On October 2, Bishop Georg Bätzing and Thomas Sternberg announced the extension of the controversial German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Way.” Just prior to the extension the assembly cast votes on several topics including marriage, homosexuality and the priesthood. For instance, 168 participants out of a total of 214 voted in favor of a document challenging traditional Church teaching on sexual morality. In the texts we discover a common justification for many of the controversial positions: appeal to the majority opinion. For the Germans, synodality means transforming the Church according to the zeitgeist of the time as determined by a majority vote.
In his meeting with U.S. Bishops in 2018, Pope Francis pointedly told the bishops that synodality does not mean a parliament or a democratic vote. The Germans have the synodal process backwards. They infer the will of God based on a majority vote. This bottom-up approach mimics democratic secular governments in which decisions are made based on the consent of the governed.
The Church is not a democracy. Her teachings are not the result of a majority vote based on current cultural trends. Instead, her teachings come from God. Synodality, properly understood, recognizes that the Holy Spirit works through all the Baptized, not just clerics. Hence the process listens to ideas from many sources. We judge ideas gathered through listening based on a hermeneutic of continuity with revelation and tradition. Inspired judgment in continuity with revelation and tradition, not voting, may best describe how the synodal process works.
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