Bishop Furst: "The laity perform extraordinarily valuable services." © KNA
For 16 years Bishop Gebhard Furst of Rottenburg was spiritual assistant to the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). At the International Convention he passes the baton to the Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hebe. An interview to take stock.
Catholic News Agency: Bishop Furst, what do you remember particularly fondly when you think of your 16 years as spiritual assistant to the ZdK?
Bishop Gebhard Furst: The Catholic Day in Ulm comes to mind, where bioethical questions were also discussed under the motto 'Life from God's strength': Three roles coincided for me: Host, spiritual assistant and chairman of the bishops' bioethics commission. And I gratefully remember the discussion process that emerged as a result of the abuse scandal. Many central questions were openly discussed there. Without the culture of dialogue that developed there, the Catholic Church in Germany would not be where it is today.
CBA: And what unpleasant memory do you have?
Prince: That was the ZdK plenary meeting immediately before the Ecumenical Church Congress in 2010 – at the height of the debates about abuse. It was a very upset atmosphere, in which many sensitivities were expressed very emotionally.
CBA: Buffer, hinge, lubricating oil, permanent balancing act – do any of these words aptly describe your role at the ZdK?
Prince: Not really. Hinge and lubricating oil sound too mechanical to me. I see myself more as a bridge builder. It is about proceal events and personal encounters. The time was exciting, and there were tensions. But the ZdK is the expression of an understanding of the church: lay people and bishops perform tasks together, but differently. This co-responsibility is realized in communication.
CBA: The number of your appointments in 16 years was almost unmanageable: Presidium meetings, main committees, plenary assemblies, Katholikentag leadership, Katholikentage, Joint Conference. What conclusion do you draw after countless meetings?
Furst: I consider myself to be reasonably well informed about what is going on in politics, society, the Church, and culture. And yet I was able to learn a great deal at the ZdK. If you look at statements and declarations on bioethical ies, justice, religious dialogue, Europe or end-of-life care, you will see how important ies are dealt with at a very high level. There are committed, smart and competent people in the ZdK. Nobody should minimize or overlook this potential.
CBA: Has time changed your image of lay Catholicism?
Furst: Through the vivid experiences my appreciation got concrete faces.
CBA: They experienced three presidents: Meyer, Gluck and Sternberg. What comes to mind about these very different types?
Prince: Meyer is a great rhetorician with a sharp mind and brilliant critical analysis. Also about his church. Happiness is politically wide awake and an important source of inspiration. With his connections in all areas he has moved a lot. Sternberg is extremely well versed and committed in political and cultural dialogue.
CBA: There were also various problems between the bishops' conference and the laity: for example, the structure of "Donum Vitae" or the statements on women deacons or homosexual couples. How did you deal with this, since you did not have a formal veto??
Prince: The debates about the pregnancy counseling centers of "Donum Vitae" have put a lasting strain on the relationship between the bishops and the ZdK. Today we should see: There is more common ground than thought. It is about different paths that lead to the same goal, the protection of life. And of course it's true: I was unable to make an impact with my personal stance on, for example, the question of women deacons in the church or the treatment of homosexuals at the ZdK.
CBA: Did you sometimes take a beating for this in the Bishops' Conference??
Prince: I prefer to call it conflictual inquiries. But I was an advocate of lay Catholicism in the Bishops' Conference. And I will remain so. For example, in the "Joint Conference," where bishops and ZdK leadership meet twice a year.
CBA: What do you wish the ZdK for the future??
Prince: That it can continue its good work and maintain its wide social network. And I would appreciate a more benevolent perception. The laymen are not opponents, but partners. They provide extremely valuable services.
CBA: Your very personal summary?
Prince: I leave grateful and enriched by great people I have met and had the privilege to work with. After 16 years, I would immediately say yes again to this beautiful task. But everything has its time.