Bishop Stephan Ackermann © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
The abuse crisis dominated his tenure so far. Bishop Stephan Ackermann was inaugurated as bishop of Trier ten years ago this Friday. A feeling of gratitude accompanies him despite all the difficulties.
CBA: Cardinal Meisner, then of Cologne, called you on the 24th of December. May 2009 inaugurated as Bishop of Trier. With what feelings do you look back on your jubilee??
Bishop Stephan Ackermann (Bishop of Trier and Abuse Commissioner of the German Bishops' Conference): There is above all the feeling of gratitude. Because I experience that God arranges and guides things, and in the past years I have been able to know that I am supported by many people in the diocese, especially by those who support me in the leadership of the diocese and the people in my close environment.
CBA: What events in these ten years do you remember fondly?
Ackermann: Of course I remember very fondly the great pilgrimage to the Holy Rock in 2012, which my predecessor Reinhard Marx had proclaimed as Bishop of Trier. I have fond memories of the intense time of the diocesan synod. There was a sense of courage for departure and change, which must now prove itself in implementation. To this day, however, the many encounters in the local parishes also count among the beautiful events.
CBA: What were the low blows in this decade?
Ackermann: The most painful thing in the past ten years is, of course, the crisis caused by sexual abuse. But we have to face it with all its consequences, and I am convinced that in the long run it will contribute to a purification and positive change of the church. It is also painful that the faith loses so dramatically in the personal lives of very many baptized people where it is no longer supported by the people's church.
CBA: Have you yourself made mistakes that you regret today??
Ackermann: Of course I have made mistakes – and learned from them. Especially with regard to the ie of sexual abuse, I have often said that we are still in a learning story here.
CBA: In 2009 you became bishop of Trier, and already in 2010 you were appointed abuse commissioner of the Bishops' Conference. How much has this office shaped your activity as a churchman?
Ackermann: This task is basically part of the reality of each day. Of course, it has also made me – and I am grateful for this – more sensitive to the question of dealing with power in general and with the devastating consequences that abuse of power can have on people's lives.
CBA: Hand on heart: as an abuse commissioner, are you more of a crisis manager or more of an active agent who can implement his agenda?
Ackermann: Sometimes I am more one thing, sometimes more the other. In fact, crisis management has often been the order of the day in recent years. And apart from that, it was never just about my agenda, but about the implementation of jointly entered commitments.
CBA: You were the first German bishop in a quarter of a century to call a diocesan synod, putting the fate of the diocese in the hands of clergy and laity alike. What remains of this synod, which ended in 2016, and what effect does it have beyond the boundaries of the diocese??
Ackermann: Since the end of the synod, we have been working to concretize the synod resolutions and translate them into the reality of the diocese. In this respect, the synod is very present in the diocese. What effect it will have beyond the diocese, I can't say yet. We are definitely experiencing curiosity about the synod as an instrument of joint consultation in a diocese. But there is also skepticism whether the consequences that the synod draws, for example, for life in the parishes, are helpful. But I think it's legitimate. Because the success of a synod is not measured by a well-formulated final document, but by a more intensive practice of Christian life.
CBA: You want to implement the largest parish reform in the history of the Diocese of Trier by 2022. But resistance to the creation of large parishes is strong. How confident are you that you will overcome this resistance??
Ackermann: I'm not sure if the planned changes are really the biggest parish reform in the history of the Trier diocese. The effects of secularization were certainly more drastic. But at that time the change was imposed from the outside. Now it is coming from within, from within the diocese itself. I hope that we can take the people in the communities with us through solid information, through the many encounters and conversations on the ground. And I hope that it will be shown in practice: Yes, it is possible. Even more: that the changes in the parish landscape awaken new desire to be church.
CBA: How concerned are you about the future forecast that church membership will more than halve by 2060?
Ackermann: This prognosis does not leave me cold – even more so when scientists say that this decline can only be partially explained by population decline. On the other hand, we have been noticing this trend for some time. In this respect, the forecast is not entirely surprising. With our synod we try to give an answer to this development, so that the diocese becomes fit for the future. Incidentally, the often quoted words of Pope Francis, who says that it is more important and more correct for us as a church to set processes in motion, instead of owning spaces, help me to be more relaxed. The Gospel has the image of leaven for this purpose.
The interview was conducted by Michael Merten.