German Synodalists spoiling for a fight. German Church on the march towards schism.

Synodal Committee will meet next Friday to determine its constitutional framework 

Stetter-Karp to the Synodal Committee: Don't expect soft debates

The Synodal Committee should continue the work of the Synodal Path. But before it meets for its first meeting next week, some questions still seem to be unanswered. In the interview, ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp comments - and explains what she expects from the committee.

The Synodal Committee emerged from the Synodal Path and is intended to continue it and prepare the establishment of a Synodal Council in which bishops and laypeople want to hold discussions about reforms in the Church from 2026. Despite the failed financing via the Association of Dioceses of Germany (VDD) and a lot of criticism, especially from the Vatican, the committee's inaugural meeting will take place next Friday and Saturday (November 10th and 11th) in Essen. As with the Synodal Path, the sponsors are the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), both of which theoretically send 27 delegates; There are also 20 others who were elected by the general assembly of the Synodal Path. In an interview, ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp explains what can be expected from the committee, what the current open questions are - and what influence the results of the World Synod may have on the work.

Question: Ms. Stetter-Karp, how many bishops do you expect at the first meeting of the Synodal Committee? The four who voted against financing via the VDD probably won't come - Bishop Oster definitely won't.

Stetter-Karp: First of all, I expect binding participation from everyone, at least from those who did not vote against joint financing. If there are fewer, I would want to look at the reasons for those who don't come. But how many there really are is a question that the Bishops' Conference must answer. I can only say that all 27 ZdK delegates have confirmed their attendance.

Question: There are or were a few other question marks in advance, for example regarding financing. Can you say something about the current situation?

Stetter-Karp: Please ask the DBK this question too. We assume that we know the current status, but the bishops' conference is responsible. She also conveyed to us early on that she saw herself as responsible.

Question: What are your basic expectations of the work in the Synodal Committee?

Stetter-Karp: We as ZdK expect the consistent continuation of the Synodal Path with its five synodal assemblies. The resolutions made there, with the approval of a two-thirds episcopal majority, now form the basis of the work. I expect that we will pick up the pace together. From a layperson's perspective, the period from March to now was rather critical. We would have liked more speed and decisiveness in the implementation of individual action texts, but also in the question of how the working groups are set up. All I can say about the ZdK's attitude is that we will not let up - on the one hand in our responsibility for the people and on the other hand for the church. In this respect, I rely on the Synodal Committee to make decisions.

Question: If we now take a look ahead: What will the first meeting specifically be about?

Stetter-Karp: The Synodal Committee will first discuss the body's statutes and rules of procedure. This includes several relevant questions. These discussions and decisions will certainly be the focus of the constituent meeting. And then we have to see that we build the agenda for the work step by step. Now it's all about the framework of how we should work.

"The period from March to now was rather critical from the layperson's point of view. We would have liked more speed and decisiveness in the implementation of individual action texts, but also in the question of how the working groups are set up," says Irme Stetter-Karp about the period after the fifth and final general assembly of the Synodal Path in Frankfurt.

Question: There were certainly conflicts about the statutes on the Synodal Path. Are you expecting them now too?

Stetter-Karp: There are questions that will not be easy to clarify. I would first mention two points: There will have to be a decision as to whether the committee meets publicly or not - and if so, how exactly. We in the ZdK - like the DBK - also see a difference between the synodal assemblies of the past three years and this synodal committee, which is a body in a transitional phase. But among the ZdK delegates we agree that we want to continue the good experience of the public meeting. From our point of view, the media support was productive, and that is why we will also wrestle with the issue of publicity within the statutes.

Question: For practical reasons alone, wouldn't it have been better to decide this before the first meeting?

Stetter-Karp: We also asked ourselves this question in the executive committee. But in the end the decision was made that we – Bishop Bätzing and I as the two presidents – did not want to anticipate the committee here, even if we made our respective positions visible. That's why there will definitely be press releases at the beginning and end of the first meeting and an overall communication of the results to the outside world.

Question: You mentioned two potentially critical issues. What is the other thing?

Stetter-Karp: That is the question of what majorities the Synodal Committee needs in order to effectively make a decision. I had already made my position public on this question after the fifth synodal assembly. The overall attitude of the ZdK Presidium is: We no longer want a special quorum of a two-thirds majority of bishops. What we can certainly imagine is that a two-thirds majority is needed to ensure that the decisions are not made too “easy”. That would be a viable option for us – and we will fight for that too.

Question: In the Synodal Path, the bishops insisted on a blocking minority of one third. So I could imagine that it wouldn't go over so well with them if you wanted to "take it away" from them...

Stetter-Karp: That may be so. But we made decisions together that we derived from the experiences of the MHG study. It's about the systemic causes of abuse, and this also includes the issue of power and separation of powers. In addition, the Synodal Committee should be a transitional body. For him it is not about dogmatic decisions, but essentially about the question of how we work.

Question: We have now discussed possible difficulties with the statutes. Do you also expect content-related conflicts during the deliberations in the Synodal Committee? The biggest critics or skeptics were either not elected among the 20 other delegates or had already left the episcopal side in advance.

Stetter-Karp: I don't know whether you can really say that there are no longer any skeptical thinkers on board among the bishops. Skepticism is not bad per se, but rather a prerequisite for making real progress in terms of content. As for our 27 ZdK delegates, this will be a determined group within the committee. And the 20 other delegates were elected by the Synodal Assembly - with a clear view of who might be suitable for working in the committee. That's why I don't expect the debates to be softer, but rather assume that we will - I have used the word "wrestle" a few times - actually negotiate individual questions properly.

“As for our 27 ZdK delegates, this will be a determined group within the committee. And the 20 other delegates were elected by the Synodal Assembly – with a clear view of who might be suitable for working in the committee.”

— Quote: Irme Stetter-Karp on her expectations of the debates in the Synodal Committee

Question: What lessons did you generally learn from the meetings in Frankfurt for the discussions at the Synodal Committee?

Stetter-Karp: I think that the basic seating arrangement, i.e. according to alphabet and not according to office, was a good prerequisite for starting a conversation with one another. The second is the mixture of non-public work in the forums and the public working methods of the synodal assembly. Looking back, I see this as a good decision that was made at the time. That is one reason why we as ZdK say that we want to work publicly in the plenum in the Synodal Committee. There will certainly also be commissions that prepare - in my opinion there is no need for publicity.

Question: The Synodal Committee begins almost two weeks after the end of the first part of the World Synod. Its methodology in particular - keyword round tables - was praised by many participants and described by some as more "synodal" than the Synodal Path because there was more opportunity for genuine dialogue. Do you want to be inspired by this in the Synodal Committee?

Stetter-Karp: As far as the lavish time is concerned, certainly not, because it's simply not our style. I can't imagine that we plan in such a way that, to put it bluntly, we just listen for a week - and then another week. We left no doubt in Frankfurt that we would work in a dialogue-oriented manner. We exhausted all possibilities so that all delegates could participate. In this respect, I don't see that we urgently need to learn anything from the World Synod's way of working. But of course we think it's good that there were round tables in the Synod Hall in the Vatican. They are a completely different setting than before, when the synod members sat in a “lecture hall”.

Question: The deliberations in Rome ended with some suggestions that sounded good to German ears. Will these results have an impact on upcoming decisions in the Synodal Committee?

Stetter-Karp: The World Synod is such a big event for the Roman Catholic Church that, as part of this world church, we naturally watched and listened to it. In any case, I see that the idea that the issues we are negotiating are special issues for the divisive Germans is off the table. I believe that the question of diversity in the Catholic Church and what scope the local churches should have in a common corridor has become visible because it has been provided with examples from all continents.

Question: The fundamental questions still remain: The criticism from Rome of the Synodal Council, which is supposed to emerge from the Synodal Committee, has not stopped. Is the Synodal Committee conceivable as a “permanent status,” at least for the time being?

Stetter-Karp: This is unimaginable for the ZdK. Our idea is that the Synodal Committee is only a transitional body. After that, a Synodal Council is needed. One can perhaps argue about the term. We are not dogmatically concerned with the word Synodal Council. But it is about finding a consistent form in which bishops and lay people, i.e. the office and people of God together, not only advise but also decide. This is the brand essence that we are looking for to perpetuate. Personally, I think “Synodal Council” would be a worthy name for it.

Question: Would the path be open for those bishops who are currently refusing to participate to step in at some point?

Stetter-Karp: Any time. This is the right that all local bishops have. It strengthens us on the path that lies ahead of us when they are all there.


Cathcon:  When they said there was no German Special Path, they lied and knew they were as well.


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