German Bishops: Out With Old Church, In With New

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by Martina Moyski  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 3, 2020   

Cdl. Marx: Discard 'old templates and possessive thinking'

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BERLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - On the cusp of a new decade, German bishops are proclaiming — and predicting — "the old times are over" for the Catholic Church. 

Numerous German bishops are recommending that the faithful question key tenets of the Church, including an all-male priesthood, priestly celibacy and sexual morality, saying changes are necessary for the Church "to save itself from perpetual decline."

Their comments are made within larger discussions of the German-engendered "synodal path," a two-year project that newly assesses Church teaching on these issues, launched on the first Sunday of Advent 2019.

Women in Leadership

Limburg Bp. Georg Bätzing spoke of "vaulting women into leadership roles that are now off-limits" in his New Year's Eve address, adding that women's exclusion from ordination is "fundamentally unjust and inappropriate."

Bishop of Essen Franz-Josef Overbeck also urged the Church not to close itself off to the greater participation of women in ministry and "not to permanently solidify walls today with which women are denied sharing in responsibility" of ecclesial leadership.

Meet people where they are, "on the ground," Franz-Josef Bode, bishop of Osnabrück, urged the German Church. That "scenario," he speculated, "could well involve greater participation on the part of women and also the involvement of priests with families."

Bishop Overbeck said in his New Year's sermon in the Essen Cathedral (a repository of ancient Church treasures) that the Church is at a "turning point" when "a lot of questions are being asked [and] reforms are being called for." 

The turning point demands "a thorough turn away from the institution towards the individual and their needs," he said.

He told members of his diocese that his own views were evolving amid the Church's "dramatic loss of credibility and trust." 

"The old times are over," he said.

"Above all, we learn that the Church has to be there for people and serve them again and again. It is not an end in itself," the bishop insisted.

Questioning Celibacy

Some German bishops have spoken in favor of abandoning the celibacy requirement for priests, and Overbeck has also asked the faithful to question compulsory priestly celibacy, which he argues has become "a heavy burden for quite a few priests" and should not prevent them from "larger service." 

Celibacy could develop "more radiant power if certain groups of people were exempted from it," added Bp. Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim, saying that further discussions on the issue are necessary.

Some bishops have urged updating the Vatican's "stern" stance on sexual morality, arguing that the Church "can't afford to be out of touch or alienating."

Earlier this year, one German bishop spoke so understandingly of homosexuality that "a 53-year-old priest in a nearby town came out as gay and thanked the bishop for opening the door."

German Bishops' Conference President Cdl. Reinhard Marx urged Catholics in a sermon in Munich Cathedral to "start the new decade with imagination," leaving aside "old templates and possessive thinking" and to take up the "completely new tone in society and religion" that the cardinal likened to Jesus' journey.

Leave aside 'old templates and possessive thinking' and take up the 'completely new tone in society and religion.' 

On Dec. 2, Church Militant reported on the warnings of Cdl. Gerhard Müller, former Vatican doctrine chief and a German prelate who stands at odds with the synodal bishops. In a homily on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Cdl. Müller argued against a Church that adjusts itself to the times: "The poison paralyzing the Church is [the] opinion that we should adapt to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, and not the spirit of God, that we should relativize God's commandments and reinterpret the doctrine of the revealed Faith."

Bishop Wilmer told the Augsburger Allgemeine, a German newspaper: "I am sure that the German Church will be a different Church afterwards [after the synodal process]. It will certainly be more participatory and more feminine." 

The "four directions" to be examined in the synodal process include "Power and separation of powers in the Church — local participation and participation in the missionary mandate," "Priestly existence today," "Women in ministries and offices of the Church" and "Life in Successful Relationships — Love Lived in Sexuality and Partnership."

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