Secretary General of the Nordic Bishops' Conference expresses deepest reserve about German Synodal Path

Interview with Sister Anna Mirijam Kaschner CPS, Secretary General of the Nordic Bishops' Conference

We at Maria 1.0 were able to gain an interview with Sister Anna Mirijam Kaschner CPS (Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood). She is a German nun and since 2009 Secretary General of the Nordic Bishops' Conference, to which the Bishops from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland belong.

Maria 1.0: In March 2022, the bishops of the Nordic Bishops' Conference wrote to Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference. The letter, which you also signed, expresses concern about the direction, the methodology and the content of the German Synodal Path. The Synodal journey is now complete. Do you see your concerns confirmed?

Sister Anna Mirijam: Basically, the concern we expressed still exists. Some texts, which are now formulated more as a request to the Pope than as a demand, have been softened by the intervention of the Bishops and thus made arguably acceptable. Nevertheless, the following applies: In particular, the further pursuit of the establishment of a Synodal Council - which is to be prepared by the Synodal Committee - and which is therefore contrary to the decision of the Pope, causes us concern. It is true that many of the themes of the Synodal Path - the role of women, the involvement of lay people, dealing with people of different sexual orientations, dealing with power, etc. - are also discussed elsewhere, but the vehemence, the sharpness and the pressure with which this debated and decided along the Synodal Path is still worrying because it encourages polarization among the faithful.

Maria 1.0: What specifically were you missing on the Synodal Path?

Sister Anna Mirijam: Personally, I missed the inclusion of the whole people of God from the beginning, as happened, for example, in the worldwide synodal process. True synodality means walking together. With the Synodal Path in Germany, the representatives were chosen from the start – also according to their church-political attitude, and thus majorities and minorities were created. I don't think that was good for the whole process.

Another point that I think was missing is actually listening to each other without immediately reacting to what you heard – in the form of expressions of displeasure, applause or other reactions. This created a pressure that is generally detrimental to Synodal processes. I also missed times of silence and prayer. After all, it's about God's cause - and if HE doesn't get "speaking time", it's easy to talk past him.

I also missed going into the letter from Pope Francis to the people of God in Germany. If the Pope writes a letter to a country and makes reference to the Synodal Path project, then this letter must also be taken into account and its contents incorporated.

In my opinion, when a church in Germany sets out on the path of renewal, then it must also be asked how it can be that so many believers today no longer know the basics of the Christian faith. How is it that more and more people are leaving the church, even before the abuse cases became known? How can it be that baptized and confirmed Catholics no longer know what we celebrate at Easter or Christmas? I missed these questions and also approaches for a deepening of faith. I would have been more convinced if a new evangelisation campaign spanning several years had been started at the same time as the synodal path with its attempts at structural change. I'm not convinced that the believers in the congregations are so concerned with the structural issues of the Catholic Church in Germany that they stay in the church because of it - or that those who have left will rejoin the church.

Maria 1.0: In his reply, Bishop Bätzing assured that he did not want to take a special German path. Nevertheless, the synodal assembly decided to allow blessing celebrations for homosexual couples. Shouldn't that be irritating?

Sister Anna Mirijam: The decision of the Synodal Assembly is certainly an affront to the decision from Rome, and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin has already stated that a local Church cannot make such a decision alone. The synodal assembly decided that rituals and liturgical handouts for such a blessing celebration should be developed by the year 2026. It remains to be seen what such a blessing celebration should look like in concrete terms. In addition, the synodal world process initiated by Pope Francis will certainly have dealt with this question by then.

Maria 1.0: Let's take a look at the worldwide Synodal process: how was your experience in the Nordic countries?  How was the synodal approach received locally?

Sister Anna Mirijam: The worldwide Synodal process was received very positively in our dioceses. In particular, we have succeeded in all our countries in taking the first questioning of the people of God right into the individual communities and collecting the answers from there. This required a great deal of commitment from the volunteers, but the responses showed that the communities had dealt with the questions very intensively.

Maria 1.0: Delegations from 39 Bishops' Conferences met in Prague February 5-9 for the continental phase of the worldwide Synodal process for the Region of Europe. How did you experience those days and what do you remember about them?

Sister Anna Mirijam: The days in Prague were very intense and full. On the one hand, this was due to the many reports from the bishops' conferences, and on the other hand, to the fact that experiences with and on church issues in Europe are very different. There were statements that called homosexuality itself a sin, others that called for marriage for all. What I remember most is the way it was done. It was about listening, not just about hearing or listening, but really about real listening - with the question: What does God want to say to us? After four reports from the bishops' conferences, there was a silence in prayer, which I have come to appreciate very much. Here, what was heard could be echoed and taken to prayer. In this prayer time, God had “speaking time”.

After the first day and a half, given the different experiences and reports from the countries, I had the impression that we would never be able to find a common thread in all of this. But surprisingly, in the end it was still possible to guess a direction. There were a number of topics that came up in many countries: strengthening the role of women in the Church, the consistent processing and prevention of cases of abuse, the question of more involvement of lay people, etc., all topics that are also dealt with in the Synodal Path . However, dealing with these issues was different. In contrast to the synodal path in Germany, there were no heckling, no spontaneous expressions of displeasure or applause, but all reports, opinions, etc. could first be spoken out and heard.

In the afternoon there were meetings in language groups, which were also not intended for debates, discussions, arguments, but were conducted as a "spiritual conversation". Here it was a question of finding the "red thread" from everything that had been heard and reporting it back to the plenum.

All in all, the assembly in Prague did not deliver any "results", but showed that we are on the path together, which is not yet over. I am very excited to see the results of the other Continental Assemblies and I am confident that the direction will then continue to emerge.

Maria 1.0: On the German Synodal Path it was repeatedly emphasized that the German demands for reform were in many respects identical to the demands for reform in other countries. To what extent can you confirm this for the Nordic countries?

Sister Anna Mirijam: In our countries there are very flat hierarchies – also socially. Synodal structures have therefore existed in the church for a long time. Church life would not be possible without the participation and co-operation of volunteers. Of course there are isolated calls for a strengthening of the role of women or for the abolition of compulsory celibacy. But overall, the survey of our believers has revealed that it is more about how to preserve the faith in a minority church and proclaim it in a secular setting. It was asked to make more effort for catechesis - not only for young people and children. As Catholics, we are an absolute minority in all countries. Sometimes only one child in a school is Catholic. How can community experience succeed here? How can children and young people be led to faith? Our church is growing very strongly due to immigration and partly also conversions. How can we integrate people from different nations? Where do we get churches and places of worship from? Except in Sweden and Norway, we get almost no government support and are a poor church in rich countries. The question of financing our priests, for the maintenance and new construction of churches is always a concern that occupies us.

Maria 1.0: Do you want to give us and the believers in Germany anything else to take away?

Sister Anna Mirijam: It is always difficult to give advice from a geographical and cultural distance. I would wish the believers to have some patience and engage in the universal church process. I would wish that we could reduce the polarization in church-political discourse and listen to each other better, knowing that we all want what is best for the Church of Jesus Christ and are all on the path together.

Maria 1.0: Thank you Sister Anna Mirijam for the interview! All the best to you and God's blessings on your work!