Bible opened in a pew © mojekadry (shutterstock)
The outlook on the "new" church year begins where the review of the old one ends: with Corona. The pandemic determines the everyday life of the people. And also has a firm grip on the church calendar.
It was to be one of the highlights of church life in 2021 – the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in May. Five days with more than 100.000 participants. But Corona is putting a stop to all major events until further notice. The Christian meeting is not to be cancelled, but will take on a completely different character. It is now to be shortened by one day, held largely digitally and without visitors on site.
The Synodal Way, the dialogue on the future of the Catholic Church in Germany that was launched about a year ago to great press attention, faces similar problems. As things stand, the 230-member synodal assembly will not meet for a second time until fall 2021 at the earliest. Behind the scenes and in smaller groups, however, the discussions between bishops and laity are to continue.
The Synodal Way
The topics are set: sexual morality, the priestly way of life, power and the separation of powers, and the role of women in the church. In the Vatican and the universal Church, the progress of the debates is being closely monitored. With the church leadership in Rome, representatives of the bishops and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) want to talk next year about a paper of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on another and rather central aspect of church life.
The instruction published in the summer contradicted efforts to entrust the management of parishes to teams of priests and lay people committed to the Church. Lay people can participate in church leadership, but only priests are allowed to actually lead, administer, moderate and coordinate. Several bishops had been very critical of the paper – as had numerous laymen.
Financial cuts and structural changes
Meanwhile, in the diocese of Trier, it will become clear what parish reform can look like in practice in the face of a declining number of priests and active parishioners, as well as declining church tax revenues. The Vatican had halted the original plans in Germany's oldest diocese in November 2019 after complaints from priests and lay people from Trier. So now the project is to be relaunched next year and tackled in a second attempt. Those responsible have calculated a total of five years for this task.
The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) is also preparing for financial cuts and structural changes. 17 million euros to be saved in EKD budget by 2030. One of the tasks of the synod, which will be reconstituted in May, is to achieve this goal. It remains open who will lead the church parliament as president, succeeding former FDP politician Irmgard Schwaetzer. Since candidates with political experience are in demand for the post, former federal ministers Herrmann Grohe and Thomas de Maiziere (both CDU) would be possible candidates.
Coming to terms with sexual abuse
In the fall, the synod will elect the new EKD Council. The Bavarian Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm has already renounced his candidacy for the presidency, so that – after Margot Kabmann in 2009 – a female bishop could be elected to this top office for the second time, for example the deputy president of the Council, the Westphalian President Annette Kurschus, or the Hamburg Bishop Kirsten Fehrs.
One major ie remains for both churches in any case: coming to terms with abuse. In the Protestant church, the long-announced scientific study on sexualized violence has begun; results are expected in fall 2023. In the Catholic Church, there has recently been turbulence in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki is under prere because those affected accuse him of instrumentalizing them for his course. Most recently, cover-up allegations were made against himself. He has passed the matter on to Rome for consideration.
The spring plenary session will also be held digitally
Archbishop Stephan Hebe of Hamburg, formerly head of personnel and vicar general in Cologne, is also defending himself against such accusations and wants the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican to decide whether he should remain in office. For both him and Woelki, everyone is looking forward to March with anticipation, when an expert report on the handling of abuse cases by executives in the Archdiocese of Cologne will actually be available.
It is quite possible that the German bishops will deal with the latest developments in this matter as early as the end of February, when they meet for their spring plenary session. But this will also be the first time that it will be held purely digitally, and not in Dresden as planned, where the diocese of Dresden-Meissen is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Corona is putting a spoke in the wheel here too.