The masks are coming off in Germany

The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) is openly showing its true strategy in the battle for the declared goal of completely disempowering the bishops in the long term.


Finally, the ZdK (Central Committee of German Catholics) is openly showing its true strategy: the gloves have come off in the battle for their declared goal of completely disempowering the bishops in the long term. They insist on all resolutions being implemented, they are furious, and they also want to take away the veto right for the bishops in the newly devised Synodal Committee.

A German proverb says that children and drunks always tell the truth. In view of the church-internal tug-of-war for power, money and positions within the Catholic Church, by now one might add: frustrated functionaries of German associational Catholicism do the same.

One can only be grateful that the hypocrisy of the much-cited yet merely feigned “synodality” has ceased and that now – after the end of the first phase of the Synodal Way – the honesty that was sorely lacking there is finally taking hold. Now the masks of the protagonists are dropping all the more noticeably.

Sisterly togetherness

In Christian contexts it is not a new phenomenon that for all the “Christian togetherness” being flaunted, for all the brotherliness, and, of course, more recently, for all the gender-appropriate sisterliness, no one speaks his or her mind, especially if the topics are difficult to negotiate or even unpleasant. After all, who likes to voluntarily give up power or admit guilt?

In the secular or even political sphere, but also in free enterprise, you can speak your mind if you consider someone incompetent or deceitful, but here you still have to maintain the appearance of being Christian, even though the camps quite often despise each other abysmally.

The only thing new about the Synodal Way may have been the at times openly visible human perfidy during the deliberations of the plenary sessions. Even over the live-stream screens, the climate of fear among those who emboldened themselves not to vote in line with the organized majority of the Central Committee of German Catholics – and who were regularly verbally punished for it on the open stage – was sometimes almost palpable. When even seasoned men like Bishop Oster have to defend themselves against accusations of “misanthropy” because they view factual theological issues differently from the majority in the room, when auxiliary bishop Steinhäuser openly admits: “I have been afraid for months”, while chairwoman Irme-Stetter Karp on camera acknowledges a lost vote with threats and outbursts of tears, what is being demonstrated is not synodality, but emotional blackmail.

There was never any freedom of opinion or any open discourse. Honesty occurred rather involuntarily – for example, when Bishop Georg Bätzing, in September 2022, after that very same lost vote on the basic text on sexual morality, bluntly said on camera that he would implement the content of the text in his diocese regardless and present it in Rome, too. You can’t formulate an “I don’t care what you decide here, I’ll do what I want anyway” in a more cultivated fashion.

The wind of change does not blow

This past weekend [May 5-6], the two-day plenary assembly of the Central Committee of German Catholics took place in Munich, and chairwoman Irme Stetter-Karp was raging in Rumpelstiltskin fashion about the “absolutist system of power” which must come to an end, about men “cementing” their power, and besides that, she was “furious” about the negative reactions of bishops and cardinals of the Curia regarding the progressive decisions of the German reform dialogue. Was she ever not angry in the course of this process?

There was also the recurring alliteration of “Wind des Wandels” (Wind of Change) that must “blow into the last corners of this encrusted system”, so that for a moment one had to be afraid the Scorpions would suddenly appear on screen, in a comeback in front of a Vatican wall backdrop, to spontaneously intonate the “Wind of Change.”

Implement now!

Really interesting and revealing, however, was something entirely different. Stetter-Karp emphasized that she “insisted” on the decisions of the Synodal Way being implemented “in all German dioceses.”

This is interesting in the sense that it blatantly contradicts not only the statutes of the Synodal Way, but also the constant assurances of the ZdK and the German Bishops’ Conference to the universal Church, and especially to the Vatican, that all resolutions of the Synodal Way are non-binding under canon law and do not oblige anyone – including a bishop – to implement them.

It is worth recalling the wording from Article 11, paragraph 5 of the statutes:

Resolutions of the Synodal Assembly do not of themselves have legal effect. The authority of the Bishops’ Conference and of the individual diocesan bishops to issue legal norms and exercise their magisterium within the scope of their respective competence remains unaffected by the resolutions.

Now the Synodal Way wants to hear no more of it and instead denounces those dioceses that simply take the statutes literally.

So it seems a bit strange when the ZdK vice-president Thomas Söding remarks, “We adhere to the common resolutions.” With all due respect, perhaps he should then no longer bother all those bishops and Catholics who are treating the canonical nullum of the Synodal Way exactly as what it always has been: a serving suggestion without legal consequence. Anything else would amount to the demand that bishops, without any legal basis, submit themselves to a “self-commitment” after all; something that the Synodal Way even tried to enforce, albeit unsuccessfully, as a resolution not only for bishops but for all priests in Germany. Even Cardinal Walter Kasper had called this attempted scheme of “self-commitment” a “rotten trick” and warned that it would plunge the Church into an even greater crisis.

Canonical nullum

Critics of the Synodal Way have criticized the paradox of this construct from the beginning. For just as long, the Synodalists ignored the objections or refused to acknowledge them. In the implementation phase, which the Synodal Way has now entered, the entire problem becomes apparent: with this process, the driving forces behind the Synodal Way promised its members something that under canon law could not be implemented, and they knew it, too. Strictly speaking, all synod members knew it too, at least those who can read. But they were also willingly blinded by their own enthusiasm, by infantile insistence on getting their own way, but also by the hope for sensational reforms, fomented by leading bishops of the Bishops’ Conference, who now cannot deliver.

Instead, they are now reaping the frustration of those officials who are wondering why on earth they spent three years painstakingly working on their reform wishes if none of all this will be implemented, anyway. Bishop Bätzing had simply promised them too much and is currently caught between the fronts of those who criticize him for going too far and those who criticize him for not going far enough.

Rome rescinds all resolutions

At the same time, he, too, has to watch one German resolution after the other being rescinded by Rome, and this because of the problem mentioned above: there is no German Catholic Church that could organize itself independently in doctrine and structure apart from the universal World Church: there are only German Catholics. One cannot simply assign ecclesiastical decisions to an arbitrarily thrown together body – and yes, that is what the Plenary Assembly of the Synodal Way was, and what the recently elected Synodal Committee, that will eventually concoct the equally arbitrary Synodal Council, now is – and thus suspend the rules of the universal Church. The facade of the German “Separate Way” has been blown down by the “Wind of Rome.”

Preaching by women and baptism by laymen have already been rejected, and the right to a say in the election of bishops was also refused. The installation of a Synodal Council was already vetoed in January, but the proponents continue undaunted, here, too, with the constant affirmation towards Rome that they wish to remain within canon law. Now, if that is really the case, they should already at this point communicate to all officials that the committee, too, as well as the desired council, can never be a construct in which bishops are overruled by laymen, because that would be a break with canon law. The old Highlander wisdom holds true in the Catholic realm as well: There can be only one – and that is the bishop. There is no democracy in doctrine: there are offices and obedience.

And we outvote them yet

The fact that the lay organization is well aware of the problem of its own impotence and has improved its strategy now becomes apparent in a further demand on the part of the ZdK.

The rules of procedure of the Synodal Committee are now to be designed in such a way that the bishops no longer have the right to veto and can be outvoted. Until now, for a resolution to be valid, a two-thirds majority was needed among the bishops, apart from the simple majority of the plenum. Now there is to be no more blocking minority on the part of the bishops.

This is now “no longer acceptable,” Stetter-Karp emphasized. What she herself wants to abolish as a “painful learning experience” of the Synodal Way, was in reality the only and last hurdle by which a minority of the bishops could still prevent the worst.

Besides, we must not forget that in the composition of the Synodal Committee the bishops are already in a minority anyway, because only the diocesan bishops, but not the auxiliary bishops, are obligatorily appointed, some bishop offices are currently vacant, and it will be altogether interesting to see which bishops are going to participate, since they do not have to. Currently, 27 bishops are on the list of participants, so the remaining 47 members of the committee, elected from the ranks of the ZdK and by the plenary assembly of the Synodal Way, already have a structural majority from the start. Only through a veto right would the bishops have any say at all – and precisely that is what the key players now want to nip in the bud.

The repetition of a nullum

We remember: only once in the Synodal Way proceedings, in the vote on the basic text on sexual morality, did this blocking minority of the bishops come about at all. After that, all “dissenters” were verbally pilloried in the plenary assembly in September 2023 and, as renowned canon lawyers clearly confirm, by no longer allowing secret ballots even the rules of procedure and the statutes of the Synodal Way were bent. After all, it was important to see who was not on board! It is obvious that the ZdK now wants to ensure that bishops can no longer interfere.

At the same time, the canonical paradox naturally remains in the planned Synodal Committee as well: Wonderfully phrased, it says that the “resolutions of the Committee have the same legal effect as the resolutions of the Synodal Way”, see Article 11, paragraph 5 as already mentioned above – namely none at all! It is the repetition of a nullum, and one might already draft the frustrated press statements that are going be spoken into the T.V. cameras with choked voices three years from now, when after three more years of committee meetings and a few more millions of church tax funds spent, one realizes yet again that the resolutions of the committee will be just as little implemented as the resolutions of the Synodal Way are now. And as yet, we have not even talked about the potential decision-making power of a Synodal Council to be installed…

More questions than answers

Now the Synodal Way proponents won’t even take the chance of bishops still being able to refuse or withdraw. In a committee of ZdK and bishops, changes to the rules of procedure for the work of the Synodal Committee are to be worked out. Here, too, more questions than answers arise:

Exactly who by what right is now going to decide on new rules of procedure for the Synodal Committee? Why should these rules of procedure be different from those of the Synodal Way? Especially since some decisions from the Synodal Way that could not yet be clarified are now to be further negotiated or finally voted on there. In a different composition and with new rules of procedure?

Will the secret ballot be thrown out of the rules altogether, and will bishops go along with a constitution in which they disempower themselves? May a bishop refuse the power of his ordained ministry at all, or must he not resign rather than arbitrarily submit to secular rules of separation of powers?

And last but not least: Can a committee, whose own decisions are explicitly non-binding under canon law, nevertheless install a council that is supposed to then make them binding? This is almost absurd.

Can a committee, in which not even all of Germany’s bishops will participate, and of which Rome even says that there is no obligation for bishops to participate in it, conceive anything at all that is intended to be binding for the absent bishops, regardless?

Simple logical questions for those who have even traces of legal or canonical background remain unanswered. The only thing that is clear here is that the next statutes will leave even less room for those who do not march along unconditionally. It is not to be expected that all members of the new committee even know what they are getting into, not to mention them seeing through the legal quibbles.

Nobody intends to go a German “separate way”

In any case, the timing of the Synodal Way’s executive board is clever, even if it is, of course, very transparent: with November 2023, the kick-off for the much-criticized Synodal Committee has been deliberately set far back in the year to a date after the World Synod in Rome in October. Clever, because this way they lie low, and while drawing the least possible attention, they can cover up the massive disputes and demands from the ranks of the ZdK at home. The order of the day is: “Keep calm” so as not to spook the horses in the World Church and in the Vatican.

In Rome, the Germans can thereby keep up the Synodal Potemkin village that, after all, nothing has been decided yet, and that they are primarily looking for a peaceful dialogue. How tirelessly they are learning synodality! And this council they are planning will of course have merely advisory function, as it says in the statutes: non-binding under canon law, only divisive elements are constantly talking about schism. Were we not already told in January that Rome had simply misunderstood this? Nobody intends to go a German “separate way”. Except, of course, Irme Stetter-Karp. She is a little angry. My goodness, the women…!

In Rome, critical questions from the Universal Church can be evaded with this kind of talk; after all, nobody wants a German “separate way”, and of course, so the Synodalists say, they will never conceive a council that overrules the bishops.

Illusion also for those at home

Clever also, because meanwhile, for the reform pushers at home, the Synodalists can maintain the illusion that they will stand up for the overdue reforms in Rome, such as the blessings of same-sex couples and the women’s priesthood. Didn’t Bishop Bätzing just say at a public lecture that “women should have access to sacramental offices in the future” and that one of the “many homework tasks” that need to be completed now is the “changing of Catholic moral teaching so that it reflects diversity”? Which, he says, means acknowledging sexual orientations and identities and eliminating “taboos, especially regarding homosexuality.” Of course, he continues, the German church cannot solve all this on its own, but Pope Francis knows “very well where he opens doors that no one can afterwards close.”

Already after the continental synod in Prague in March 2023, the Synodalists had boasted of having numerous fellow combatants from other countries, even if those can be counted on one hand. For the time being, all those who are chomping at the bit were supposed to be put off by that until later.

Since no meetings of the Synodal Committee will take place until November, which also means that no live transmissions, press conferences or even unauthorized statements and demands of the queer “Junge Wilde” will be blasted through the world-wide-web, nobody then has to explain, allay or deny anything in Rome either.

No money for nothing

But apart from the completely unclear legitimacy of the work of such a Synodal Committee or even the conception of a council system for the German Catholics, the ZdK and also Bishop Bätzing still have another entirely profane problem: the money. It has not yet been approved with certainty and everything seems to point to a power struggle behind the scenes.

This past weekend, the ZdK secretary general Marc Frings had to concede that financing for the Committee’s work is not at all certain yet. After the last plenary assembly, the spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference, Matthias Kopp, had said that 2.5 million euros annually had been budgeted just as before, but they have probably not been approved. That, in turn, falls within the decision-making authority of the Association of German Dioceses (VDD), where all those funds must be approved by the bishops that are traditionally financed jointly by all dioceses, because they are also jointly agreed upon. Or not.

This unity does not seem to exist. The culprits are identified by Stetter-Karp, too, although not by name, but nevertheless factually, by noting that in recent months a minority among the German bishops had expressed “that they have fundamental questions of legitimacy about the path they have taken,” which alludes to those 5 bishops who had already received the “absolution” from Rome that they had no obligation to participate in this process.

No right in the wrong

Furthermore, on April 5, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer had demanded in a letter to the ZdK presidents and fellow bishop Georg Bätzing that a decision within the Bishops’ Conference was necessary for the start of the work of the Synodal Committee and that the vote on the Synodal Way was no substitute for this. The letter contains a notice that the VDD is to discuss the budget on April 24. Since there is apparently no secured funding to date, at the beginning of May, one may assume that some bishops continue to oppose a unanimous vote.

And, strictly speaking, they are quite right: why should they use the money of their dioceses to finance a committee in which they do not want to participate and do not have to participate, as a letter from the Pope himself attests to them?

Why should they finance a committee whose central task is supposed to be the creation of a council whose installation the Pope has also forbidden in that same letter?

Why then should they, with the money from all our church taxes, finance a committee that in terms of canon law is even shakier than the Synodal Way already was, and which has declared it its task to harass with public pressure all those bishops who will not “voluntarily” comply with its resolutions? As a bishop, one would have to be masochistically inclined to take a seat in such a hysterical panel yet again.

There is no right life in the wrong one, as the philosopher Theodor Adorno once put it. Analogously, there is also no right committee in the wrong law.

(Editor’s note: This essay was posted originally in German in slightly different format on the Neuer Anfang site and was translated for CWR by Frank Nitsche-Robinson.)

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About Birgit Kelle 3 Articles
Birgit Kelle, German journalist and bestselling author born in Romania in 1975, since 1984 citizen of Germany, takes on the disturbing orthodoxies of the day in her widely discussed books, columns and TV appearances. Kelle has written extensively for German, Austrian, and Swiss publications, focusing on feminism, gender criticism, identity politics, bioethics, and motherhood. She is the author of the German-language bestsellers including Gendergaga (2015) and has contributed to several essay collections. The mother of four heads up the women’s NGO “Frau 2000plus e.V.” and contributed as an expert in several panels and in front of parliamentary committees. She is spokesperson of the German Catholic lay initiative New Beginning. Her work has made her one of the LGBT lobby’s most hated journalists in her home country. She considers that a badge of honor.


  1. The difference between the whole Church an a [c]hurch in a hole is the difference between praying cardinals and birds of prey,
    The difference between the French Assembly of 1789-91 and the new Synodal Way Committee is heads on the platter. Oh, wait, what?
    The difference between the perennial Church and synodal mobocracy (certainly the Church is neither a “democracy” nor an NGO) is the difference between the traditional FISH symbol and a mutated Stutter-Carp…

    The universal adage attributed to many sources (China, Russia, Poland, England, Greece and so on): “a fish rots from the head down.”
    So, as for the Synod on Synodality in October 2023, why is the ZdK & Co.(a “non-synod”) possibly on the synod invitation list, as already a speaker (!) at the synodal European Continental Assembly? (“Aggregated, compiled, and synthesized!”).

  2. Ms Kelle [Birgit Kelle is certainly Germanic, not Romanian. Historically during the Austro Hungarian Empire there were German settlements that likely existed prior to the Empire] zeros in on the dictatorial ZdK backed Synodale Weg. Leftists with their absolutist agenda will do that. Ironically, they dispute moral absolutes and the permanence of any truth, and will uphold standards that are uncompromising. Absolutes.
    The linchpin issue, “Pope Francis knows very well where he opens doors that no one can afterwards close” (‘Herr’ Bätzing – uncertain if he canonically qualifies as a bishop). What’s nevertheless amazing is that they formed a committee to pressure ‘dissident’ faithful bishops to roll over like dumb sheep. This they cannot do. If Francis won’t step in and justly censure, even excommunicate the resistant Bätzing supporters perhaps revealing his hand in all this – the bishops have a duty to resist as an expression of their faith in Christ. Regardless whether Francis remains silent, or even, perhaps especially if he supports the ‘committee’ of moral barbarians.

  3. Does CWR offer a German-language edition?

    I only ask because the developments described in this article have been regularly predicted, derided and deplored in CWR comments for many months.

    Could we all have foreseen this incredible fiasco?

    It’s almost like we’re psychotic!

  4. The masks to hide the anti-Catholic schismatic agendas were always there. What happened is that the masks changed from happy, idealistic and friendly to nasty, ugly, aggressive and fierce. The first set of masks were to cause delusion of an all-inclusive disneyland church. The second set of masks is to impose by emotional blackmail the dictatorial church being pushed by the pedophile predator synod from Hell. If homosexuals can be blessed in their sin and power-hungry women can be priests, Satan can be pope.

    • “If homosexuals can be blessed in their sin and power-hungry women can be priests, Satan can be pope.”

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