German Bishop Backs Proposal for ‘Ecumenical Congregations’

News: World News
by Martina Moyski  •  •  January 6, 2020   

Move toward Catholics and Protestants under one roof

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HANOVER, Germany ( - A German Catholic bishop has endorsed the proposal of his Protestant counterpart for Catholics and Protestants to worship under one roof.

Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim, known as an advocate for "a new way of thinking in the Church," has welcomed the prospect of combined Catholic and Protestant parishes in the future.

"I firmly believe that there is much more connecting than separating between the two major German churches," Wilmer said in reponse to the moves of Hanover Protestant bishop Ralf Meister to blur distinctions between the two faiths.

"As Christians, we are all called to testify and preach the gospel," said Wilmer. "How we can go together in pastoral care is a right and important question for the future. We will certainly deal with that in ecumenism."

The Evangelical-Lutheran Hanoverian bishop Meister considers parishes with Protestant and Catholic Christians under one roof to be possible in the future. "Many people no longer ask whether someone is Protestant or Catholic, but only whether they are Christian," he said in an interview with the Evangelical Press Service.

Meister said he has been thinking "creatively" about the form such ecumenical churches would take. For example, he is imagining congregations that can only be found "for a limited period of time, possibly without a pastor and church building, only with a volunteer-appointed predicant."

Other ideas include forming a "youth church" that is "designed and supported solely by young people" or a model that represents "an internationally shaped congregation." Meister also said announcements and pastoral care could also take place on social media, asking: "Isn't that already a community?"

Lutheran bishop Ralf Meister (Photo: P. Steffen)

"We could immediately take up such initiatives and provide financial support," emphasized the protestant theologian.

Many see the impetus for the forging of Catholic and Protestant Churches, as financially motivated conversations between Wilmer and Meister are taking place in light of dwindling numbers of Christian churchgoers in Germany, leading to a major budget shortfall.

A recent study, commissioned by the Catholic German Bishops Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), predicted the combined membership in the two churches will drop from about 45 million now to 34.8 million by 2035, and 22.7 million by 2060.

The income is predicted to remain the same in 2060, but with inflation, rising maintenance costs and salary increases, the two churches will need €25 billion (almost $28 billion), according to the study.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, views the study's findings as "a call to missionize," which critics of the ecumenical plans of Wilmer and Meister see as "a call to compromise the Catholic faith."

Faithful observers are growing alarmed by the radical anti-Catholic plans of the synod and its reconstituting the Catholic Church both in and outside of Germany.

Many also see the proposed forging of Catholic and Protestant Churches in light of the controversial German-engendered synodal path, designed to challenge Church teaching on sexual morality, clerical celibacy and women's ordination.

Headed by Cdl. Marx of of Munich-Freising, the two-year, 200-member synod would include bishops and laity, including 70 representatives from the leftist Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a leading advocate of women's ordination and "modernization" of Church teaching on homosexuality.

According to its draft statutes, the synod aims to address four key themes: "authority and separation of powers," "sexual morality," "the priestly mode of life" and "women at the service of ecclesiastical offices."

Faithful observers are growing increasingly alarmed by the radical anti-Catholic plans of the synod and its reconstituting the Catholic Church inside and outside of Germany.

Cdl. Reinhard Marx

Marx boasted, "There is no stop sign," adding, "I cannot see that the synodal path now somehow would be endangered," after he described Pope Francis as being "positive and encouraging" during their meeting in Rome in September about the "binding synodal path."

The cardinal also suggested that the "synodal path" is a first step, a "discussion" that, once concluded in Germany, would be forwarded to the Vatican for consideration.

Father Paweł Malecha of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial authority in the Catholic Church, noted that since the year 2000, more than 500 Catholic churches have closed in Germany, a third of which were demolished, while the remainder were sold or used for other purposes.

"Many adverse cases of closure are arriving at the Signatura, which suggests that the phenomenon is spreading," Father Malecha said, in the context of a 2018 Vatican conference aimed at controlling the wave of decommissioned Churches.

In his message to the conference, Pope Francis said the perception that "many churches" are no longer seen as necessary — either due to a "lack of faithful and clergy" or population shifts — "should be welcomed in the Church not with anxiety, but as a sign of the times that invites us to reflection and requires us to adapt."

Meister has mentioned ecumenical "differences with the sacrament," something faithful Catholics see as not merely "the sacrament," but as the ultimate crux of their faith — the central Mystery of Faith, God present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.

Still Meister suggests his "distant wish," is "the establishment of purely ecumenical churches."

"I think that will be very important for the future of Christianity in our country," he said.

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