The call of the synodal way for a role of the laity in the choice of bishops encounters difficulties

A resolution adopted by the German “synodal way” to give the laity a clearly defined role in the choice of bishops is proving difficult to implement.

The Archdiocese of Bamberg said last Friday that he saw no way to implement the decision because it seemed incompatible with a concordat governing the appointment of bishops.

Participants in the synodal way — a multi-year initiative bringing together bishops and selected lay people — approved a document in February entitled “Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop”.

The text called on cathedral chapters – which play an important role in the selection of German bishops – to work with an elected body representing “the whole people of God in the diocese” to determine the list of suitable candidates that the chapter send to the Vatican.

But the dioceses are bound by different rules because different German states have signed concordats with the Holy See before and after the unification of Germany in 1871.

The Archdiocese of Bamberg, which was founded in the year 1007, operates under the Bavarian Concordat from 1924. Pope Francis accepted the resignation from the head of the archdiocese, Archbishop Ludwig Schick, 73, on November 1.

Under the Bavarian Concordat, bishops and cathedral chapters submit a list of suitable candidates every three years. When a seat becomes vacant, the chapter draws up and sends another list. The Pope then selects a candidate from among the lists. The Bavarian Land Government can theoretically veto the appointment, but usually rubber stamp appointments.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese Told the official website of the German Catholic Church on November 11: “Due to the current legal situation in the dioceses subject to the Bavarian Concordat, the cathedral chapter unfortunately sees no possibility of implementing the decision of the implementing text implemented “Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop’ during the establishment of the lists”. reported that the Bamberg Cathedral Chapter supports lay involvement in principle, but believes this would require a change in the law. The chapter hoped to “explore options” with the diocesan councilsaid the archdiocese.

Bamberg is not the only German archdiocese seeking to implement the decision on the synodal way.

The Archdiocese of Paderborna central German see established in 799, formed a group of 14 lay people to work alongside 14 cathedral canons to draw up an initial list of candidates after the pope accepted his 74-year-old’s resignation . Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker October 1.

The Archdiocese of Paderborn operates under the Prussian Concordat of 1929, which gives its cathedral chapter a leading role in the choice of a new archbishop. The chapter submits its list of candidates to the pope, who returns three names. The canons choose one of the candidates as archbishop by secret ballot.

The archdiocese wants its 28-member group of lay people and canons to choose from the three names identified by the pope. But lay people could only help select an archbishop from the final three candidates if the pope extends papal secret to the whole group.

The concordat also requires that the new archbishop be elected by a majority of the members of the cathedral chapter. Therefore, the initial list of candidates drawn up by the group of 28 people would only be valid if it were explicitly approved by a majority of canons.

The text of the synodal path recognized that concordats are an obstacle to the participation of lay people in the selection of bishops. But he suggested cathedral chapters could voluntarily commit to involving lay people in the process.

“Under applicable Church law and concordats, the following forms of participation are open to the diocesan people of God: a right of co-decision in the preparation of the list of candidates and a right to be heard before the selection is made. from the list of candidates. Both of these rights can be realized through a voluntary commitment on the part of the respective cathedral chapter,” the document states.

Proponents of the change point to a recent move by Pope Francis to the Dicastery for Bishops, the Vatican department overseeing bishop appointments, arguing that innovation is possible. Pope named three women as members of the Dicastery in July.

Thomas Söding, vice-president of the influential Lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), insisted that the text of the synodal way be applied in the dioceses governed by the Bavarian Concordat.

“The decision is binding, also for Bavaria,” he said. Told the Catholic newspaper Neuen Ruhrwort.

He added that it was up to the Bamberg cathedral chapter “to find a form in which the agreed participation of the faithful is guaranteed”.

In a analysis of the situations in Bamberg and Paderborn for, editor Christoph Brüwer noted that German canon lawyers were divided on the scope of lay involvement.

He quoted George Biera canon lawyer based in Freiburg, said: “The implementing text, like much of what was decided in the deliberations of the synodal way, is presumably well-intentioned – but ultimately self-deception on the part of the participants with respect to what is legally possible and enforceable.

German bishops have clashed with the Vatican over the synodal way since the initiative began in 2019.

The Vatican in July 2022 issued a statement stating that the synodal way lacks the power “to compel bishops and the faithful to adopt new modes of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals”.

“Prior to an agreement at the level of the universal Church, it would not be permitted to initiate new structures or official doctrines in the dioceses, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church. “, said the document said.

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