Church on the way © leolintang (shutterstock)
The Catholic Church embarked on the "Synodal Way" at the weekend. There are different opinions about what this reform process should look like. The "Initiative Pontifex" pleads for a focus on new evangelization.
Interviewer: The Pontifex initiative is perhaps not known to everyone. Can you briefly explain what this initiative is??
Benno Schwaderlapp (Initiative Pontifex): The Pontifex Initiative emerged from the Benedict Generation, which was founded after World Youth Day 2005 and wants to build a bridge between the church and the media, between church positions and both church and secular media. We are about 25 young people, who are not all theologians, even rather the minority, but just church socialized. We are faithful to the teachings of the Pope and the Church, and we position ourselves accordingly with regard to the Synodal Way.
Interviewer: You criticize the Synodal Way very strongly in a public letter. They fear, the letter says, that in forums with the themes of "women" and "hierarchy," there is a danger that only heretical approaches will be pursued there, that is, approaches that contradict Church teaching. Why?
Schwaderlapp: With regard to the question of women, Saint Pope John Paul II. that actually finally clarified. And whoever accepts the hermeneutics of the teachings in the church from councils, tradition, the Bible and papal decisions, it must be clear to him that the question of women has been finally settled in the Catholic Church. Here hopes are stirred up that can in no way be fulfilled. And if there comes another approach from the German Church, that would be heretical according to our catchment and actually also according to catchment of the Catholic teaching.
If it's just about getting women into more leadership positions, I don't see a problem with that at all. But this can also be done by each bishop himself. In principle, this also has to do with the hierarchy. The church is hierarchical. Christ is at the top. Below that come the ministers of the church, who have received authority and exercise their office accordingly. And if democratic structures are now to be introduced by democratic means, as the synodal process envisages, which are to undermine or even overrule this hierarchy, that is, also the powers of the bishops, that is also incompatible with the hierarchical constitution of the Church.
Interviewer: But that there must be reforms, that the church must reorganize itself, that is also your amption. How can and must this look concretely?
Schwaderlapp: After our catching up, a new evangelization of Germany and a new evangelization worldwide is needed. In principle, it must begin with everyone personally. Everyone personally needs to set out anew right now in Advent, a good time to do so, to turn to Christ, to rethink their prayer life, to reconsider their moral views, to turn more strongly to Christ again, to strengthen their relationship with Christ anew. And for that, the church would certainly need new ways of speaking in many places, or new ways of communicating with people.
In our estimation, the Synodal Way and the reforms considered there, which have been much talked about in advance, and which are very, very old – this has not only come up since the abuse scandal – are, in our opinion, unsuitable to drive young people back into the church.
Interviewer: What reforms do you think would be more appropriate to build the bridge to young people?
Schwaderlapp: From my own parish life I can say that, for example, catechesis, i.e. the teaching of the faith to young people in particular, has practically not taken place in recent years and decades. This means that young people have no idea at all why the church holds certain doctrines. I myself grew up as a young person with these prejudices, like: "The Church is simply against condoms and actually wants to spread Aids in Africa.". That's what you've heard in the media, that's never been questioned.
Until I was lucky enough at some point to experience a catechetical education and to hear that there are good reasons for it and that the sexual morals of the church are well-founded and not just a castle in the air that you build to annoy people. But that there is a biblical basis for it, a basis of tradition. A doctrinal basis that is well-founded and not just a fixed idea that was thought up to make things difficult for people. And I think that especially the catechesis and also the common prayer would be very, very important to bring especially young people after confirmation to the church, to bring that more to the fore again.
Interviewer: Now it was also the structures in the Catholic Church that enabled sexualized abuse of children and did not stop it. There was a cover-up, priests with criminal records were shifted from one diocese to another. What has to change in the structures so that something like this doesn't happen again??
Schwaderlapp: There is the idea that it is not the structures that have to change, but the sexual morals that have to change, because in principle they would have made this possible. To be honest, I think that is quite absurd, because the sexual morals of the church are, to put it bluntly, the strictest we know in the world. Except perhaps for some extreme currents in Islam. But the problem is that these morals are not adhered to – and not that the morals are wrong.
And I believe that the structures that have now been initiated in the Archdiocese of Cologne, for example, are very good paths. There is an abuse commissioner who can be contacted. In addition, the clear reporting of every crime to the public prosecutor's offices and there investigative procedures are carried out. In youth work, there are these abuse prevention trainings that every adult who works with young people and every young person who works with children must go through in order to be sensitive to signs where young people may not be able to open up in this regard, so that they can then take the appropriate measures there. That's why I think the church is actually on the right track in this respect. That mistakes were made there in the past is, I think, beyond doubt.
Interviewer: For them, church doctrines such as celibacy or women's priesthood are non-negotiable and immutable. Why?
Schwaderlapp: Celibacy is, of course, negotiable, because it is an ecclesiastical regulation. But I think celibacy is very valuable. I believe that it is incredibly important that priests and bishops reflect the way of life of Jesus with their lives and place themselves fully at the service of the Church, of God and of people. The question of women's priesthood was, I think, theologically very well justified by John Paul II. – and have been further developed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
These are simply arguments that are very conclusive for me. As I said, if you think that papal decisions are not binding for you as a Catholic, or that you could ignore them and make further demands that are not compatible with the doctrine, then I think you have to ask yourself whether the Catholic Church is still the right home for you.
The interview was conducted by Michelle Olion.