German Priests Do Not Support Synodal Way, New Study Finds

Researchers contacted all of the 847 priests who were ordained between 2010 and 2021 in Germany to take part in the study. “In total, a representative sample of 17.8% took part.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx. (photo: Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch / Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch)

Priests in Germany are not supportive of the controversial German Synodal Way, according to a new study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference.

The study, officially titled “Who Becomes a Priest?”, found that priests are “alienated from the concerns of Church reform,” lead author Matthias Sellmann said on May 17.

“Priests are also clearly not supporters of the German Synodal Way,” Sellmann emphasized. 

According to a statement by the bishops’ conference, the study aimed to investigate “the socio-religious background and motivations of newly ordained priests in order to make strategic personnel decisions based on the results.” 

Researchers contacted all of the 847 priests who were ordained between 2010 and 2021 in Germany to take part in the study. “In total, a representative sample of 17.8% took part.”

Among other findings, more than 70% of those surveyed said that silent prayer was where they discovered their vocation. “So where do we create such places of silent prayer in our pastoral landscape?” asked Bishop Michael Gerber of Fulda, who heads the bishops’ vocations commission.

Lead author Sellmann voiced concerns that priests were more interested in being a pastor and the liturgy than performing as a supervisor or team leader, which was not in line with the role they were expected to play “as managers of ever-larger and more resource-rich complexes.” 

Another critical concern identified by the study, according to Sellmann, is that the priest occupies a particular and idealized position in “Roman theology,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

This also required addressing and change management, the German theologian demanded: “What is needed is a determined, consistent, and both spiritually and theologically well-founded will to change course.”

It is unclear whether any course changes will provide for priests who support the Synodal Way, however — or indeed priests in the future: As Sellmann admitted, vocations are likely to dwindle even further, given priests tend to come from faithful families with many children, a source that was “drying up.”

Criticism and Indifference

Inaugurated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx in 2019, the multiyear, multimillion-dollar project has not only failed to convince German priests but also has drawn fire for its very premise, approach, and resolutions by Pope Francis, cardinals, theologians, and many bishops around the world

At the same time, most German Catholics reportedly are indifferent to the exercise. According to CNA Deutsch, a survey in September 2020 showed that only 19% of Catholics agreed with the statement that the Synodal Way was of interest to them. The vast majority of Germans responded in the negative.

This finding starkly contrasted claims made by Marx, who said in September 2019 that “countless believers in Germany consider [these issues] to be in need of discussion.”

Since then, the Synodal Way has passed resolutions demanding the Church adopt transgender ideology, women’s ordination, and other controversial goals. Organizers are now working to turn the project into a permanent controlling body — called the “Synodal Council” — to oversee the Church in Germany.