Head of German bishops calls for courageous change in Church, society

Bishop Georg Bätzing, right, president of the German bishops' conference, is pictured with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the annual St. Michael's reception in Berlin Sept. 27, 2021. Also pictured is Father Karl Jüsten, an official of the German bishops' Conference. In an address at the conference, Bishop Bätzing criticized the Vatican's stance of refusing blessings for same-sex couples and the way it has dealt with German bishops embroiled in covering up sexual abuse in their dioceses. His speech was delivered in the presence of some 200 faith representatives and politicians. (CNS photo/Fabian Sommer, KNA pool)

BERLIN (CNS) – As German Catholics prepare for their second Synodal Assembly, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of German bishops’ conference, called for courageous change in Church and society.

He spoke of a “turning point” and a “creeping loss of relevance” of the Catholic Church, and criticised the Vatican’s stance on refusing the blessings for same-sex couples and the way it dealt with German bishops embroiled in covering up sexual abuse in their dioceses.

At the annual St Michael’s reception on September 27, he told 200 politicians and guests from faith communities that many people found it difficult to understand Pope Francis’ decisions to keep the archbishops of Cologne and Hamburg in office, after reports found that they covered up sexual abuse by clergy.

“I do not want to go into details here, but I would like to emphasise that there is considerable uncertainty, irritation and lack of understanding. My concern is that this will once again have a negative impact on Church loyalty and Church solidarity,” the bishop said in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A September 24 statement from the German bishops’ conference said Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne has “made major mistakes in his approach to the issue of coming to terms with abuse overall, especially at the level of communication”. However, it said, a Vatican investigation found he did nothing illegal in his handling of clerical sex abuse allegations, and after a long conversation, Pope Francis granted the cardinal a sabbatical from mid-October until March 1.

Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hesse has been accused of 11 breaches of duty in dealing with sexual abuse, in his former post as head of personnel in the Archdiocese of Cologne. In March, he offered his resignation to the Pope, who instead granted him a leave of absence.

Bishop Bätzing started his speech by quoting Father Tomáš Halík, a Czech theologian, who wrote, “The great ship of yesterday’s traditional Christianity is sinking to the bottom, and we should not waste time pushing the deck chairs back and forth on the Titanic. If anyone thinks that the current storms surrounding sexual abuse will pass and everything will go back to the way it was before, they are mistaken.”

Bishop Bätzing spoke of outer and inner disruptions in the Church.

“These sociologically tangible phenomena of massive upheaval correspond to a fundamental disturbance of trust toward the Church and Church activity that cannot be described in any other way than as an inner disruption,” he said.

“The findings on the extent of sexual and spiritual abuse in the Catholic Church have led to a profound loss of trust in large parts of the population,” he added.

The bishop said the Catholic Church is diversifying, but it is doing so at very different speeds.

“While, for example, comprehensive reforms and changes are demanded within the framework of the Synodal Path, there are admonishing words or clarifications from the Roman Curia on questions that are considered to have been answered long ago in our enlightened and freedom-loving society, and which thus increase the difficulty for many believers and many pastors of arguing the case.”

The Second Assembly of the German Synodal Path, the highest body in the reform project launched in January, 2020, will meet in Frankfurt from September 30 – October 2. The 230-member assembly will discuss and vote on 16 input papers on topics such as power and separation of powers in the Church; priestly existence today; women in ministries and offices in the Church; and sexuality and morality. The topics have been discussed in smaller forums in preparation for the synod.

Bishop Bätzing is the co-chairman with Thomas Sternberg, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics.

The bishops’ conference and the lay Central Committee of German Catholics launched the Synodal Path as an attempt to revitalise the Church and restore trust following a September 2018 church-commissioned report that detailed thousands of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy over six decades.

Looking ahead to the assembly, Bishop Bätzing said the Synodal Path is “the great opportunity with which we want to give an answer to the challenges of the present”. It is essential, he said, to “reconnect the concrete conditions of life with the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Photo: Bishop Georg Bätzing, right, president of the German bishops’ conference, is pictured with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the annual St. Michael’s reception in Berlin Sept. 27, 2021. Also pictured is Father Karl Jüsten, an official of the German bishops’ Conference (CNS Photo)

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Michael Otto

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  1. Bruce Jones says

    The good Bishop fails to remember that Germany
    led the way with abortion, which has done nothing
    for his Germany, and the position on Judaeo-Christian
    birthrate, in 1875 was 5.35, nice and healthy until
    it sank in 1935 to1.77 and then in 1965 peaked
    at 2.47 and then dropped in 1995 to 1.3. Since then
    it has risen slightly, but is still terminal cancer for
    his Germany.
    Same sex marriage does NOTHING for birthrate nor
    does it do anything for children who DESERVE
    heterosexual parenting, as their RIGHT, not just
    a privilege.
    Furthermore the very presence of ABNORMALITIES
    among the clergy do nothing for the birthrate either,
    nor do they encourage proper growth in the Sacramental
    life of innocents who deserve better treatment from their
    ordained mentors. The costly lawsuits should be paid
    BY offending clergy, and the latter made to do MANUAL work
    to pay for the lawsuits. THAT would keep them honest.
    The casuistry proposed is of little interest among those who
    have since left the German Catholic church, and of
    no value to mothers who all know the problems in the economy.
    The restoring of trust is only achieved by sincere apology, and
    restitution, not by specious argumentation which is
    intended to placate the “progressive Catholic”. Furthermore
    without serious interest in an ascetical life, prayer itself
    remains at a low ebb, with a non-existent mysticism.
    Bishop Batzing would be better off quoting Cardinal Martini’s
    last interview (some time ago in NZ Catholic),
    and then take a cold hard look on what is active
    in Catholicism and what is not,
    and then speak with his assumed profundity.
    Around the globe many have already voted with their feet,
    particularly youth, who not only are the church of
    tomorrow but also family builders of the future.
    If parish life was more relevant, it would be manifest
    in the German birthrate.
    Is it?
    He might also like to re-read the comment by Pope
    St John Paul II to confidant Monsignor Longhi
    on the subject of Islam, which on current
    predictions will overcome German Catholicism purely
    on its birthrate. He has a serious problem which he
    does not appear to be facing.
    German Catholics need to advise him of his
    immediate responsibilities, if he wishes to have
    any relevance at all.

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