The Holy Spirit Parish in the parish of St. Joseph-Sud in Munster is in the headlines because a retired clergyman caused a scandal with his sermon. Peter Frings is an intervention officer of the diocese and evaluates the situation.
Interviewer: The emeritus priest's sermon is not available in writing – but what outraged people so much that some of them even left the service was his statement that victims of sexual abuse should eventually forgive their abusers. Now affected people are said to have been in the service, who, according to their own statements, experienced this sermon as very bad. What do you say about the incident?
Peter Frings (Intervention Officer of the Diocese of Munster): It is indeed the case that there is no written text of this sermon. I learned from the press that those affected were supposed to have been present at the service. I also only learned about the sermon itself from the press.
This is, of course, an extraordinarily difficult situation. The diocese of Munster announces in various places, including in the flyer that will be made available to the congregation in the next few days, that we want to focus on the perspective of those affected. When such statements are made in a sermon, it is of course very counterproductive to what we are trying to bring about.
Interviewer: They say the diocese wants to take the perspective of the victims. It is difficult, however, if the congregation gets the feeling from such a sermon that the clergyman wants to protect the institution rather than the victims, isn't it??
Frings: Yes, I have also received emails from those affected expressing anger and trappedness. The aspect is: forgiveness is not a story that can be decreed. If anyone can forgive in the context of our world, it is the victims themselves, who have the freedom to decide whether to do so or not.
And at the beginning one must certainly also put: Forgiveness is possible when an accused or a perpetrator – however you want to call it – then also shows a bit of insight or remorse, or asks for forgiveness. But to say we're not talking about that so far is exactly what those involved continue to criticize.
Interviewer: Now the scandal has already boiled up a bit and the priest in question has ied a statement. On the part of the diocese, this statement was considered "unhelpful". He does not seem to be at all insightful there. What do you say?
Frings: Well, yesterday I only saw the excerpt from the TV coverage, where a team interviewed him, and also what he himself wrote on his website. That's exactly my big problem with this: There is obviously a lack of insight. To say: Yes, I may have had a certain intention that I was not able to bring across. But one can also say that it is about the victim's point of view. This does not happen and, as far as I know, it has not been clearly expressed so far. This is, I think, what causes the exasperation.
Interviewer: That leads to the question: How does the diocese deal with it??
Frings: That's a good question. The vicar general will have to talk to the bishop. There has, after all, been an explicit desire on the part of the bishop to say, "We don't want him preaching now. Just to make it clear, in the sense of those affected, that those affected who attend the church service do not meet this preacher at this point.
How this is to be re-evaluated now, after the statements of yesterday, we will have to discuss it again in the diocese. Because we always have to let ourselves be reproached: We want to take the perspective of those affected and must then also make that the basis of our decisions. At the very least, we need to think about how to deal with this – because I also believe that it would be difficult, if not unbearable, for many of those affected if they were confronted with the fact that this very same clergyman would appear again at the church service the next weekend.
Interviewer: One measure was that there was a public exchange, a public debate yesterday evening. Has anything come out of this that one could build on??
Frings: I myself was not present, which is why I cannot say anything about the course of the evening. I only know what is in the press. I guess it's also been about this ie and also about what really happened in the service. The opinions obviously differ between the perception of the clergyman himself – who spoke of tumult and at some point even the term mob appears – and the perception of the parishioners, who were probably present at the service and also yesterday, who said that it was clearly different.
The community will certainly have to think about what consequences will follow. It has been praised in the press that you immediately offered this evening of discussion and faced up to the ie. The congregation will certainly evaluate how to deal with this as a congregation, after what was said by those present last night. It is a question of the parish itself, but also of the diocese.
Interviewer: The Catholic Church has suffered a great loss of trust as a result of this abuse scandal. Now something like this is also added, in a phase in which it is a matter of regaining trust in the parishes. You are the intervention commissioner of the diocese of Munster. What do you recommend to the parishes or the diocese in such a situation??
Frings: This is particularly difficult for me because I have been in this new position for just under three months and am now trying to establish contacts in all areas and to clearly say: We also want to consider with those affected and see what the right steps are that we have to take. They described the immense loss of confidence in the Catholic Church. This is what it must be about. We must work to make people take what we say and do seriously again. This is going to be very difficult! I already have the impression after the three months.
Of course, preaching like this is a disaster for the work I'm doing now, trying to build up contact, because people say: You say this on one side and then do opposing things on the other. From my point of view, this must have consequences for the priest. I can only say this so clearly.
The interview was conducted by Andreas Lange.