Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who launched the Synodal Path alongside Cardinal Reinhard Marx, then president of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), granted an interview on Friday, December 2 to the diocesan radio of Cologne on the synodal process launched since 2019 in Germany.
The interest of this interview lies in the explanation, unveiled and in straightforward language, of the reason and especially of the method used by the designers of the German synodal process, as well as their targeted goals. An edifying speech, which will not surprise those who have carefully followed the twists and turns of this enterprise.
It should be recalled that Thomas Sternberg has been a member of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU in German) since 1974 and has been active in politics for many years at the local level. From 2005 to 2017 he was a member of the regional parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia.
He was president of the ZdK from 2015 to 2021. It should be noted that all the presidents of the ZdK, since the end of the 1960s and its change of status following the Second Vatican Council, have come from political circles. In other words, they think like politicians, even when it comes to the Church.
A Political Tactic
Mr. Sternberg does not hesitate to explain how the Synodal Path was conceived and for what reasons. And initially, he said that it was right “not to use a synodal form which would be sanctioned by ecclesiastical law and which would give the possibility of prohibiting such a thing.” This form could have taken the form of a particular or national council.
On reading the draft statutes, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts denounced them: “it is clear from the articles of the draft statutes that the Episcopal Conference intends to convene a particular council in accordance with canons 439-446, but without using this term.” Sternberg fully justifies this accusation.
The former president of the ZdK explains that, from the point of view of ecclesiastical law, the Synodal Path is “a process of non-binding discussions.” But it is only in this way can one effectively “operate freely, and even then the prefabricated critical objections that were raised in Rome fell through the cracks.”
He omits saying that the ZdK initially wanted a binding process – which appears in the draft statutes – but the bishops made him understand that that was an impassable limit, which risked blocking everything. Changing tack, the DBK and the ZdK decided on a non-binding process, but the bishops were personally committed to implementing the decisions.
Sternberg then describes the tactics they followed. He admits “that in Germany, we cannot decide on the question of the ordination of women or the abolition of celibacy.” But he adds that he is “still political enough to know that processes and developments are necessary for themes to be discussed.”
The goal is “to talk and make demands,” he explained. “It is only through pressure that you get real change,” he concludes. Thus, Mr. Sternberg admits, without embarrassment, that the process of the Synodal Path is intended to put pressure on the Church and on Rome.
An Unexpected Result
According to Thomas Sternberg, the German synodal path “has worked” with “much more success than I myself had imagined.” Thus, he is delighted with the texts adopted: the basic text on women, homosexuality in the Church, clericalism. “Basically, these questions only really erupted thanks to this Synodal Path and they are now being discussed outside of Germany.”
This is how an already-adopted text can call for a re-examination of the impossibility of ordaining women, although John Paul II declared “definitively” in 1994 that the Church “has no authority to ordain women.” Which is what Pope Francis has come to admit recently.
In addition, Catholic doctrine must be changed regarding the rejection of homosexuality based on Holy Scripture and natural law, according to another Synodal Path document, adopted by the majority by bishops.
Finally, he admits that “when one engages in a synodal process, one must also expect that one may not win,” with regard to a text which was not adopted during the synodal assembly in September, the only one to date.
One of the main protagonists in the conception and launch of the Synodal Path, calmly admits that this synod is ultimately a politically operated affair. It is a question of moving things forward by all means in order to put ever stronger pressure on Rome and on the Church, to try to obtain structural changes which only disfigure the Church and distort her, if that were possible.
After such confessions, which only confirm what was already known, but which show the deep intention of the initiators of the project, it seems difficult not to stop once and for all this enterprise which has nothing Catholic about it, in order to somewhat purify the fetid odor that it carries with it. This is a question that concerns the salvation of souls.