Germany: First Day of the Fifth Synodal Path Assembly

March 14, 2023

After the opening conference of the Fifth Synodal Path Assembly, the work began on the afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2023. The first texts on the program were those of Forum II, dedicated to priests. Three documents were on the menu.

The site, an unofficial site of the German episcopate, gives detailed reports of the debates. It title on this occasion: “The Synodal Path maintains the Catholic priesthood”! We are happy to hear it.

The first text, called the “basic text,” provides a foundation for the so-called “action” texts. In other words, the first is more doctrinal, the others more pastoral. This basic text is quite appalling. From the introduction, four assertions are listed which “are the subject of a broad consensus”:

“A priesthood which, in theory, should only be reserved for heterosexual men is questionable and incompatible with lived practice. Admission to the priestly ministry on the basis of sex causes misunderstanding, is discriminatory, and must be abolished. The rationale for celibacy as an obligatory form of priestly life is no longer widely accepted or convincing. The acceptance of homosexuality on an equal footing, including among priests, is explicitly demanded.”

The stage is set, there will now only be variations on the same theme.

The Involution of the Church in Germany

The following chapter gives a series of statistics on the evolution – it would be better to say the involution – of the Church in Germany since 1990 – the year of reunification. In thirty years, the number of faithful has fallen by 22%, with Catholics representing only 26.7% of the population. The number of baptisms fell by two-thirds (from 300,000 to 100,000).

The number of practitioners fell from 21.9% to 5.9%, and the number of priests decreased by 40% (from 20,000 to 12,500). The number of priests who have left the ministry since Vatican II amounts to more than 1,500. The heritage is withering: many dioceses have abandoned religious buildings, or sold them, or finally assigned to other uses.

Finally, the parish ministry is constantly being restructured, priests sometimes have more than 20,000 parishioners – and in the future it is expected that they may have up to 100,000, which plunges the life of the priests into a certain instability. This is why it is necessary to redefine the way in which the priest should live and exercise this ministry.

Modifying Structures 

The proposed changes are based on the MHG report – for Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Gießen, the three universities that participated in compiling the report. It must be understood that these academics are not theologians, even less canonists, but the proposals made will be carefully listened in order to “reform the Church.”

One of the leitmotifs of this report is to point to a systemic cause of these abuses, in the exaggerated “sacredness” of the priest, which places him “as an overseer,” with the inherent risk of abuse of power. It is therefore not surprising that the chapter concludes with “overcoming clericalism.”

“Theological” Justification 

The principle: the priestly ministry must be “liberated … from its separation from the life of men, from the idealization of the minister, from the privileges of his state and from exaltation.” The justification is drawn from the new concept of the priesthood which lowers the priest to the level of the “common” priesthood of the faithful, except that they have particular functions.

Thus, priests “are distinguished from the bearers of the common priesthood, the faithful, by their ministry and their role, and not by a priesthood, whatever it may be.” And a little further: “before the ministerial priesthood, there is the common priesthood of all believers, which is expressed in prophecy, direction, and testimony.”

Priestly Celibacy

The document recognizes a beauty and a greatness in priestly celibacy. But the authors believe that the era no longer understands it, that there is a risk that this celibacy will not be embraced voluntarily, but as a corollary to ordination, and that there should at least be a choice.

Which has been addressed in the action text dedicated to this theme. The other document specifies that it is not celibacy in itself that is problematic, but the fact that all priests must commit themselves to it. After a number of justifying considerations, the Holy See is finally asked:

1.) To re-examine, within the synodal process of the World Synod, the connection between the granting of Holy Orders and the commitment to celibacy. 2.) To grant dispensations from celibacy more generously [as for pastor-converts] and to entrust this dispensation to the German bishops. 3.) To allow the ordination of viri probati (i.e. married men). 4.) To allow priests already ordained to marry.

It should be noted in this regard that this last point has never existed in the Church. In the Eastern Catholic Church, before ordination, the subject must decide for celibacy or marriage. But, once ordained, he can no longer marry, even if he becomes a widower. This point shows either the crass ignorance of the Synodal Path “theologians,” or their totally revolutionary will.