German bishops © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
The abuse study has repercussions: Numerous Catholic bishops took up the ie in their sermons around the turn of the year. In addition to words of remorse, however, there were also very concrete announcements.
Nothing changes just because it's New Year. In the speeches of the German bishops, however, the signs clearly point to change: The extent of the sexual abuse has also led to perplexity, doubt and feelings of powerlessness among priests and bishops, confessed several senior pastors. Critical monitoring, more participation by lay people and structures that prevent abuse and misuse of power are necessary.
Overbeck sees "turn of the times" for the church
Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck spoke of a "turning point in time" on New Year's Eve. Topics such as the image of the priest and ordination, hierarchy, celibacy, women's ministry and sexual morality should no longer be declared taboo. There are "no more questions that must not be asked," Overbeck stressed.
The President of the Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, insists on a renewal of the Church. He said this need has become "especially clear in recent years and months in light of the failure and inability to respond appropriately to challenges and grievances".
Since the bishops presented a study on sexual abuse by clergy in September, there has been movement in many dioceses. Bamberg's Archbishop Ludwig Schick, for example, emphasized that the ie is not "through" with these steps: "Our words will only work if they are backed by our deeds."And Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz declared that his own faith had been shaken by the findings of the study.
It was a turn of the year of quiet tones: Freiburg's Archbishop Stephan Burger recalled "hours of dejection and injury". Fulda Auxiliary Bishop Karlheinz Diez called 2018 a "year of many darknesses". Munster's Bishop Felix Genn spoke of "heavy shadows" on the church. He even had understanding for people who had left the church in 2018.
Several bishops mentioned conflicts around the world, called for peace efforts, or expressed thoughtfulness about major ies such as the upcoming European elections. The biggest challenge for the church in 2019, however, is to regain credibility, said Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.
This requires "stronger faith, obedience to God's Word and, above all, lived holiness.". Voderholzer added that it was not the Church's sexual morality that led to crimes, but its disregard for it.
Wilmer reaps opposition
He also could not understand "how one can claim in this context that the abuse of power is part of the genetic makeup of the Church," Voderholzer continued: "The fact is that rebellion against God, temptability and a tendency to self-corruption are part of the genetic makeup of man in Adam and Eve." Hildesheim Bishop Heiner Wilmer had recently said abuse of power was "in the DNA of the church".
Wilmer also received opposition from Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne: "Wilmer went too far with this very drastic formulation," Woelki said a few days ago on Deutschlandfunk radio. While there is "a heavy guilt that we have brought upon ourselves," if abuse of power is in the DNA of the church, "then I would have to leave the church".
The discussions will continue – and soon. For example, Aachen's Bishop Helmut Dieser called for rapid clarification and more prevention. Corresponding resolutions of the bishops' conference should be adopted in a meeting of all diocesan councils on 2. February be deliberated and applied to the diocese. Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode announced that his diocese's leadership would address prevention work in the first days of the new year.
The hope for positive side effects of the reappraisal was expressed by Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann, who is also abuse commissioner of the Bishops' Conference. It is "good and right when the dark sides of the Church also come to light, and outdated images of the Church that no longer correspond to reality – perhaps never corresponded to it – break down".