Leading Synod supporter complains about Synod meeting in secret session. Again threatens to leave Church if he does not get his way.

Interview with the Chairman of the Federation of German Catholic Youth

Podschun: My expectations of the World Synod are very low

Environmentalist Podschun

Podschun makes an enormous contribution to the life of modernist Catholicism in Germany

The BDKJ federal chairman Gregor Podschun at the Fifth Synodal meeting in Frankfurt

The federal chairman of the Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), Gregor Podschun, is not particularly hopeful about the world synod. In the katholisch.de interview he explains why. He also talks about what keeps him personally in the Catholic Church.

Since Wednesday, the more than 450 representatives of the World Synod in Rome have been meeting behind closed doors. The federal chairman of the Association of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), Gregor Podschun, is critical of the lack of openness. In the katholisch.de interview he explains why, in his opinion, it is not the officials in the Catholic Church who feel the greatest pressure.

Question: Mr. Podschun, the World Synod began in Rome on Wednesday. How are you following the discussions there?

Podschun: That's a difficult question because the deliberations themselves are not public. So I don't know exactly what will become public. The only way to get information is therefore through the reports of the German delegation, which of course only shows the debates from a certain perspective, depending on how the representatives feel about the deliberations in Rome. This is a point that I criticize: If I want to include the people of God in a synod - which Pope Francis explicitly wanted - I cannot exclude the believers from the actual deliberations.

Question: The Pope himself justifies the exclusion of the public with more freedom for contributions to the debate on site.

Podschun: I think that's a strange reason because it's about deliberating together as the people of God and making a decision in the discernment of the spirits - whatever that is supposed to be. I believe that it is very helpful to collect as many voices as possible and to let the public point out mistakes. Especially when it comes to sexual violence in the church, the public and the media have played an enormous role in getting the process started. And I don't think it helps if everything stays secret. Ultimately, the World Synod largely involves officials of the Catholic Church who have to publicly stand by their opinions.

Question: The people of God were involved in the two-year run-up to this meeting. Now “selected” synods meet to discuss the results that were compiled.

Podschun: That's the second problem: Those who advise are mainly bishops, apart from the few other people who have recently been allowed to join. But the decision-makers are essentially the bishops - in the end even a single bishop, namely the Bishop of Rome. I think Pope Francis' understanding of synodality is difficult: We listen to everyone and that has to be a real listening in some form - without any criteria having been set for this - but there is no further participation in the process. Of course, not all believers can now counsel in Rome. But at least everyone should be able to take part in the public debate about it. This is part of a democratic process and, in my opinion, synodality must also be understood democratically.

Question: The Passau Bishop Stefan Oster recently criticized in a katholisch.de interview that stakeholders in the Synodal Path of the Church in Germany had consciously worked with media and public pressure and that that is exactly what the Pope does not want. How do you see that?

Podschun: To be honest, I think that's nonsense. The people who urgently need reforms in the Catholic Church are more likely to feel the pressure: people who are injured, who have experienced suffering and violence or who are discriminated against by the Church. These people have a right to know what the church advises. An official who is a bishop and leads an entire diocese must be able to withstand public pressure. Every public official must justify the actions they take. This also affects me as BDKJ federal chairman. For me, this is a question of transparency and reducing power. We want to dismantle the secret deliberations of men's associations behind closed doors.

Question: The pope's worldwide Synodal process is quite lengthy and somehow difficult to grasp. How do you convey such a process to the young people in the BDKJ?

Podschun: The question is what exactly you want to convey. Again: I think the Pope's understanding of synodality is difficult and I do not believe that the world synod will address major reforms of the church. The problem is that other people have very high hopes for the Synod and even refer bishops as officials to the World Synod when it comes to implementing the decisions of the Synodal Way - without taking into account that these topics are not even discussed at the World Synod . Our approach is to create transparency and to clearly state who is advising, why the advice is being given, what can be decided and what the consequences will be. We want to make it clear that this is not a process that meets our criteria for democratic, liberal advice.

Question: Do young people generally follow such processes, or are they ultimately not interested in what is being discussed far away in Rome?

Podschun: Of course there are many young people who will not be interested in it. But I notice that the young people who are still in the church follow what is happening in this church. Whether every detail reaches the young people at the grassroots level is not so relevant, but rather the question of whether the issues that concern young people are discussed and decided upon. At the Youth Synod 2018 we saw that this was lost at some point due to the many levels. If you ask what the Youth Synod has actually done to improve the situation of young people locally, there isn't much. The voice of the youth was probably not heard as loudly as the Pope and other people would have liked. We as BDKJ will definitely support young people's interest in the World Synod by creating transparency. We will therefore also be on site in Rome with a delegation.

“I don’t think major reform is around the corner.” — Quote: Gregor Podschun, BDKJ federal chairman

Question: You have already indicated: What do you expect from the World Synod?

Podschun: My expectations are very low. I don't think major reform is around the corner. The topics of the synodal path are not discussed there, but rather the topic of synodality itself and the question of how the church can make decisions. I do not assume that there will be a departure from the current system whereby the Pope is the sole decision-maker. I think that the systems of power of the Catholic Church are maintained. As much as people want to portray Pope Francis as a reform pope, I honestly don't see these reforms coming.

Question: That doesn't sound particularly hopeful...

Podschun: No, actually not. The BDKJ general meeting passed a resolution on synodality in May 2023, in which we say very clearly that young people are powerless and helpless before these processes in the church. We don't know exactly how we can make a difference if Rome doesn't participate. I believe that we must take the results of the MHG study and all other reports and studies on sexual abuse in the church seriously. The German bishops must find a way to respond to systemic violence, even if Rome does not participate. It always sounds like we want to divide. We want to prevent that! But if I have to weigh up between the current path and a special German path that prevents suffering and violence in the church, then I have to choose the latter path. Anything else would be extremely ethically questionable. I believe that the church in Germany doesn't pay enough attention to this. What are the consequences if Rome blocks these issues?

Question: You address the topic of division: It's not just the Pope who jokes about a second Protestant church in Germany. Even on the Internet, reform advocates repeatedly have to listen to accusations that they should become Protestant. What keeps you personally still in the Catholic Church?

Podschun: To be honest, it's not as if I personally don't think about what staying in the church means for me and how long I can stay. Many other young people feel the same way and ask themselves the question: Why am I still in this church and when will I reach a limit? Personally, I am still part of the church because I am part of the youth associations. The youth associations are a part of the church that is democratically structured, that allows for gender equality and that breaks down systems of power. We are this church and we are committed to ensuring that people who experience suffering and violence in the church are heard and supported.