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Critics challenge German Synodal Way in light of abuse study

The cross of the German “Synodal Way.” / Credit: Maximilian von Lachner/Synodaler Weg

CNA Newsroom, Jan 30, 2024 / 10:52 am (CNA).

In light of a Protestant abuse study unveiled in Germany, a Catholic lay group has called into doubt the “persistent narrative of the Synodal Way attributing systemic causes of abuse to specifically Catholic factors.”

Published on Jan. 25, the ForuM study identified 1,259 accused individuals and 2,174 survivors of abuse since 1946 within the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), according to a report by CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. This study’s findings starkly contrast with the claims of an “alleged Catholic-specific dimension of sexual abuse,” stated “Neuer Anfang,” a German lay group critical of the Synodal Way.

The German Synodal Way, which voted for women’s ordination and transgender ideology, among other issues, linked its resolutions to the MHG Study, an investigation of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany.

However, Neuer Anfang has stated that “critics have consistently challenged the scientific validity of such a connection.” As CNA Deutsch reported, a noted medical expert also raised concerns in this context.

‘No monocausal connection’

Following the publication of the Protestant study last week, abuse expert Father Hans Zollner told German agency KNA: “There is no monocausal connection between certain church structures and abuse; it is much more complex.”

Zollner was part of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children until 2023 and headed the Institute of Anthropology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

The abuse expert said, according to CNA Deutsch, it was “certainly not wrong to think about what has facilitated sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and hindered clarification and how this should be changed.” However, he warned, “it is too short-sighted to think that married priests or more women in the leadership of the Church would in themselves prevent abuse.”

Neuer Anfang emphasized the presence of systemic causes of sexual abuse that transcend denominational boundaries, such as power imbalances, unclear role patterns, and the potential for manipulation in asymmetrical relationships. 

“These structural factors, which are conducive to abuse, are not unique to the Catholic Church or any single denomination. They are cross-institutional, prevalent wherever children and young people are involved — in churches of all denominations, as well as in sports and educational settings.”

Democracy and synodality

The German bishops will debate the Synodal Way in their next plenary assembly in Augsburg from Feb. 19–22. This meeting is expected to be a critical juncture, as the bishops will vote on a committee with the goal of introducing a permanent Synodal Council to oversee the Church in Germany. 

Ahead of the gathering, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, the German bishops’ conference president, wrote that the Church must “look for suitable meeting formats and participation procedures” that “enable as many people as possible to be seriously involved in consultations and decisions,” CNA Deutsch reported.

In this context, Bätzing wrote, modern democracy, with its recognition of human dignity and the separation of powers, the welfare state, and rule of law, should not “give rise to fears in the Church.” 

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