Despite reservations from Rome, the Ecumenical Church Congress wants to dare more church meal fellowship among Christians. In an interview, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, promotes an ecumenism of conscience.
CBA: Because of the pandemic, this Ecumenical Church Congress will take place mainly digitally. Other major digital events, such as party conventions, have made it into media headlines. Will the oKT also succeed?
Bishop Georg Batzing (Bishop of Limburg and President of the German Bishops' Conference): What matters to me is not the headline, but the message we want to send to the public: As Christians, we stand together in a world with big questions for the future. And we want to make a Gospel-motivated contribution to these ies that will enrich public discussion and decision-making processes. That is why the Kirchentag is called "ecumenical.
We bear witness together to faith in the just, gracious and life-affirming God of Jesus Christ. We would all have liked to see a big celebration of faith in Frankfurt, with people and encounters on the ground. This is not possible in view of the pandemic. Nevertheless, it is important and right not to have simply canceled the oKT, but to set this – albeit digital – sign. With this we make clear: We take the pandemic seriously, but we do not let ourselves be paralyzed by it.
CBA: A major theme should become "coming to the Lord's table" left to the conscience of the individual, regardless of denomination. Will such sacramental services that transcend denominational boundaries still take place at the oKT, despite the written objections from Rome??
Batzing: On Saturday evening we celebrate services in our respective confessional traditions, which are designed in an ecumenically sensitive way. This gives everyone the opportunity to visit each other in the diversity of Christian denominations, to experience each other as hospitable and to witness their common faith in the living presence of Jesus Christ. I will be celebrating the Eucharist in Frankfurt Cathedral.
In many places, Christians will gather in confessional services. I appeal, however, not to make participation a demonstrative sign, but to respect the spiritual character and the honest personal decision of each and every individual.
To make it clear once again: the form of celebration offered is not about intercommunion in the sense of a general reciprocal invitation to participate in the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper, but about the question of how we deal with the personal decision of conscience of individual Catholic or Protestant Christians. For me, I respect such a decision and give communion if someone joins who believes what we Catholics believe and wants to receive the body of the Lord in faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ.
It is not a matter of generally inviting non-Catholic Christians to communion, because there is still no full church communion between the separated churches. Incidentally, Catholic canon law allows non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion under certain conditions. Undoubtedly, however, we must continue the theological dialogue on the meaning of the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper and their significance for the church community.
Fortunately, there has already been a clear convergence in this area in recent years.
CBA: The two largest Christian denominations in Germany, but especially the Catholic Church, have had the wind blowing in their faces for years. Public trust is waning, members are leaving in droves. What do you hope for from the oKT in this situation??
Batzing: The oKT will make clear that we as Christians shape the world together and stand together. We make it clear that we stand up for ies that focus on cohesion in society, social justice and global solidarity. And we will show with the oKT that we stand up for an image of God and humanity that is important for the current debates and is brought in by us.
This means: we take our social responsibility seriously and take it seriously. At the same time, we bear witness to our faith and try to communicate experiences of this faith and its relevance to the major ies of the future in a variety of formats. We may be measured by the reliability with which we fulfill this mission.
CBA: Ecumenism of Protestants and Catholics in Germany currently means "living in reconciled diversity" rather than "being on the way to an ever more perfect ecclesial unity.". What would it mean for ecumenism if the Catholic Church in Germany were to overcome divisive differences with liberal Protestantism in its church discipline and doctrine (key words: celibacy, ordination of women, sexual morality) in the course of its reform efforts??
Batzing: These ies are also important in ecumenism. But when we deal with them on the Catholic side, it is not a matter of assimilation to Protestantism, as some accuse us of doing. Once apart from the fact that "Protestant" doesn't sound like a danger to me, the inquiries do come from the innermost core of the Catholic Church.
Therefore, we will continue on the synodal path we have embarked on in a theologically sound way, in order to arrive at decisions based on content, which we can implement here in our country or take them as inquiries to the universal church. It is good that representatives of the ecumenical community are accompanying us critically on this path. But it is already important that we understand: The Synodal Way aims at an inner reform of the Catholic Church in our country. This can then – in a second step – also have an effect on ecumenism.
The interview was conducted by Ludwig Ring-Eifel.