Survival of the German Catholic Church may depend on facing Rome

On a sunny Sunday evening in May, 80 people gathered at a church in Berlin for a quiet Catholic revolution. At 6 p.m., the 11-meter-high wooden doors of the Modernist Church of St Canisius were opened for an inclusive blessing mass. Spread in pairs around the airy church, there were mostly same-sex couples, all staring past the skinny Jesuit priest.

Hope in the air, Father Jan Korditschke took off his face mask and, sporting a broad smile, spread his arms and invited everyone present to join him in celebrating love. His sermon was inspired by the Gospel of John, that love comes from God and that it is not for a priest or a pope to deny the blessing of love given by God. .

“God is present in love and loving couples are already blessed with the presence of God. I’m just giving it a frame through this rite, ”he said.

Then, with two assistants, Korditschke made his way through the church, spoke briefly to each couple before praying together. Behind the medical masks, many tears flowed.

“It was such a relief, as a stone rolled away from my heart,” said a man, Georg, alongside his partner afterwards.

The Berlin Mass was the latest in a series of services across Germany under the #liebegewinnt banner – love wins. The services were sparked by a March Vatican document reaffirming Catholic teaching that homosexual acts are disorderly and blessings for same-sex unions are impossible.

One participant, Robert, said he came with his partner to protest the key phrase in the document that “God does not bless and cannot bless sin”. “By asking a question that no one has asked, just to answer it in such cold language,” he said, “Rome tried to get his point across but sparked a reaction they didn’t. were not waiting.

A few feet away, 15 young men and a middle-aged woman held a large handwritten banner reading “God Cannot Bless Sin” and recited the Rosary during Mass. A protester, who declined to give his name, said obedience to the Pope’s teaching is what has united the Catholic Church for two millennia.

“I fear that such activities,” he said, with a nod to the emerging massgoers, “will lead us into another schism.”

Papal authority

Exactly 500 years ago, renegade Augustinian monk Martin Luther was publicly ordered to submit to this absolute papal authority by renouncing his claims of corrupt church practice and faulty teaching.

Luther turned the situation around Rome by demanding that they prove that his understanding of the Christian faith based on the scriptures was wrong. The confrontation took a spiral and its challenge became a channel for a host of political and modernizing forces. Western Christianity has divided and the world has never been the same.

History does not repeat itself; in a largely secular Europe, most people would find it difficult to spell schism, let alone the relevance of their lives. Yet something is brewing in the land of the Reformation as individual protests within the Church of Rome feed off each other to create a crackling Catholic conflagration.

The German bishops seem uncertain as never before about their loyalty. Should they deploy the Roman fire blanket, smother the flames, and denounce critics as incendiary apostates? Or does their survival depend on accepting the protest and facing Rome?

Fr. Jan Korditschke “I look to Jesus, who was respectful of religious leaders and of the Sabbath, but who was not afraid of conflicts when it came to putting the good of the people first”

Like their Irish colleagues, the awkward response of German bishops to allegations of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up over the past decade has undermined public credibility and support.

Nowhere is the struggle more visible – or the stakes higher – than in the western city of Cologne. For centuries, its imposing Gothic cathedral has been a touchstone of German Catholicism. For many German believers, however, Cologne is now the epicenter of institutional dysfunction and denial, particularly due to the extent of child abuse by the clergy and the systematic nature of its cover-up.

Last year, the Conservative Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, came under fire for cracking down on a report he himself commissioned into office sexual abuse. A replacement report followed this year and sparked the departure of two bishops, but critics say the document was careful to avoid any analysis of whether church structures were a contributing factor to the abuse. . Tensions continue to rise.

In January, a local priest, Klaus Koltermann, wrote to Cardinal Woelki warning him of “concern among the greatest believers” in his parish of Dormagen, 20 minutes north of Cologne. When a local newspaper reprinted his letter, Koltermann superiors warned of “possible serious violations of your service obligations.” . . this could have consequences ”.

The threat was removed when the priest went public with their correspondence, a dead end he describes as a learning experience. “A new solidarity must grow among us,” he told The Irish Times. “We have to become more courageous. Unfortunately, we priests have never learned to defend our faith – in the church.


Such cases of conscientious insubordination are on the rise. Two weeks ago, Catholics at an ecumenical meeting with German Lutherans held joint Eucharistic celebrations in defiance of their bishops.

This week, a parish in Düsseldorf wrote to Cardinal Woelki to de-invite him as a celebrant at Confirmation Mass next month. Woelki was once a deacon in the parish, as were two abusive priests. In their letter, some 140 parishioners said they feared the cardinal would “instrumentalize” their children’s confirmation to strike back at his critics.

“You are unfortunately no longer credible for us, we have lost our confidence in you as bishop”, they wrote.

Unlike other countries, German Catholics have a clear way of expressing a vote of no confidence with the Kirchenaustritt (leaving the church). All members of the Christian church in Germany automatically pay a so-called “church tax” in a 19th century system, calculated at 8 percent of their income tax. In fact, a contribution, it brings to the German Catholic Church some 6 billion euros per year. Revocation of payment is considered revocation of church membership.

The number of annual departures in 2019 was 218,000, double the figure ten years ago. Numbers for 2020 have yet to be pulled together but, based on anecdotal evidence, the ongoing abuse debate has caused an unprecedented rush for releases.

Already facing a demographic time bomb, Catholic bishops announced a “synodal process” in 2019 to discuss the way forward. With 230 members (lay and religious), discussions are underway in four groups examining the role of priests, the power of the Church, sexuality and women in ministry. The pandemic has moved discussions online, but organizers hope in-person meetings can start from September, with the first votes on the proposals by Christmas.

For Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of the German episcopate, the “synodal path” is a balance between church liberals and traditionalists – with Rome looking suspiciously.

A parish in Düsseldorf has written to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, conservative archbishop of Cologne, uninviting him as a celebrant at their Confirmation Mass next month.

A parish in Düsseldorf has written to Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, conservative archbishop of Cologne, uninviting him as a celebrant at their Confirmation Mass next month.

His relief was palpable this week when Pope Francis announced plans for a worldwide synodal consultation. This, said the German bishop, was proof that “we are neither schismatics, nor that we, as the German national church, want to detach ourselves from Rome”.

The expectations of the process are however modest, given two emergency brakes integrated into the process: any decision resulting from the synodal way requires the unanimous support of the bishops, then the approval of Rome.

Church strike

Rather than wait for reform from within, Lisa Kötter started a church strike two years ago, from which a grassroots movement called Maria 2.0 developed. Two years later, with regular protests and prayer services, Maria 2.0 went global with her demands for the inclusion of women in all church functions, an end to compulsory celibacy and a consequent response to sexual abuse. committed by the clergy.

“We see the entire patriarchal base of the Catholic Church as false and not inclusive, out of step with the teaching of Jesus,” Kötter said.

It is a measure of the effect of the movement that he already has a conservative counter-movement, Maria 1.0. And, after an initial icy silence, Kötter was invited to private meetings with bishops. But friendly conversation always hits a dead end, she says, when the conversation turns to the main bone of contention: Church privileges and the power men claim for themselves.

With calls for female priests and the blessing of same-sex couples, Kötter and Father Korditschke are pushing back against the idea that they are part of a Luther 2.0 movement. Neither wants a break with Rome, but again neither does the man who has become the face of the Reformation.

Korditschke says that Lutheran churches in Germany, with more liberal positions on women ministers and social issues, have raised expectations among local Catholics – and tensions when change comes slowly, or not at all.

“I look at Jesus, who was respectful of religious leaders and of the Sabbath, but who was not afraid of conflict when it came to putting the good of the people first,” said Korditschke, who was baptized Lutheran, converted to Catholicism at the age of 16 and has no plans to return. .

“I don’t see myself at odds with the Catholic Church and, unlike Martin Luther, I pray for the Pope every day and I serve my church. It’s my house.”

After lighting a fuse in Germany two years ago, Kötter sees neither the structural means nor the political appetite for reform among German Catholic bishops. It rejects the synodal path like a “simulation”.

“They haven’t heard the sign of the times, the demands for change. Their ears are trained to hear only their own hymns.

About Norma Wade

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