Stronger “right to have a say and make decisions” necessary

Stronger 'right to have a say and make decisions' necessary

Ordination of women priests, compulsory celibacy and the influence of the abuse scandal on priestly training – after a hundred days in office, Germany's youngest diocesan bishop, Michael Gerber of Fulda, comments on controversial ies.

CBA: Mr. Bishop, you recently invited representatives of the initiative "Maria 2.0" met. Did you take away a new understanding of the women's demands?

Michael Gerber (Bishop of Fulda): It was important for me to hear what personal experiences the women bring to their protests and demands – some of them are full-time church workers, so I have a special responsibility for them. Of course I share the concern that women should be involved in decision-making processes in a relevant place and be able to take on responsibility.

CBA: Nevertheless, the women of Mary 2 are demanding.0 far more, namely access for women "to all ecclesiastical offices," for example, priesthood. Is this demand realistic?

Gerber: I do not consider this concrete demand to be very realistic. This is especially true when you look at the tradition of the Catholic Church, which is, after all, a worldwide church.
CBA: Would the priesthood for women in the Catholic Church be theologically possible at all?? Pope John Paul II. had stressed in a 1994 magisterial letter that the Catholic Church had "no authority whatsoever" to ordain women to the priesthood.
Gerber: In any case, this is a statement that we must take seriously.

And, of course, we also have the wider ecclesiastical tradition both in the Orthodox Eastern Church and here in the Catholic Western Church that goes in this direction. Theologically, behind it is the catch: it is ultimately the Spirit of God that guides the church both in history and in the present. So I have to bring what has been shown in history and what is shown today into a creative tension with one another.

CBA: So just go on as before?
Gerber: I believe that we would get nowhere with a one-sided focus on the question of ordination for women in the Catholic Church. However, I did not perceive such a one-sided focus from most of the interlocutors mentioned above. It was important for us together to take seriously the concern for gender justice.
CBA: What does this mean in concrete terms?
Gerber: I am in favor of a much stronger participation of both sexes in leadership tasks – clergy and laity.

This is not at all unusual, even in view of tradition.

Think about the leadership of sisterhoods. We need to give women in the Catholic Church a stronger voice and decision-making rights than before. We need a much more cooperative and participative style of leadership at different levels than we have traditionally had.

CBA: What has changed in priestly training since the abuse study was presented – in Fulda or also in the Archdiocese of Freiburg, where you were involved in priestly training?
Gerber: First of all, this begins with the selection of candidates: A psychological assessment before admission to the seminary has recently been introduced in the diocese of Fulda for the current application procedures of 2019. This was already the case in Freiburg. In both Freiburg and Fulda, about half of the serious applicants have not been accepted. Because we had justified doubts that the development potential of those concerned is sufficient to be able to responsibly carry out pastoral care. This is a question of human maturity.

Secondly, it is about accompaniment in training. There are structured processes, especially in the first phase of formation, with proven experts who help prospective priests to take an appropriate look at essential elements of their own psyche. From this, in quite a few cases, more detailed therapeutic processes develop. In justified cases, the director of formation commissions an expert opinion from a psychologist.

The opinion is then also relevant to the question of whether and how it continues for this candidate.

CBA: And after the training?
Gerber: Abuse study found that in priests, abnormalities often don't appear until 7 to 14 years after the end of training. Therefore, networks of pastors for pastors are necessary to counteract the isolation of priests. The priestly way of life is not an eremitical way of life, but a communal one.
CBA: There is also discussion about whether mandatory celibacy should be maintained for priests. What is your catch?
Gerber: As a former director of a seminary, I have also painfully experienced that people originally set out on the path to the priesthood and abandoned this path because of the celibacy obligation. But: Church needs in its core people who live a very binding form of following Christ. But this is not simply the personal question of the individual who does it.

It must be a concern of the church to enable and encourage people to walk on this path of discipleship. To be honest, this comes too short to me in the current discussion.

CBA: But if you were to talk now to a Protestant priest who has a wife and children…
Gerber: I would ask him how he concretely walks the path of following Christ. But I don't need to go that far. I personally know quite a number of married couples who live their Christian faith in a committed way. What I find exciting is that these couples have a very high regard for celibacy. It is important that we really respect each other's different ways of life. Here we need a cultural change.

The interview was conducted by Norbert Demuth.

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