“Many old hats that don't fit young heads”

During the Youth Synod, the Catholic Church is currently discussing how to deal with its young people. Theologian and journalist Jacqueline Straub hopes for positive signals – and calls for reforms: A different language and new women's policy.

Interviewer: "There are a lot of old hats in the church that don't fit young minds" – you say in your book published in August titled: "Kick the church out of its coma". Between the church and the youth, so it seems, there is often speechlessness. The Church does not understand the young – and vice versa. The Youth Synod, which has been meeting in Rome since last week, should help. A good thing in your eyes?

Jacqueline Straub (theologian and journalist): I believe that the Youth Synod is definitely a good thing. I think it is bitterly necessary that today the youth is really taken more and more into consideration. Mainly due to the fact that fewer and fewer people – especially fewer young people – go to church and are also interested in the faith. I believe that positive signals can be sent out from Rome.

Interviewer: Now the situation is that 350 bishops and 40 young people are sitting together in Rome at the moment. Is that in itself a wrong signal? The Federation of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), for example, had wanted a fifty-fifty lineup.

Straub: I would also like to see more youth, young people or lay people having a voice there. What I also find questionable, of course, is that only the bishops are allowed to vote. In the end, celibate old men again determine how young people have to live and believe. There I would really wish more that the young voice is heard even more and not only acted according to the motto: Pseudo-moderately we invite a few people. Much more needs to be done.

Interviewer: Let's come back to the problem of language. Why is this actually so crucial and what could help to make more and better communication possible??

Straub: Language is very important. And the language of the youth is a different language than that of the Catholic Church. I notice that again and again when I talk to young people. Who say: I have a spirituality. I believe in God. I also read the Bible from time to time. But when I go to church, I don't understand anything. The whole texts, the whole songs are all old-fashioned. Even the sermon does not reach me.

That means, the language must be adapted to the youth, so that young people develop again joy for the faith and for it to engage themselves again in the church and to go perhaps times again into the service.

Interviewer: But how should that work? Should the church now learn the language of the young people or should young people perhaps also occupy decisive positions and then speak from there themselves??

Straub: Definitely both. We need young people in important positions who are of course also in the living world of young people and also understand them. But on the other hand, the Church also needs to listen much more to the youth and look: What languages do we need to speak as a church – we as bishops – so that our message is also received.

Maybe we also need more youth projects. In many cities there are the youth churches, where people really speak in the language of the youth. But I think we need many, many more projects like this, so that young people also feel comfortable in the church and so that they don't always have to have the feeling: This is just a club for old people. So that when they go to church on Sundays, for example, they realize: I, too, am addressed by what the man or perhaps the woman in front says.

Interviewer: You yourself are also known for having repeatedly said out loud in public: I feel called to be a priestess and I am quite disappointed about my church, which denies me this ordination. In her eyes, does the Catholic Church scare girls and young women with its "women's policy" in the long term??

Straub: I hear again and again from young women and girls who write me letters or e-mails that they would like to become priests, that they would like to find themselves better in the Church as women, but that they have great problems with this image that the Church has. That means that many women turn away because they say: I live in an emancipated society and would like to find myself in the same way in church. But they can't, because they say: I feel discriminated against.

And they then turn away from the church, although they are actually Catholic and also want to remain Catholic. I am currently in contact with a young woman who is thinking about converting to the Protestant Church. Because she says: I feel called to be a priestess, but I don't see any hope. Why should I study Catholic theology now?? I'd rather study Protestant theology right away. The way is easier.

Interviewer: You have made a different decision: despite your disappointment, you have remained in the Catholic Church. If you were to tell the Pope three things that he should change most urgently – perhaps he would have to change – in his Church in order to make it a Church again, also and especially for the youth and young people, what would you advise him to do??

Straub: Definitely there must be equality – real equality – between men and women. That means not only talking about women, what they are good at, but also admitting women to the ordination offices. This is a very important point that concerns young people – and not only women, but also men. The second is the treatment of marginalized groups – the ies of homosexuality, remarried divorcees or even sexuality in general. Something also has to be done to make young people feel at home again in these ies.

What's also important, of course, is the radical coming to terms with the abuse cases. In this way the Church has lost a lot of credibility. People want radical education to be provided. Personally, I wish that Pope Francis or even the bishops would manage to make the joy of faith more visible again and really inspire young people again to get involved in the church and really engage with their own faith again.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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