Hildesheim Cathedral © Manfred Zimmermann, Euromediahouse, Hanover
Bishops meet for spring plenary session © Rolf Vennenbernd
The Catholic bishops will meet on Monday for their spring plenary session in Hildesheim. Main topics are controversial questions about family, marriage and sexuality.
The diocese of Hildesheim is in a celebratory mood: this year, the city and diocese will celebrate 1.200 years old. And Hildesheim's St. Mary's Cathedral, part of the world's cultural heritage, reopened last August after four years of renovations. To mark the occasion, Bishop Norbert Trelle invited his more than 60 counterparts from 27 dioceses to the spring plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference in Hildesheim from Monday to Thursday. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who has just completed a veritable conference marathon on the reform of the Curia in the Vatican, can also celebrate his one-year anniversary as president of the Bishops' Conference in these weeks, his deputy Trelle has already been in office since 2011.
In an unusual form, the bishops want to seek contact with the citizens right at the beginning of the meeting. On Sunday evening, several of them invite to "Theological Cafes. Conversations at seven downtown cafes to focus on migration, poverty, justice, faith sharing, arts and family.
Focus on the family
In terms of content, the bishops will continue to wrestle with the topic of the family at their meeting. The World Synod of Bishops in October in the Vatican is a central theme. A majority of the 66 bishops and auxiliary bishops agree that there should be new impulses with regard to the reception of communion for remarried divorcees, church labor law and the proclamation of sexuality. But how far the changes should go is disputed.
It is also questionable whether the comparatively liberal German position is capable of gaining a majority in the world church. Expectations are high – including those for the pope, who has created a new climate of openness. Many hope it will bring reforms, others warn of softening church doctrine and discipline. A risky situation for Francis and the entire church.
Ways to the Eucharist
Cardinal Marx is currently campaigning for change all over the country – even among more conservative bishops in the U.S. "We need to look for ways to help people receive the Eucharist, not how to keep them away from it," he recently told the Catholic magazine "America". It should not be solely about defending the truth, but "helping people to find the truth". How much backing Marx's reform course has in the bishops' conference could be seen in the election of the three episcopal delegates to the Roman synod, which is on the agenda in Hildesheim.
The Catholic base is also currently being asked for its opinion. In December, the Vatican launched a second worldwide survey on marriage and the family in preparation for the synod. All 27 German dioceses wanted to put the questionnaire on the web. Time is pressing: The dioceses need the answers by mid-March. The bishops' conference wants a Germany-wide evaluation document by 15. Send April to Rome.
Bishops criticize EU refugee policy
The bishops also want to address the refugee ie: Many of them have criticized the EU in harsh terms. In dealing with boat refugees, Europe is failing all along the line, said Trelle. Time and again, the bishops have also called for the reception of refugees in Germany. Many dioceses, as well as parishes and initiatives, are helping refugees on the ground – in individual cases even on the edge of legality.
The bishops' words on the Pegida movement were clear: Islam, refugees and immigration can be discussed, "but not at this level," said Cardinal Marx. Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg even said that Christians should not be part of Pegida in the first place. With all clarity, however, the chief pastors know that there are also Pegida sympathizers in the parishes.
Study day on Twitter, Facebook and Co.
In a separate study day, the bishops in Hildesheim will deal with the topic "Church and Media. On this subject, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Paul Tighe, philosophy professor Alexander Filipovic and journalist Ansgar Mayer will give the main lectures.
The Apostolic Nuncio in Germany, Nikola Eterovic, and the two Philippine bishops Antonio Javellana Ledesma and Crispin Barrete Varquez are expected to attend the opening of the plenary assembly.the challenges and opportunities posed by Facebook, Twitter and the like. Expertise contributed by Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Media, media ethicist Alexander Filipovic, and theologian and digital strategist Ansgar Mayer.