“Power must be controlled and shared”


To prevent sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the future, Archbishop Stefan Hebe wants to break down power structures. In an interview, he talks about ways out of the crisis, the financial situation of his diocese and the refugee ie.


CBA: A year ago, you decided to close up to 8 of the 21 Catholic schools in Hamburg. After the protests, would you make the decision again?

Stefan Hebe (Archbishop of Hamburg): The archdiocese of Hamburg is in a very difficult situation financially. The diocesan bodies have given a clear mandate to act and develop countermeasures. That is why I would make this decision again, in order to preserve for our archdiocese and our institutions the possibility to act in the future. But I would discuss it more intensively with those affected in advance and be at the affected sites in person if possible when it is announced.
CBA: What lessons do you draw from the events?
Hebe: I see that many people are disappointed and hurt. We have therefore had many discussions over the past year, including with those affected, and we continue to work towards a stronger sense of togetherness. Despite all the difficulties, I have the impression that an understanding of the situation is now developing.
CBA: Six schools to be definitively closed. Still looking for sponsors for two others. How confident are you that these two schools will be preserved??
Hebe: I hope we can do it with external help, and I have high hopes for the talks we are currently holding. Our goal is the preservation and further development of the Catholic School Harburg and the Catholic Sophienschule in Barmbek. We must not forget, however, that we each have to raise tens of millions of dollars together. There is no guarantee. But we are doing everything we can to make it happen.
CBA: Currently, all properties are also undergoing an audit. What to expect here?
Hebe: We have said from the beginning to look at all areas of our diocese because of the precarious budget situation. This includes real estate such as churches, community centers and parsonages. In the first step, we only record the stock of buildings, their condition and operating costs. In parallel, a working group is developing criteria and procedures for how we handle our real estate in the future. So it is not yet a question of abandoning individual buildings.
CBA: They suggest that individual Catholic and Protestant communities share buildings. Do you think that the idea will meet with the approval of all the German bishops??

Hebe: The situation in Germany is so different that I do not consider this a master plan for all dioceses. In the Archdiocese of Hamburg we live in an extreme diaspora. Financially we can no longer afford everything. It is no different for the Protestant Church. Therefore, we need to be creative and develop alternatives. In the Mettenhof district of Kiel, a Catholic and Protestant congregation have been sharing the church and community center since as early as 1980.

CBA: In order to improve the precarious budget situation in the archdiocese of Hamburg, you demand a financial equalization between the dioceses. Will be the topic at the plenary assembly of the German bishops in March?
Hebe: The topic of interdiocesan financial equalization is definitely set in the bishops' conference. But we are still a long way from implementation. First of all, all dioceses must balance their finances according to the Commercial Code in order to establish comparability. Only then can we see which dioceses are really rich or poor.
CBA: In a few days, an abuse summit with bishops from all over the world will take place in the Vatican. What expectations do you have?

Hebe: The pope wants to place abuse as a worldwide ie where everyone must act. Thus he sets an important impulse. In Germany, we have already developed high standards in reappraisal and prevention. Other regions still have some catching up to do.

CBA: But even in the German church, the ie is not over yet. How should it continue to deal with it after the publication of the abuse study last year?
Hebe: An important insight is to include the perspective of those affected. In the Archdiocese of Hamburg, we are trying to do this concretely, among other things, with a project of reappraisal in Neubrandenburg, where we have a particularly serious case. In addition, we are developing protection concepts for our parishes, schools and places of youth work. We look at where structures encourage abuse of power and sexual abuse.

CBA: "Abuse of power is in the DNA of the church," said recently Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer. Do you agree?

Hebe: (hesitates) Abuse of power is something from which no one is immune. The Gospel contains Jesus' wise advice: "But it shall not be so among you." It takes power to exercise leadership, but it must be controlled and shared. Personally, I don't see myself as a bishop who makes decisions in private, but in discourse with others. In financial matters, for example, I always involve the recently established Economic Council.
CBA: But in many cases you have the last word.
Hebe: Yes, that's so. But I am counting on further participation. I like Cardinal Marx's proposal to involve lay people more in the administrative management of his archdiocese of Munich and Freising in the future.
CBA: Are you in favor of naming concrete failures of former or even current officials – for example, in the case of chain transfers of abusers?
Hebe: Where responsibilities are clear, we must stand by them. The Archdiocese of Cologne also wants to clarify the role of past and present leaders, personnel managers, vicars general and bishops as part of the process of coming to terms with the past. I am also part of this. At that time, we tried in the circle of those responsible to manage all the problems well. Whether our actions were the best by today's standards remains to be seen.

CBA: For the upcoming European elections, the church stresses its commitment to a common Europe. Why is this so important to the bishops?

Hebe: In the Archdiocese of Hamburg, we have just celebrated the feast of our patron saint, St. Ansgar. It made me realize once again how European he and other saints like Boniface or Liborius thought. The Christian faith and the image of man derived from it are important foundations of Europe. We must make this clear as a church.
CBA: The acid test for a common Europe is how to deal with the refugee crisis. As a refugee bishop, what proposals do you have for reforming the European asylum system??
Hebe: The two global pacts on flight and migration are a step in the right direction. The agreements go beyond Europe and make it clear that migration is not a local but a global ie. Only all countries together can solve the problem. For asylum seekers, we need clear procedural paths that focus on the rights of individuals. And if someone cannot stay in a country, repatriation must also be well regulated.

The interview was conducted by Michael Althaus.

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