Borrowing from talk shows, party conferences and Internet chats, the young director of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria is looking for new forms of cultivated debate. Impressions of the premiere on Tuesday evening.
Ten minutes are enough for the abolition of celibacy. After an impulse lecture by Hubert Wolf, a church historian from Munster, who has just written a new book on the subject, the question is: Who is for, who is against? Several green cards, only a few red ones go to the top. The opinion is clear.
Similarly the agreement with the Zulang of women to all ordination offices. If it would concern here a verfangsgebende meeting of the catholic church, this would look at the end of the evening completely differently than used to. But it is an event of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria.
Audience involved in discussions
A breath of revolution wafted through the great hall of Munich's Cardinal Wendel House on Tuesday. The new director Achim Budde has announced "new methodical territory". This is already expressed in the relaxed seating arrangement: Instead of sitting in rows of chairs as in a lecture hall or classroom, the audience is seated at covered tables of six people each.
For "The return of the reform debate" the academy had started a survey in advance. The results are presented on movable walls, organized by topic: Celibacy, power structures, gender justice, understanding of ministry. Among the letters, the one from the aged former SPD leader and academy regular Hans-Jochen Vogel stands out, who – married for the second time – takes a critical look at the traditional Catholic understanding of mortal sins in sexual morality.
The audience has many opportunities to participate. By SMS to the organizer it can launch questions, at the table with bread and wine theses formulate, on which then by all "to vote" is. A lively conversation ensues, which the guests visibly enjoy.
Church historian Wolf praises Budde's courage in reformatting and receives strong applause for it. He also enjoyed many a controversial table discussion very much. "That's something you rarely have as a speaker."Before a radio broadcast, an editor recently promised him that a bishop would take part in the discussion on celibacy in the studio – but then he was unable to find one.
Conservative counterpart missing
However, a real controversy does not want to get going on this evening. With the moral theologian Daniel Bogner, who teaches in Switzerland, the Tubingen dogmatist Johanna Rahner and Wolf, three proven reformers are invited, who lack a conservative counterpart. Moreover, the audience is much too united with the three. Budde says afterwards that surprised him.
Skeptical voices prevail on the prospects for success of reforms. There have been too many inconsequential discussion formats in the German church for that, from the Wurzburg Synod in the 1970s to diocesan pastoral forums and, most recently, the three-year discussion process of the German Bishops' Conference after the abuse crisis year of 2010 and the scandal over the overpriced new building of the Limburg bishop's house.
The next round should not be a flash in the pan – perhaps this is the last opportunity, "otherwise we can close up store," is a thesis that meets with strong approval.
Revolution postponed for the time being
Daniel Bogner, the youngest speaker at 47, regrets that the people of the church often "think so little of their possibilities". He is hopeful about the "Maria 2.0" initiative, whose emergence he was able to observe at close range in his home town of Munster. "It started with ten women, and here in Switzerland it has become a very big initiative.". Many other forms of action are conceivable, which could lead to a maelstrom that even bishops would no longer be able to escape.
At the end of the evening, the theologian goes to the barricades. The decisive question is: "How do tottering regimes fall??"Then he draws a comparison to the fall of the Iron Curtain, which Gorbachev alone did not tear down. This time the applause comes only hesitantly and anything but frenetically.
The revolution in the Catholic Church is postponed for the time being. The warm summer evening in Munich was too cozy for that.