German ‘Synodal Way’ Members Back Text Calling For Women Priests

Earlier on Friday, members of the Synodal Assembly backed an appeal to relax the celibacy requirement for priests in the Latin Church, when they endorsed a text on 'the pledge of celibacy in priestly ministry.'

‘Synodal Way’ flags fly in front of the Congress Center Messe Frankfurt in Germany.
‘Synodal Way’ flags fly in front of the Congress Center Messe Frankfurt in Germany. (photo: Max von Lachner / Synodal Way)

FRANKFURT, Germany — Participants in the German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Way” voted on Friday in favor of a text calling for the ordination of women priests.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the text was passed by 174 votes in favor, 30 against, and 6 abstentions on Feb. 4 during a plenary session of the Synodal Way, a controversial multi-year process bringing together the country’s bishops and lay people.

The vote will be seen as a direct challenge to the Vatican, which has underlined that the Church has no power to ordain women as priests.

The document, entitled “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church,” said: “It is not the participation of women in all church ministries and offices that requires justification, but the exclusion of women from sacramental office.”

The vote came on the second day of a meeting of the Synodal Assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way, in Frankfurt, southwestern Germany.

The assembly consists of the German bishops, 69 members of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), and representatives of other parts of the German Church.

In a debate before the vote, several speakers criticized the text, which will form the basis of further discussions before the Synodal Way’s expected conclusion in 2023. 

Critics included Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz, a philosopher who won the 2021 Ratzinger Prize, and the theologian Marianne Schlosser.

The vote came a day after members of a German group called “New Beginning” urged bishops around the world to speak out against the Synodal Way.

“The next schism in Christendom is just around the corner. And it will come again from Germany,” they said. 

Earlier on Friday, members of the Synodal Assembly backed an appeal to relax the celibacy requirement for priests in the Latin Church, when they endorsed a text on “the pledge of celibacy in priestly ministry.”

The document called for priestly celibacy to be optional and for the ordination of “viri probati,” or mature, married men. It said that the topic should be discussed at a future ecumenical council, a solemn gathering of the world’s bishops.

Later on Feb. 4, the assembly voted in favor of further debating a document calling for women deacons by 163 votes in favor, 42 against, and 6 abstentions.

On the first day of the Synodal Assembly, which ends on Feb. 5, members approved an “orientation text,” setting out the Synodal Way’s theological underpinnings, as well as a document on “power and the separation of powers in the Church,” reported CNA Deutsch.

Recent popes, including Pope Francis, have emphasized that priestly ordination in the Catholic Church is reserved to men.

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II wrote that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

During an in-flight press conference in 2016, Pope Francis was asked whether there were likely to be women priests in the Catholic Church in the next few decades.

“As for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by St. John Paul II, and this holds,” he replied.

Last month, it emerged that a website overseen by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican had linked to a group campaigning for women’s ordination.

Thierry Bonaventura, communication manager of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, told CNA that the website was not promoting the group.

“I would rather speak of ‘sharing,’ as the title of the website,” he said.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has asked two commissions to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church. 

The first, established in 2016, examined the historic question of the role of deaconesses in the early Church but did not reach a consensus. 

He instituted a second commission in 2020, following discussion of the female diaconate during the 2019 Amazon synod.

He changed Church law in January 2021 so that women can be formally instituted to the lay ministries of lector and acolyte.

Pope Francis addressed concerns about the Synodal Way in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE aired last September. 

Asked if the initiative gave him sleepless nights, the Pope recalled that he wrote an extensive letter that expressed “everything I feel about the German synod.”

Responding to the interviewer’s comment that the Church had faced comparable challenges in the past, he said: “Yes, but I wouldn’t get too tragic either. There is no ill will in many bishops with whom I spoke.” 

“It is a pastoral desire, but one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter that need to be taken into account.”

Pope Francis speaks to journalists during the flight from Budapest to Italy on April 30 after his second visit to Hungary in less than two years.

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One of the top stories at last month was about a web platform that seeks to combat porn addictions. The project took its inspiration from an unlikely source: Blessed Carlo Acutis. Register writer Solène Tadié wrote that story. She joins us now from Rome just days after she followed Pope Francis’ travels to Hungary last weekend. Solène gives us highlights about the unique ways of evangelizing in our culture and the impact of the Holy Father on young and old alike in Hungary. Then we turn to happenings in the Church in another European country, Germany. Jonathan Liedl has more on the situation there, and we examine the question: How does the German tax influence German Catholicism?