German Catholic bishops fail to update teachings on sex after clash with Pope Francis

By | September 10, 2022

After months of controversy, progressive German bishops have failed to pass a document updating their teachings on sex, gender and masturbation.

The document, “Living in Successful Relationships,” was rejected by bishops. The German prelates were pressured heavily by the Vatican to abandon the proposed changes.

At the final vote, 33 bishops voted to adopt the document, 22 voted against. 

The synod requires a two-thirds majority to pass the document.

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The failure of the change to church teaching prompted emotional outbursts from some attendees of the synod. Some accused bishops of staying intentionally silent ahead of the vote. Others expressed that they felt unable to speak up while the document was debated.

Some bishops have threatened to bring the synod’s failed document to Pope Francis in Rome, refusing to give up on the drastic reforms.

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“We will take it to the level of the universal church when we are in Rome in November for the ad limina visit when we go about preparing the World Synod with the continental bishops’ conferences in January,” said Bishop Georg Bätzing.

Attempts to bring the pope into the decision are almost certainly destined to fail, however, as Pope Francis has already sternly warned the German church that adopting teachings contrary to the Catholic Church would put it in jeopardy of falling away from communion.

The pope previously expressed concern for the laity and clergy of Germany if their leaders break with established church teaching, saying Catholics would be negatively affected by the many proposed changes to the church pushed by Cardinal Reinhard Marx and other liberal German leaders in their “Synodal Path.”

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“In order to protect the freedom of the people of God and the exercise of the episcopal ministry, it would appear necessary to clarify that the ‘Synodal Way’ in Germany does not have the power to compel the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals,” the statement from the Holy See said. 

The “Synodal Path” — sometimes called the “Synodal Way” — is a controversial church committee in Germany. The synod, organized by the German Bishops’ Conference and the Central Committee of German Catholics, aims at discussing and addressing four loose topics: sexual ethics, the structure of church governance, women’s role in the church and the vocation of the priesthood.

“Prior to an agreed understanding at the level of the universal church, it would not be permissible to initiate new official structures or doctrines in the dioceses, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church,” Pope Francis warned the synod.