Capturing voices and moods from the plenary assembly of bishops was harder this time than usual. The meeting took place virtually for the first time. Other things came to the fore.
There are two images from the real world that remain in the memory from the first virtual plenary assembly of Catholic bishops in Germany. A woman took her place on the podium at Tuesday's kick-off press conference: the bishops had previously elected theologian Beate Gilles to head the Bonn-based Secretariat of the German Bishops' Conference. All her predecessors were men and clergy. Gilles, who has been head of the department for children, youth and family in the diocese of Limburg since 2010, is the first woman and lay theologian to hold this important post.
Instead of a "secretary," as of 1. July a "general secretary" to help decide the future of the church and its involvement in society. This also includes the management of the Association of German Dioceses (VDD) with an annual budget of around 120 million euros.
New construction sites in the processing of abuse
The second picture: a carnival float from Dusseldorf in front of Cologne Cathedral. The picture shows a bishop whose miter is modeled on the tip of a penis; on the bishop's robe is the inscription "The core problem of the Catholic Church". The Giordano Bruno Foundation, which is critical of the church, protested with the float until the end of the plenary session on Thursday against what it sees as the slow pace of coming to terms with abuse in the church.
The ie has dominated the headlines for weeks, mainly because of the debates about the actions of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki in the archdiocese of Cologne. He is criticized for not allowing an expert report on dealing with abuse cases to be published as initially planned because of "methodological flaws". The chairman of the Bishops' Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing, stressed that he had repeatedly lobbied Woelki for the publication of this report. But the cardinal has stuck to his decision. Now the publication of the second expert report, which Woelki had promised, is pending. "We will now have to wait until 18. March and if possible no prejudices meet."
Meanwhile, new construction sites are opening up. Thus, the Deutschlandfunk reported on a victim of sexualized violence and abuse of power by a priest, who accuses Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Bishop Stephan Ackermann of insufficient reappraisal and protection of offenders. Both, as bishops of Trier, had been slow to follow up on the accusations and had done so too late.
"Clerical abuse" on the agenda
At the meeting itself, the Bishop of Dresden-Meissen, Heinrich Timmerevers, together with Munster's Bishop Felix Genn, reported on the suffering of people who had been manipulated or put under prere by pastors, for example during confession or in the context of religious life accompaniment. As emphatically as this problem of "clerical abuse" is being addressed, there remains an aftertaste. In an interview with katholisch.de admitted Timmerevers made mistakes in dealing with abuse in his own diocese.
It is obvious that under such conditions, the church has ever greater difficulties in making itself heard with other ies. The future of Christianity in Germany was the topic of Wednesday's study day. In addition to their own challenges, both the Catholic and Protestant churches have been experiencing a decline in membership for years. In political debates such as euthanasia, both are losing clout as ecumenical consensus crumbles.
Nuncio urges unity
But also within the church centrifugal forces are to be felt. The bishops are having a hard time finding a common course in the synodal path launched by them and the Central Committee of German Catholics. The initiative is intended to explore scope for change. In the Vatican, there is still great concern about a German Sonderweg.
Pope's ambassador Nikola Eterovic called on the bishops to unity in his greeting to the plenary assembly. Conflicts threatened to destroy sense of church unity. Batzing spoke of an "admonition and encouragement". Among reform-minded forces like Maria 2.0 Meanwhile, impatience is growing. Two images of church face each other. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile them.