Youth bishop Oster provokes: The Catholic federations represent a "light version of the Gospel", he reproaches them at their general assembly. They won't take it lying down.
It is his inaugural visit. Stefan Oster has been the youth bishop of the Catholic Church in Germany since September of last year. On Friday, the head pastor, who is known for his clear words, will face the discussion – at the general meeting of the Association of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ) in Odenthal-Altenberg in the Bergisches Land. And it gets heated.
Criticism of the Catholic youth associations
Oster suspects that. For in his PowerPoint presentation slumber not only friendly greetings, but unsparing ecclesiastical analysis and quite a lot of criticism of the Catholic youth associations, of which 17 are involved with 660.000 members have joined together in the BDKJ. "I love the open and honest word, even if it is controversial," the bishop says in anticipation of the expected controversy. At the same time he presents himself as a learner.
The decisive factor is that, despite all the differences, we encounter each other with a "hermeneutic of goodwill". Friction generates warmth, the Passau bishop had said earlier in an interview.
(Not yet) found the right way
In his statement, Oster laments a "loss of relevance of faith in society" and asks how to counter it. In his view, the Catholic youth associations have not – yet – found the right way. While he praises their commitment to refugees and against racism, he also welcomes their democratic culture of participation – especially in times of populism and authoritarian presidentialism. But Oster wants more. "We are not first politics, we are first church," he emphasizes. The associations speak far too little about the proprium of the church: Jesus Christ. For him, the associations are content with a "light version of the gospel". In the BDKJ position paper "Theology of Associations", for example, this "degenerates into a caricature". He is anything but "such a nice guy" who only confirms "what we are and do".
In Oster's view, the associations have forgotten to proclaim Jesus as the one who challenges the individual to make a personal decision. And with biblical quotations such as "Everyone takes up his cross," he underlines that this can also be quite uncomfortable.
Abundance of irritant topics
The bishop admits that identification with the church is difficult and that the "fence of irritant topics" – celibacy, no to homosexual practice or no ordination offices for women – acts like a blockade. That is why it is important to first make the church a place where God can be experienced. And then, from an internal perspective, the view of the irritant topics could also change. How Oster envisions Catholic youth becomes clear when he praises the Austrian Loretto community, which emphasizes a strong prayer life. He also finds it desirable that young people take to the streets against abortions.
The representatives of the association also do not shy away from controversy and disagree properly. BDKJ National President Pastor Dirk Bingener firmly rejects the accusation of a "light version of the gospel". Friction can also produce coldness, he says admonishingly in the direction of the youth bishop. And the BDKJ Federal President Wolfgang Ehrenlechner demands that the "fence of irritant topics" simply be torn down, so that people could find their way to church and faith.
Oster wants to challenge
The president of the German Scout Association of St. George (DPSG), Kerstin Fuchs, emphasizes that there is "faith in action" and not just in church services. Thomas Andonie, regional leader of the Kolping Youth in Bavaria, shares with the bishop the concern for the protection of life, but shies away from the "Demo fur alle" or the "March for Life" because he also identifies homophobic, Islamophobic and right-wing populist groups there.
Despite all the harshness, the discussion ends on a conciliatory note and with the wish to continue talking to each other. "I don't want to put you down," Oster emphasizes, "but I do want to challenge you.". A DPSG-representative thanks him that he "so seriously" argues with the BDKJ. This is better than "soft words". And another delegate says to the bishop: "I think it's okay that you are cheeky – if you allow us to be cheeky."