After the anti-abuse summit in the Vatican, calls for concrete steps are being heard everywhere. What are the German dioceses planning?? A changed sexual morality of the church? Structural reforms? An overview before the bishops' plenary meeting.
"Study day on overarching questions that are currently being asked". This is how it is succinctly written on the agenda of the bishops' plenary meeting in Lingen. But behind all this is probably something like the question of fate for the Catholic Church: Will it be possible to follow up the anti-abuse summit in the Vatican with concrete steps?? It had ended "a bit vague, after all," as Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the abuse commissioner of the bishops' conference, put it.
Against arbitrary acts of pastors and bishops
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, set the tone immediately after the summit: Pope Francis had driven in stakes, behind which no one could go back. Now the bishops have a duty. Already during the meeting, Marx had caused a stir with his pushes to lift "papal secrecy" in abuse cases to make cover-ups more difficult, and to create ecclesiastical administrative courts to give lay people the opportunity to sue against arbitrary acts by pastors and bishops.
Passau Bishop Stefan Oster and Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick spoke out in favor of a separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Germany, "so that proceedings for priests do not always have to go through Rome in a protracted and sometimes inconclusive manner". In addition, "intensive cooperation with state and other independent agencies" is necessary, as well as stricter penalties under church law in the case of abuse. Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki called for convicted abusers to be dismissed from the priesthood without distinction.
Measures for dealing with cases of abuse
Bishop Gebhard Furst (Rottenburg-Stuttgart) brought up the idea of an independent court for all German dioceses. In addition, he announced that in his diocesan commission on abuse, in the future only the honorary members, who are not dependent on the bishop, would be entitled to vote. Church employees will then only have an advisory function.
Meanwhile, the Osnabruck diocese has tightened its anti-abuse concept. Here, too, external experts are to be more closely involved, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode announced. In addition, victim protection and prevention will be further developed. In addition, convicted abusers should have their salaries massively cut if they cannot be dismissed from the clergy altogether.
The diocese of Passau is also getting specific with its new code of conduct for all full-time and voluntary employees. Standards for dealing with children and young people should prevent abuse and other violations of boundaries. Similar strict regulations on prevention already exist in Cologne and some other dioceses.
"Systemic questions of principle"
Even if the regulations here are not uniform, there are indications that the bishops could probably agree relatively easily on a largely uniform approach to these questions. It might be more difficult with the "systemic questions of principle". These include celibacy and other aspects of the priestly way of life, power and participation, and Catholic sexual morality. The Permanent Council of Diocesan Bishops convened working groups at the end of January.
In addition, an "internal strategy paper" is said to have been hotly debated, as the supplement "Christ Welt" of the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" reported: It attests to an existential crisis in the church, calls for new theological answers and proposes a "synodal event", i.e. a broad debate with the participation of Catholic lay people and with binding resolutions. Authors would be the bishops Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen) Karl-Heinz Wiesemann (Speyer) and Stefan Oster (Passau). But the initiative had been put in the drawer without being voted on.
Disappointment among reformers
Kohlgraf told "Christ Welt": "Of course I am disappointed. But I believe that the end of the road has not yet been reached." Meanwhile, Oster rejected the newspaper's account in the Catholic weekly "DieTagespost" that the bishops had drafted an "explosive strategy paper" for a national synod. The paper was rather "a table presentation of the Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference as a basis for discussion for an item on the agenda".
There are such templates "for almost every agenda item of the conference". And the four bishops mentioned had only been instructed to discuss these points initially in a smaller circle. So there is obviously enough to talk about – also for the larger circle in Lingen. The fact that the patience of many Catholics is at an end is shown by the latest survey for the daily newspaper "Bild": according to the survey, more than four out of five Catholics in Germany (82 percent) believe that dealing with abuse cases will "harm their church in the long term".
Loss of credibility and church resignations
In addition, according to the survey, 52 percent of the Catholics questioned have already considered leaving the church; 38 percent are currently thinking about it, and 22 percent have firmly resolved to leave. Especially with regard to the clarification of the abuse cases, many have lost trust in the church.