.

Waiting for an Appointment in Rome

The long-awaited meetings between the ZdK president and the leadership of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) in Rome have not yet taken place. From the Roman point of view, the reason is probably that they want to avoid an official recognition of the German way.

In front of the assembly, Thomas Söding asked for a reasoned response be made to the letter from the three Curia cardinals. In particular, in answer to the accusation that the Germans want to weaken the ministry of bishops by integrating them into new councils.

The Synodal Committee Question 

The ZdK is in many respects in an intermediate period. The Synodal Path is formally over, and the continuation of the process of joint consultation and decision-making with the bishops, especially in the form of a synodal committee, is still subject to uncertainties.

The DBK permanent council had to make a decision on this subject in April; ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp is now expecting it to happen in June. But the ZdK has left no doubt that work will begin in November, even if not all the bishops want to participate.

It will be remembered that the purpose of this committee is to set up synodal councils at various levels in the Church in Germany, councils rejected by Rome on several occasions.

Towards a New Organization?

During the debate, there were several signals showed that the content and organization were outdated. By 2025, the ZdK wanted to adopt new statutes and a new charter. Perhaps also a new name, as rumor has it –  “Central Committee” is a bit dusty…

As for the “umbrella association of organized Catholic civil society,” that sounds more like a working title than a solution to the name question. Proposals are welcome!

Some of the Synodal Path Modified

The ZdK wishes to modify the rules of the synodal path in the future joint venture with the DBK. The president said she would no longer accept decisions being tied to a two-thirds majority of bishops. This is a “painful learning experience” for the synodal path.

Mrs. Stetter-Karp recalled that a minority of bishops were wondering “about the legitimacy of the path being taken.” She considers this a “sign of weakness” within the DBK. In this context, she recalled that the synodal path was not a ZdK initiative, but a DBK one.

“We expect the German Bishops' Conference to assume its responsibilities as a whole,” emphasized Thomas Söding, vice-president of the ZdK. “We stick to joint decisions.”

During the debate, theologian Matthias Sellmann said that the ZdK's partner, the DBK, “is down.” Bishops are not exercising leadership. In this situation there is no point in the Central Committee also weakening, it must now assume a leadership role.

In other words: the ZdK considers that the DBK has become more or less incapable of pursuing the decisions which engage the responsibility of the bishops and their jurisdiction, in particular within the framework of the Synodal Committee; and that, therefore, it is up to the laity to see things through. The revolution may be complete. The German laity thereby assert that they are ready to supplant their bishops.