Karin Kortmann, Vice President of the ZdK © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
After disagreements, the Vatican has invited German bishops to talks. They also want to take lay representatives – including the vice president of the ZdK, Karin Kortmann. But they are not yet sitting on packed suitcases.
Interviewer: For senior Vatican Catholic dignitaries to meet with German bishops and laity in Rome to discuss the future of the church in Germany would be a first?
Karin Kortmann (Vice President of the Central Committee of German Catholics, ZdK): In this composition it would indeed be a special event. As ZdK we have regular discussions anyway, also in the Vatican, just as the bishops do it even more intensively because of their constitution with the Vatican authorities.
But indeed, it is something special when the German Bishops' Conference says: "We accept the invitation from Rome to the talks. But we refer to a body that represents reform processes together, namely the Presidium of the Synodal Way". And we may already be pleased about that. However, I am not yet sitting there with my bags packed, because the answer from Rome is still pending as to whether they are also prepared to receive us in this constellation.
Interviewer: What would it mean if you were to travel with us, if it would actually work out??
Kortmann: Then we will talk about what moves the people of God in Germany, namely priests and laity alike, and where we consider reform approaches to be necessary in order to be able to continue living Christianity. We will talk with them about structural questions, we will talk with them about how we classify ourselves in the context of the universal church.
But we will also formulate very clearly the self-confidence of men and women in Germany and that there are high expectations that the Roman walls will also shift a bit more and not come across as rigid and bunker-like as we have experienced in the many, many last decades.
Interviewer: The bishops, of course, represent the clergy in Rome. You represent the people of the Church. How then can these roles harmonize?
Kortmann: Bishops also represent the people of the Church, that's just the way it is. But in many dioceses, in many congregations, we have experienced a mood of departure, where we say, yes, there is a hunger to meet anew, to enter into new cooperations, to question the roles to a certain extent as well. Does the priest always have to be in the forefront, or do the laity not have the same gifts and prerequisites, for example, to proclaim the Word of God in the form of lay homilies??
As a community of responsibility with priests, bishops, lay people, we can do something to ensure that the Word of God continues to be heard and that it is also a stabilizer for us in uncertain times. We have noticed in so many places, especially now in these times of the Corona pandemic, how important it is that comforting, pastoral care is offered, that comfort is given – both through pastors and through women pastors.
All this shows, after all, that in this division between the sexes or the question of "who is consecrated? Who is not consecrated?" thus put a leg up themselves to go new ways. And now we are so far along the synodal path that we will be able to take the second important step next week with the regional conferences, to come to an agreement on many questions, and quite consciously not to leave out the question of power in the church.
Interviewer: That is?
Kortmann: We ask, for example, how we can reduce power constellations and achieve more trust, transparency and cooperation. I am also sure that the Roman ears are not closed. But we don't get further if we only have a one-size-fits-all approach at the level of the world church, but the church, like all other living communities, varies from place to place, from country to country, in terms of prerequisites and needs.
And we should have confidence in all of us that we can do this together. That is why I would be very pleased if we could succeed in having the President of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Batzing, his deputy, Bishop Bode, as well as Thomas Sternberg and I from the ZdK travel to Rome together in order to be able to present these concerns once again.
Interviewer: But now it is not as if the German bishops speak in one language. There are also very different understandings of the Catholic Church. Some rely entirely on clerics, others rather on lay people. How can you reconcile such things at a meeting in Rome??
Kortmann: By proceeding according to the majority principle. The votes we have had so far at the first Synodal Assembly of the Synodal Way have represented a clear majority view that change is called for and that holding on to the old, even the preserved, must nevertheless be renewed in a process of change.
Those who have raised the word for – I say – the old clericalism have not found majorities there. In this respect, the whole thing is a process, and even within a process I grant everyone that they can change with their opinions and interceptions. If we were all of one mind, there would also be a lack of friction to develop something new. It is not unfortunate that there are people who represent a different approach, that is how it is in large communities. We see this in politics, in trade unions, and we also see it in the church.
The crucial thing is that we listen to each other and can understand each other's arguments in order to then ask which is the better way and how we can meet each other well, that we walk this path together. It may sound a bit lyrical, but discourse is what matters, and dissent needs understanding, we all know that. And that's where the bishops are opening up many, many windows and doors right now. One can only be grateful.
Interviewer: Now you have just spoken of majorities. As a woman, you are clearly in the minority when you go to this meeting. How then can you get your way among all these Catholic men?
Kortmann: Ask me how I have lived for the last 40 years. Exactly. That does not hurt me. In fact, I think it has made me stronger to find my way in this male church world. But I am not the one who suffers from the fact that I am perhaps only one woman among three men, but I also see it as a privilege that I am trusted to be able to represent the interests of the sex of women well there too.
I don't have the feeling that I'm being forced into a rigid role as a woman or that I'm expected to walk through the Vatican doors with a little black veil, God knows. I believe that self-confident women are also welcome in the Vatican and are not uncommon.
The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.