Change of baton at the Central Committee of German Catholics: Secretary General Stefan Vesper is retiring early. His successor Marc Frings should have enough time for upcoming tasks.
"You simply have to have staying power on some ies."As secretary general of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Stefan Vesper has experienced a stormy time and many changes since 1999: disputes over conflict counseling for pregnant women, the Donum Vitae association and the role of women in the church, the abuse scandal, church resignations or the disputes over the financing of the Catholic Days.
A juggling with many balls, which Vesper now ends prematurely. At the end of November, the 63-year-old was bid farewell after 20 years at the ZdK's autumn plenary meeting in Bonn. Successor Marc Frings, who took office on 1. The new president, who officially took office in January, is to have enough time to implement the 3. Ecumenical Kirchentag 2021 and the upcoming Katholikentage to be planned.
Great prere to succeed
However, the present time is not favorable either: "When I made the decision, it was not to be expected that we would be so strongly challenged by the process on the Synodal Way," says Vesper.
The prere to succeed is great: "This process must not fail, otherwise even more people will leave the church," the theologian warns.
At the same time, he said, the Synodal Way is a huge opportunity: demands with which the laity had run up against the wall for years are now being discussed at eye level.
In the view of the Dusseldorf native, there is enough room for reform: "Of course, it would be a signal if the Synodal Way were to appeal to Rome with a strong voice to introduce the diaconate of women," says Vesper in an interview with the CBA. Also the introduction of an administrative jurisdiction is feasible.
He also sees much room for maneuver on the ie of power. The distrust of lay people is already evident in the congregations: "Experienced lawyers, doctors or craftsmen are involved in the church councils – and ultimately the pastor decides with a stroke of his pen whether they get through with their concerns."It will become increasingly difficult to recruit such people for church involvement. This applies especially to women. "If they are not taken more seriously, they will leave."
In dealing with sexual abuse, the church is further along than many other social groups, emphasizes Vesper. On the other hand, many people have still not fully understood "how much our brand essence is threatened and the trust in the church has been shaken.
Vesper, who lives in Bad Honnef, describes as highlights of his work the encounters with many people who are "also committed out of their faith and are burning for something". The letter was received by many people, including Johannes Rau, Joachim Gauck, Angela Merkel, Cardinals Lehmann and Marx, and many Christians in parishes and associations. "We still have a lot of potential as Christians – if we don't get in our own way and paralyze ourselves by making mistakes."
Stronger role in the topic of ecology?
Vesper sees it as a shortcoming that the church does not play a stronger role in ecology. Catholics, he said, have so many expressions when it comes to the care of creation – from Lent to St. Francis and a great appreciation of the simple life. There are also many initiatives that are committed to creation. "We would need to focus this more."
Vesper also finds it regrettable that the cooperation of the Catholic laity in Europe is not really getting off the ground. German Catholics should do more to help shape society in Central European countries in a Christian spirit. "Europe is worth every effort," he wrote last year after an 800-kilometer bike ride through seven neighboring countries.
As early as 1996 and 1997, the father of two grown daughters gained intensive European experience: On behalf of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), he organized the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz from St. Gallen, which was attended by all the Christian churches of Europe.
Vesper will have more time for private things in the future: the grandchildren and music, for example. He may also go to the Alps more often: in 2016 he was "hut host" for several weeks on the 2.Hexensee hut in Tyrol, 500 meters above sea level.