“I haven't given up hope yet”

Starting signal for the "Synodal Way": For two years, bishops and lay people want to discuss questions of power, the role of women or church sexual morals. Catholic youth are also talking – and have hope that something will happen.

Interviewer: The sexual abuse scandal has plunged the Catholic Church in Germany into a shattering crisis. With the so-called "synodal way" it plans necessary reforms. The Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) is also involved. How do you participate in the "Synodal Way"??

Thomas Andonie (Federal Chairman of the Federation of German Catholic Youth / BDKJ): The BDKJ is involved in the "Synodal Way" in very different ways. At one point, we were involved in the process through the federal board of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). In the joint conference of bishops, laywomen and laymen we have worked as youth representatives and have helped to initiate the statutes. Now, of course, we are very pleased that there are 15 additional places for young people through the Central Committee of German Catholics, which the BDKJ as a self-organized Catholic youth work may also allocate accordingly.

Interviewer: Benno Schwaderlapp of the Catholic movement "Initiative Pontifex" has indirectly accused the BDKJ of unilaterally representing its own reform interests and of not involving conservative young people. Is that so?

Andonie: I think it is very important to first look at who the BDKJ is? The BDKJ is the umbrella organization of the Catholic youth associations in Germany and is democratically organized according to the motto "Youth leads youth". A very broad spectrum of young people is represented in the BDKJ. There are 17 youth associations and 660.000 members. And that ranges from Unitas, the student associations, to more "progressive" groups that perhaps bring in another political stance.

But the BDKJ in itself represents what the young people decide in it. We are a democratic organization that acts with a reference to the world of faith and life. I don't know how Mr. Schwaderlapp comes up with this idea, but we are not looking for political sentiments, but we are thinking: How do we get the "Synodal Way" on a good track and how can young people participate and contribute? This is the standard for us.

Interviewer: The BDKJ did not respond to applications to participate in the "Synodal Way" of the "Pontifex" initiative – this is what Benno Schwaderlapp said on Deutschlandfunk radio. Do you have anything against the initiative?

Andonie: No, of course not. Everyone should act as he sees fit. It is right and good to want to live the faith and share it with others. I personally have not received any feedback or request from Mr. Schwaderlapp or other members of the "Initiative Pontifex". The application process for the "Synodal Way" was opened on 1. December closed, but the selection process is still to come. From Friday, the BDKJ main committee will deliberate.

The decision on which young people will then get those 15 seats in the Synodal Assembly will not be confirmed until before Christmas. The result of the BDKJ main committee must be confirmed first by the central committee of the German Catholics. Therefore, I do not know what Mr. Schwaderlapp expects.

Interviewer: Many people say that this reform process of the "Synodal Way" only leads to frustration because fundamental questions like the priesthood of women or celibacy are already decided in advance. Nothing would and could move there. What do you think: Will something move or will you end up with frustration??

Andonie: The important thing is to look realistically at what is possible. We also know that the Church is not a monolith that stands firm. The church is on the way through time. Accordingly, it must also change constantly in order to recognize the signs of the times and to be able to proclaim the good news. The church is in the 19th century. The church has not been in the nineteenth century as it was in the second century.

The "Synodal Way" should primarily answer the questions of the Catholic Church in Germany. And yet, the big questions, which are also of a world-church nature, should be formulated and then discussed at the world-church level. I believe that change is always possible. We have now seen at the Amazon Synod that there was talk about whether priests could not also be married. The ie of celibacy is not set in stone, nor did the good Lord prescribe it to the Church. These were decisions that were made at some point.

We must always remember where this "synodal way" comes from. The "synodal way" comes through abuse of power. Because the concentrated power of individual consecrated heads has made sexualized violence possible and covered it up. Because in the end this has caused such immense damage to the church that one wonders how a church can credibly proclaim the good news and carry Jesus Christ into the world when it itself acts so wrongly and brings indescribable suffering upon people. That's where this "synodal way" comes from, and we have to work on these structures.

And not everything is regulated in Rome. Rome does not say if there is a young woman in an ordinariate conference who is perhaps not consecrated, but a normal young woman like, for example, the BDKJ diocesan chairwoman. These are steps that are possible. There are many young people who want to help shape the church. I am very pleased that we received over 230 applications. We could fill each of the 15 seats with 15 people. Of course, this will be a very difficult selection process. We will think about how we can involve the young people in the "synodal way", who unfortunately do not get the chance to be part of the synodal assembly.

Interviewer: How confident are you that something will change decisively in the church??

Andonie: I have not given up hope yet. I have read and heard many encouraging words, and I hope that they will be followed by action. When you see that 230 young people are interested in this "Synodal Way" and want to actively participate, it would be a great disappointment and a real indictment of the Church if it fails to show these young people: It is about the message of Jesus Christ to the world, not about rigid ideas of power and maintaining power, system and influence on personal life. It's about taking the good news into the world.

I believe that we are on the right track if these reform efforts are really honest and not always nipped in the bud. We are on a journey through time. And on a way one must also move and also go.

The interview was conducted by Martin Bornemeier.

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