German Catholics want to modernise church

Should women be able to become priests? Or should priests be able to marry? More than 200 Catholics from all over Germany are meeting today in different parts of the country to discuss these questions. For from ordinary believers to the majority of bishops, Catholics in Germany believe that the church must modernise. They call it the “Synodal Way

The reason for this desire for change is the report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany, published in 2018. It showed that between 1946 and 2014 there were at least 3,500 cases of abuse. To prevent abuse in the future, the authors of the report urged the Catholic Church to think about the balance of power within the institute.

“At that moment the bishops knew that something had to change,” says Daniele Elpers of the German Bishops’ Conference. “That’s why they want to talk to Catholics from all over the country, from all walks of life. And it won’t stop at talking. In the end, decisions really have to be made to bring about those changes.”

Four themes

Four themes were central to this. The balance of power within the church, and especially how to prevent abuse of power in the future. It is also about the sexual doctrine of the church, which in daily practice is a guideline for few Catholics. And finally it is also about the future of celibacy and the role of women in the Catholic Church.

Theodor Bolzenius of the interest group for Catholics in Germany faces the reform process, also called the Synodal Way, with confidence: “Catholics with all kinds of backgrounds participate, people who really want to enter into open conversation. And for some of the plans we are going to make, we don’t necessarily need the canonical permission of the Vatican. That gives me hope that we can make the church an institution that is much more open to the outside world”


Catholics in the Netherlands also had this wish at the end of the 1960s. Between 1968 and 1970 bishops and lay Catholics came together during the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout. There they discussed themes similar to those now on the table in Germany. At the beginning of 1970, when the Dutch bishops declared that as far as they were concerned married men could be ordained priests, Pope Paul VI let it be known that this was not the intention after all. In the years after the Council he appointed a number of conservative bishops in the Netherlands and little remained of the Dutch call for change.

The German Catholics want to have their plans definitively on paper in two years time, and then discuss them in the Vatican. Then it will become clear whether the desire for change within the Catholic Church will be heard by the Pope this time.