Shortly before the next assembly of the German “Synodal Way,” one of the founders confirmed the goal of establishing a permanent “Synodal Council.”
The move would create a permanent body to oversee the Church in Germany, according to the assembly’s schedule for Friday, Sept. 9.
Critics have drawn comparisons to communist Soviets and accused the process of reinventing existing Protestant structures.
The “Synodal Way” members will meet Sept. 8–10 for the fourth synodal assembly in Frankfurt.
CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that several texts are scheduled for a second reading and could therefore be officially adopted.
Speaking to a German online portal on Monday, Sternberg said a “Synodal Council” would be “a decisive, important continuation of the introduction of participatory structures, as it already began with the parish councils at the Würzburg Synod (1971–1975) and which is now proving increasingly urgent at the level of the bishops’ conference.”
Like others arising from the controversial German event, also known as the “Synodal Path,” the proposal has come under intense criticism.
In June, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a theologian considered close to Pope Francis, said there could be no “Synodal Council,” given Church history and theology: “Synods cannot be institutionally made permanent. The tradition of the Church does not know a synodal church government. A synodal supreme council, as is now envisaged, has no basis in the entire history of the constitution. It would not be a renewal, but an unheard-of innovation.”
Kasper has previously accused the organizers of the German “Synodal Way” of using a lazy trick that constituted a coup d’etat.
The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who was bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from 1989 to 1999, said the German process had invited comparisons to communist structures in the Soviet Union: “It was a political scientist, not a theologian, who recently expressed this notion somewhat strongly, referring to such a Synodal Council as a Supreme Soviet.”
The cardinal continued: “Soviet is an old Russian word that means exactly what we call a Rat, a council in German. Such a Supreme Soviet in the Church would obviously not be a good idea. Such a council system is not a Christian idea, but an idea coming from quite a different spirit or un-spirit. It would choke off the freedom of the Spirit, which blows where and when it wants, and destroy the structure that Christ wanted for his Church.”
Further concerns were raised by a professor of theology from the University of Vienna in June.
The dogmatist Jan-Heiner Tück warned that a German “Synodal Council” would transfer leadership authority “from sacramentally ordained persons to bodies, a conversion of power that shows a clear closeness to synodal practices in the Protestant Church in Germany.”
In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to Catholics in Germany urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.”The president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, has repeatedly rejected concerns, instead expressing disappointment in Pope Francis in May.
In an interview published one month later, in June, Pope Francis reiterated that he told Bätzing that the country already had “a very good Evangelical [Lutheran] Church” and “we don’t need two.”