Influential German Catholic Lay Group Elects New Leader

Stetter-Karp is expected to play a critical role in the conclusion of Germany’s contentious “Synodal Way.”

Irme Stetter-Karp, the new president of the Central Committee of German Catholics.
Irme Stetter-Karp, the new president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. (photo: zdk.de. / zdk.de.)

An influential German Catholic lay organization chose its new leader on Friday.

Members of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) elected Irme Stetter-Karp as their new president on Nov. 19 by 149 votes out of 190 at a plenary assembly in the German capital, Berlin.

The 65-year-old succeeds Thomas Sternberg, 69, who chose to stand down after six years in the post.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that in her speech seeking the role, Stetter-Karp said that wanted to work “passionately” for solidarity in society and changes in the Church that had already been proposed “50 years ago.”

“Reforms are indispensable and overdue. If they succeed, we will at least have the chance to rebuild lost trust,” she said. 

She added that she stood for a “diaconal Church, the recognition of human rights, and the recognition of diversity.”

Stetter-Karp is expected to play a critical role in the conclusion of Germany’s contentious “Synodal Way.”

The Synodal Way is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women. 

The ‘Synodal Way’ began on Dec. 1, 2019. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

The ‘Synodal Way’ began on Dec. 1, 2019. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

The process was launched jointly by the ZdK and the German bishops’ conference in December 2019 and is expected to end in 2023. 

The synodal assembly, the supreme decision-making body of the Synodal Way, consists of 230 members, including the German bishops, 69 members of the Zdk, and representatives of other parts of the Church in Germany.

Stetter-Karp has taken part in the synodal forum dedicated to “Life in succeeding relationships — Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership.” 

In her new role, she is likely to work closely with Beate Gilles, who was elected as the first female general secretary of the German bishops’ conference in February, succeeding the long-serving Jesuuit Father Hans Langendörfer.

Born in Ellwangen, southwest Germany, Stetter-Karp trained as a social worker and educator. The married mother of two led the Caritas department of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart before her retirement in September 2020.

Her predecessor, Thomas Sternberg, maintained a high profile following his election in 2015, serving as one of the most prominent faces of the Synodal Way, alongside bishops’ conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing.

In March this year, Sternberg criticized the Vatican’s rejection of same-sex blessings.

In May, he controversially received communion during a service at a Protestant church during a major ecumenical event.

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), speaks at a ‘Synodal Way’ press conference. Rudolf Gehrig/CNA Deutsch.

Bishop Bätzing congratulated Sternberg’s successor on Nov. 19, expressing gratitude for “the good and fruitful relations” between the ZdK and the bishops’ conference.

“We are going through one of the deepest crises of the Church in Germany, but we are not discouraged,” he wrote. 

“That is precisely what the Synodal Way wants: to contribute to the renewal of the Church out of the Gospel, in order to contribute to a new credibility and trust.”

The ZdK traces its roots to 1848, when Charles, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, founded the Catholic Society of Germany. The society was renamed the Central Committee of German Catholics in 1952.

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