“We have a monarchical system in the church”

The report about the abuse at the Domspatzen was almost unanimously reacted with horror. Wolfgang Beck explains on our site interview, what went wrong and why the scandals are an opportunity for the church.

Interviewer: Those were clear words that you chose on Saturday. You are a priest yourself. Were you surprised by the shocking extent of the abuse and mistreatment of your colleagues??

Father Wolfgang Beck (Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Catholic University in Sankt Georgen): No, you also have to say that as a Catholic Christian you have become accustomed to a lot in recent years. The process of coming to terms with the past in Regensburg has been going on for a number of years, so it was clear that the report would certainly contain a lot of things that would cause another shock. But then what is also important are two different levels: One is the processing that must be done and that the victims are taken care of. The bishop of Regensburg reacted quite well with a pastoral word on Sunday. The second level is then to say that we have had similar situations over and over again in recent years where things have come to light. And we have to ask ourselves what structures exist in the Catholic Church that are also responsible for the fact that perpetrators are obviously attracted here, or at least that an ideal field has been created for their deeds. I think there are structural components that have not yet been sufficiently illuminated.

Interviewer: So it is the structures of clerical power and intransparency that have made this level of abuse possible. Do these structures still exist?? After all, the events in Regensburg happened 25 years ago.

Beck: Yes, I would argue that it still exists. Of course, much has changed in the past 25 years, and it would be strange if it didn't. There has been great progress in both violence and abuse prevention work. You have to appreciate that in a positive way. But the structural processes that exist within the Catholic Church have not changed much. There is still a very great lack of transparency, a great clericalism, which also largely eludes any control, or at least only allows it to the extent that it is indispensable. The Catholic Church is a bit driven by what is happening in public discourse. I think that the church needs to be kept on its toes, or to be kept on its toes by a public that clearly says: We simply don't accept some things. And this is not one of the areas in which the church can say: we'll just handle it differently and according to our own taste. But there is a social and public interest in some topics being dealt with in the church.

Interviewer: In particular, you also warn against putting things into perspective now. You warn against representatives of the church now saying that corporal punishment was just common practice back then. And the sexual abuse, that were only individual cases. You don't consider such voices, which there are now, to be inappropriate, but even dangerous – why?

Beck: Because of course they are strategically oriented and try everything to avoid this second level, this rather deeper level of dealing with church structures. So it is an appeasement, which reduces the problem to the individual case, to an acting with the victims. This is all right and good, but it must not lead to a situation where the actual reforms are not tackled. I would quickly want to identify this strategy of weakening in some statements.

Interviewer: You also say that the abuse scandals can be an opportunity for the Catholic Church. What is this opportunity?

Beck: The opportunity would be to address honestly and transparently some fields of one's own structures where one has to say: This is a field in which we are simply pre-modern. We are not yet set up in a way that is standard in our modern society and should be taken for granted."For example, with regard to questions of co-determination, transparency and decision-making processes, and the separation of powers. We still have a monarchical system in the way bishoprics are understood in the Catholic Church. Many people are not aware of this. But whoever is a Catholic bishop in our country is at the same time a legislator and thus also very largely removed from any neutral control. There are, of course, approaches that have emerged in recent years. But these are also only beginnings. It has to be said: The Catholic Church has not yet arrived in the modern age, and it needs a little help to get up to speed.

Interviewer: Did you receive any reactions to your clear words in the Word for Sunday?. Everyone must not have liked what you said and denounced there?

Beck: So, for the most part, the reactions were positive and encouraging. For the most part, I got the feedback that said "All respect, this is what we've been waiting for, that this is being addressed so honestly." In these positive and encouraging e-mails, however, it then also often comes up that things will not be easy for me and that I would face headwinds. These are fears that are certainly not born out of thin air. There I will have to dress perhaps warmly.
Interviewer: That's not when a bishop calls up and says, "Wait a minute. What are you criticizing the clerical power for – that is not so true! Stop fouling your own nest like that?"

Beck: So far, two dioceses have shared the Word for Sunday on their Facebook presence, and one bishop has shared it as well. So it's encouraging that there doesn't seem to be a lot of horror about this. I am curious to see what the further reactions will be. But I would also guess that they are more likely to try to sit this one out and keep quiet, in the hope that Wolfgang Beck, as the spokesman for the "Wort zum Sonntag" (Word on Sunday), will once again devote himself to other topics.

The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.

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