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Critics of the process under way in Germany, which is officially called the Synodal Path, say that proponents of change there are flouting the pope’s authority by challenging teachings of which he is the chief custodian. But German progressives deny any intention to break with Rome and insist they are taking their cues from the pope himself, who has encouraged free discussion of sensitive topics that were taboo under his conservative predecessors.

The synod originated as a response to a 2018 report commissioned by Germany’s bishops on the clerical sex-abuse crisis, which called for a more positive attitude to homosexuality and for rethinking priestly celibacy and the church’s power structure. Organizers expanded the agenda to address the role of women.

People on both sides agree that the pope is now trying to restrain the progressive movement in Germany, disappointing many who cheered him earlier in his reign. “Pope Francis has recognized that the unity of the church is very fragile, so he has to maintain unity and he has to say on some questions ‘stop’ to the church in Germany,” said Helmut Hoping, a professor of theology at the University of Freiburg.

“The genie is out of the bottle, and he has to hold it back, maybe not to put it back in the bottle but to hold it, to avoid exaggeration or riot or revolution,” said Joachim Frank, a journalist who is taking part in the German synod.

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