German Synodal Path Dominated by ‘Political Activists’ With ‘Radical Demands,’ Say Two Participants

According to these anonymous participants the entire German synodal process has been arranged to result in a conclusion that conforms with the perspectives of the heterodox majority in charge.

Georg Bätzing, Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, addresses the annual reception of the German Bishops in Berlin on Sept. 27.
Georg Bätzing, Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, addresses the annual reception of the German Bishops in Berlin on Sept. 27. (photo: Fabian Sommer / Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

ROME — The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany is dominated by “indignant laypeople” who are ensuring their “radical demands” are met by making them look more moderate.

This is according to an assessment written by two anonymous synodal lay participants and shared with Bernhard Meuser, a German Catholic publisher who recently helped found a new lay group critical of the Synodal Path called “Neuer Anfang” (New Beginning — A Manifesto for Reform).

Meuser, who also founded the YOUCAT Foundation for the New Evangelization in Bavaria, told the Register on Oct. 6 that according to these members of the Synodal Path, the process is an “abuse of the Church, the forcible appropriation of power by liberal forces and their domination of the process.”

The Synodal Path, which began in January 2020 and is slated to end in 2023, aims to tackle key areas of reform which organizers say have been highlighted by the clerical sex abuse crisis. 

The two disaffected participants shared their comments with Meuser in a question-and-answer format. They wished to remain anonymous because they wanted to continue “to have a say within the process” and did not want “the thread of conversation to break off,” said Meuser, who believes they reflect the full “horror” and “terrible things happening there.”

The participants began their critique by noting that the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), to which most of the lay participants in the Synodal Path process belong or through which they have been recommended, is made up of “mostly left-liberal functionaries of associations, committees and federations” who are “by no means the entirety of the laity in Germany.” 

The bishops, they added, fall into three groups: those who support the demands of the lay members; a few loyal to the magisterium led by the theological head of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer; and the majority of the episcopate, “who remain silent and tremble.” Each bishop has only one vote, the same as each lay participant, and the same applies to the speaking time they are allotted.

The anonymous participants said the atmosphere is “heated, at times extremely tense,” and they describe 90% of the speakers as “indignant lay people.” Their “radical demands” are made to look “more moderate,” they added, and these tend to secure two-to-one majorities. 

“The debate is dominated by trained political activists who know their tools,” they continued. “Slogans are presented, not arguments” and calls are frequently made for “justice.” Homosexual persons, for example, “are excluded from love, forbidden from sexual self-realization,” and “women are banned from the priesthood; laypeople are illegally kept out of power.” The Catholic Church is presented as a “single violation of human rights — a thoroughly unjust institution, the last totalitarian institution in the world.” 

The participants added that the synodal assembly has become “a platform of expressions of hatred of the Church, at least hatred of the sacramentally and hierarchically constituted Church,” and that a “democratically constituted Church” is talked up.

“The basic constellation is: human rights against the Church, and thus also against the magisterium and the Pope,” they said, adding that “the real victims of abuse have become unimportant.” There is also “no chance” to properly present theological arguments. “It’s all about politics — the violent enforcement of denied ‘Christian rights’ and ‘women's rights.’”

“The explicit and formal rejection of ‘new evangelization’ is significant,” the anonymous participants added. “It does not belong to the tasks of the reform assembly and even hinders the reform projects.” 

For these two synod informants, behind this Synodal Path is “a total failure of catechesis in the German Church for 50 years,” along with the “simultaneous emancipation of wide circles of academic theology away from the teaching authority of the Church.” 

Despite the non-binding nature of the Synodal Path and the process having no canonical authority, the two members warned of schism. The next synodal assembly, they pointed out, plans to make “binding decisions by majority vote” and they are not optimistic that courageous bishops will oppose them, especially as only a slim majority of the bishops attended the most recent synodal assembly, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. 

“Should the ‘binding resolutions’ come to pass, the schismatic situation is obvious, and the virus of Church schism will spread to other local Churches,” they predicted. 

Their conclusion was that renewal of the Church won’t be possible “without significant efforts to renew catechesis and the catechumenate.” 

Meuser, who has written and published Catholic books such as At the End of the Day: 365 Prayers and Impulses, and contributed to collaborative works such as Mission Manifest: Theses for the Church’s Comeback, said his own view is that the Synodal Path is “rigged game,” whereby everything that could be “objected to, corrected, or debated is made ineffective from the outset.” 

He compared the process to the student rebellions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when universities were upturned, the “establishment” disgraced and neo-Marxist ideology took control. 

The Synodal Path is headed by Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of both the German Bishops' Conference and the Synodal Path, and Thomas Sternberg, president of the influential ZdK lay committee. 

The Register forwarded some of the participants’ observations to Bishop Bätzing for a response. Matthias Kopp, spokesman for the president of the bishops’ conference, said the bishop “will not comment on those ‘theses.’”