While the bishops' suitcases are slowly being packed for the journey home in Lingen, others are reviewing the past four days of the spring plenary assembly. Much praise is mixed here and there, however, with a "but".
The highest lay representation of Catholics in Germany has reacted cautiously positive to the announcement of the German Bishops' Conference to launch a "synodal way" on power reduction, celibacy and sexual morality.
"It must be clear what is to be discussed and decided there," said the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, on Thursday to the Munster portal church-and-life.de. "If this were simply to be a discussion process with an open outcome, that would mean frustration. People want to see reforms now."
The plenary assembly of the bishops' conference in Lingen had decided on a "binding synodal path" for renewal and change in the church. According to conference chairman Cardinal Reinhard Marx, this path is to be organized together with the ZdK.
"We can imagine a synodical process without knowing exactly what that looks like," Sternberg said. In addition agreements are pending in the committees of the ZdK, "for example in the presidency and in the main committee, which meet next week". Above all, it must be made clear with what quorum such a body is to be equipped and that decisions taken are actually implemented. "It must not slip into non-commitment," warned ZdK president.
Sternberg conceded that he would have liked the plenary assembly of the bishops' conference to have had "the courage to really name the diaconate of women and the ordination of married men to the priesthood" as concrete reforms. Nevertheless, he said, he is glad that an administrative jurisdiction is to be introduced in the Catholic Church in Germany. "This is an important step on the way to overcoming clericalism."
Rorig urges swift implementation of measures on abuse
The Federal Government Commissioner for Abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rorig, has welcomed the measures taken by the bishops to deal with cases of abuse, but at the same time called for swift implementation over time. No more time should be wasted now, said Rorig on Thursday at the request of the Catholic News Agency (KNA) in Berlin. A clear timetable is necessary.
By the end of the year, he said, an agreement ready to be signed must now be worked out with him and the working group "Aufarbeitung Kirchen" (reappraisal of churches) set up at his office, in which the standards for reappraisal and uniform criteria for file inspection are defined. In addition, the bishops would have to agree bindingly on the participation of affected persons and clarify the open compensation regulation.
The success of the reappraisal would depend on the prioritization of the permanent council and of each bishop. The state side is well prepared. The Catholic Church owes it to those affected, almost ten years after the so-called "abuse scandal" in Germany, to finally establish clarity and commitment in the processing.
"The German Bishops' Conference has set out irreversibly," added Rorig. He also welcomed the fact that the church now wants to call on external support and help, both for coming to terms with the situation and for possible reforms of internal church structures.
Catholic women welcome bishops' plans
The Catholic Women's Association of Germany (kfd) has welcomed the decision of the bishops' conference to pursue a "synodal path" on power reduction, celibacy and sexual morality. The Catholic women are gladly ready to contribute their competences, said the deputy federal chairwoman Agnes Wuckelt to the Catholic News Agency (KNA) in Paderborn on Thursday.
It is important that there are more concrete results than in the previous discussion process, which lasted from 2011 to 2015.
Wuckelt particularly welcomed the fact that there will be a forum on sex education. The women's associations had already pointed out for decades that current research results from theology and social sciences had to find their way into church teaching.
The division of power and the breaking up of male hierarchies are also central ies.
BKU calls for faster and more decisive action
"People have been talking long enough, now action must follow that consistently does justice to the victims. This is the only way to prevent the credibility of the Catholic Church from being damaged even more after the cases of sexual abuse," explains meanwhile the chairman of the Federation of Catholic Businessmen (BKU), Prof. Ulrich Hemel. Dr. Dr. Ulrich Hemel.
The BKU welcomes the process of change that the German Bishops' Conference is initiating and continuing at its spring meeting. However everything goes forward very sluggishly. Where clear and quick decisions are needed, the usual system of tough debates and working groups is used. For the people, who already have critical inquiries to the church, a progress is hardly recognizable. "What alone can help the church in this situation is quick and decisive action, the clear naming of responsibilities, the admission of personal guilt, the prosecution of the perpetrators and the compensation and accompaniment of the victims."
This is where Hemel sees the difference in approach between good companies and the church. The organizational backlog of church structures is high in many areas compared to companies. The rules of good management (corporate governance) are partly unknown in church circles, but in the business environment they are standard practice.
The association criticizes the lack of clear steps and concrete timetables. In addition, there is sometimes a lack of willingness to openly address the ie of guilt and failure in all dioceses. Hemel notes with surprise that the bishops who failed to fulfill their duties in the transparency process would not be named. "This false restraint will not create new trust, but rather cement mistrust."
If a bishop thinks he wants to leave the general line of the bishops' conference, he must be able to publicly stand up for the reasons that led to his behavior. Otherwise, it would damage the process that has been initiated and the renewal of the church that so many people want. "We notice as BKU that the inquiries of our members to this topic become ever more urgent. Many of them combine shaken trust with demands for fundamental reform of church organization," Hemel adds.
Hemel again calls for the establishment of an ecclesiastical administrative court that would subject the actions of church offices to legal review. Such an instrument could help to strengthen the rights of those affected by church actions. This is particularly true in cases of abuse when it comes to enforcing claims for information and access to files, or when it comes to defending against the delaying of proceedings.