The Catholic World Synod deliberated for almost four weeks. For the first time, women also sat at the table with the bishops. At the end there is a joint declaration – albeit with meager results.
The meeting of the Catholic World Synod ended on Saturday in Rome without any concrete progress in terms of reforms. After almost four weeks, the approximately 360 bishops and Catholic laypeople – including women for the first time – adopted a joint declaration in the evening with a two-thirds majority, which, however, remained rather vague on controversial points. At the end on Sunday there is a big service in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The coordinator of the meeting, Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich from Luxembourg, was nevertheless satisfied: “It was obvious that some theses met with resistance. The resistance is not as great as we expected.” The World Synod – one of Pope Francis’ major reform projects – is scheduled to conclude in October 2024 – then again in Rome.
Role of women in the Catholic Church
A question that concerns many believers in particular is the role of women in the Catholic Church. Women are not allowed to become priests there. It has been discussed for a long time whether they should be admitted to a preliminary stage – the diaconate. The statement says that there are “different positions” on this issue. The synod suggested continuing theological research and presenting results “if possible” within a year.
The wording on the subject of homosexuality also remained vague. Some issues “such as those related to gender identity and sexual orientation” are controversial. When dealing with it, you have to take your time “without giving in to simple judgments”. Regarding the many abuse scandals in the Church, the synod emphasized the importance of transparency and measures to protect minors and other particularly vulnerable people. Greater external control of the bishops is also being considered.
For the first time at such a synod the bishops were no longer among themselves. They still made up the vast majority, but around 70 non-clergy were also allowed to be present, including 54 women. The fact that they sat together at round tables with equal rights with the bishops and were given just as much speaking time as the male shepherds was viewed by observers as a real improvement in the meeting.
Conservative cardinal criticizes
The conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former prefect of the highest religious authority, criticized: “In the plenary session, the bishops had far too little say. In practice, it was only possible once for three minutes.” The church does not need to adapt to the zeitgeist, Müller told the German press agency dpa.
According to surveys, the majority of believers in Germany would like a church that is more liberal when it comes to questions of sexual morality and women’s access to ordination. However, at the beginning of the deliberations, Francis warned against excessive expectations. Hollerich had also made it clear that no concrete reforms were currently being sought. Rather, Catholics should first try out new forms of communication and togetherness.
In principle, a synod in the Catholic Church only has the function of an advisory body for the Pope. The head of the Catholic Church then has sole decision-making authority like an absolute monarch. The only body that could change the church on fundamental issues would be a council like the one last convened in the 1960s. Some participants found it disappointing that the synod did not issue a statement on the Gaza war during the entire period.
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