ROME (AP) – Top Vatican cardinals on Friday tried to slow down the German Catholic Church’s controversial reform process, fearing proposals on gays, women and sexual morals would divide the church and insisting they should be better discussed later would.
The Vatican and the German Bishops’ Conference issued a joint statement after a week of meetings that culminated in an unusual summit between the 62 German bishops and top Vatican officials, including State Secretary No. 2, the Head of the Episcopate and the Head of the Magisterium.
The pope, who met separately with the German bishops on Thursday, was originally supposed to attend Friday’s summit but didn’t, leaving his cardinals to heed the Vatican line.
The German church has embarked on a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sex abuse scandals after a 2018 report found that at least 3,677 people were sexually abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the exercise of power that “encouraged the sexual abuse of minors or made it more difficult to prevent it.”
Preparatory assemblies have already approved calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women to deacons. There have also been calls for church labor laws to be revised so that homosexual employees are not at risk of being fired.
Germany’s “synodal path” has sparked fierce opposition within Germany and beyond, particularly from conservatives who oppose opening a debate on such hot issues and warn that if the German reforms are adopted in the final stages, they will could lead to a schism.
Such warnings were reiterated by Vatican Cardinals Marc Ouellet, in charge of bishops, and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, in charge of doctrine, at Friday’s meeting.
According to the joint statement, they “spoke with frankness and clarity about the concerns and reservations about the methodology, content and proposals of the Synodal Way and proposed, in the interest of the unity of the Church,” to deal with them at a later date. The worldwide Catholic Church is addressing such issues in a universal way in the next year.
The statement said a “moratorium” had been proposed but rejected.
Francis has since launched a global “synodal pathway” that involves soliciting input from lay Catholics around the world that reflects many of the same issues as the German process, including the role of women in the Church and homosexuality. But there is no indication that the world church is willing to go as far as the German church to push for change.
For his part, Francis has personally intervened in the German process and recently referred to a 2019 letter he wrote to German believers summarizing everything he had to say on the matter. In this letter, Francis offered support for the process but warned church leaders not to succumb to the temptation of change to conform to specific groups or ideas.
For his part, Bishop Georg Baetzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, detailed the work done so far, stressing that it is based on listening “to the people of God and the pain of the abuses perpetrated by clergymen,” the statement said.
Bätzing is scheduled to hold a press conference on Saturday.