Catholic Church reform first up for discussion at plenary assembly

National Catholic Reporter

The German bishops’ plenary assembly began on Monday with urgent appeals for Catholic church reform and a reminder to heed admonitions from Pope Francis.

Opening the assembly, conference president Bishop Georg Bätzing called on all bishops to embrace radical change.

Visible changes are needed soon in the  German Catholic church reform project, he said. These could become a “door opener” for the pope’s worldwide synodal process which begins next month.

At the start of the Sept. 20-23 assembly, Catholic reform groups and women’s associations held demonstrations demanding rapid and fundamental reforms. This is the only way for the church to restore its credibility, they warned.

Bätzing called on his fellow bishops to agree radical changes are needed in the way they work and in their understanding of their ministry.

In his sermon at the opening service, he criticized the preparations some bishops made for the Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Synodal Assembly.

That Assembly contributes to the Synodal Path, which is attempting to revitalize the church and restore trust following the church investigation and exposure of six decades and thousands of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

Bätzing said for the upcoming controversial reform debates, “the spirit and courage for a turnaround” were needed.

He reportedly went on to say said that without a genuine turnaround, the bishops would fail to do justice to the impact of the abuse scandal and the drama of Germany’s increasing secularization.

For many people in a liberal society, the bishops’ behavior so far was a reason to reject the church’s offer of redemption “as presumptuous and encroaching and obsolete in view of the abuse.”

Bätzing also told the bishops they bear considerable responsibility that the message of the Gospel they proclaim is no longer understood.

Also at the plenary assembly is Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, the pope’s ambassador to Germany.

He repeatedly urged the bishops to preserve church unity and to follow the pope’s directives.

While Bätzing called for speedy reform, Eterovic stepped on the brakes.

He recalled the pope saying it was not bad will that drove many German bishops, but “a pastoral desire” that did not take into account some necessary papal directives.

A church community that tries to solve its problems on its own, relying only on its own strengths, its own methods and its own intelligence, could end up worsening the situation, he warned.

This does not mean “not moving forward, not changing anything and maybe not even debating and disagreeing,” so long as German Catholics remain “firmly united in the unity of the Catholic Church” without compromising “the truths of Christian doctrine.”

Eterovic’s remarks reportedly allude to the Synodal Path, in which bishops and laypeople are debating controversial issues such as Catholic sexual morality or the role of women in the church.

Bätzing said despite there being significant differences between some bishops views on reform, the reform dialogue must quickly deliver visible change. This way the church in Germany could contribute its experience to the forthcoming worldwide synodal process.


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