“Wave of sympathy and encouragement”

Karl-Heinz Wiesemann © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

The Bishop of Speyer, Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, is taking a two-month sabbatical due to health reasons. There is a lot of encouragement and support for this decision from the diocese, as press spokesman Markus Herr emphasizes in an interview.

Interviewer: There is no reason to worry too much, said Bishop Wiesemann. A little bit worries one makes itself with such a message somehow yes then nevertheless. How is your bishop currently?

Markus Herr (head of the press office of the Speyer diocese): This is understandable. We had our diocesan meeting on Saturday. The bishop also took part in this one. He then addressed the members of the diocesan assembly personally at the end and told them that he was not well, that this had been the case for some time and that the doctors had advised him to take some time off.

It was then very touching to see how many members have also expressed understanding and have promised him to go exactly this step in such a way.

Interviewer: One experiences there a bishop from a completely human side. How beneficial would you say it is for a bishop to say, "Look, I'm only human, I need some time off"??

Mr.: It's very beneficial from different perspectives. We must not forget that a bishop is expected to do a lot, and sometimes even contradictory things, especially in this time of upheaval. These are expectations that even a human being can never fulfill in their entirety. I think it is important for all of us to see that people who have an office in the church are only human.

Bishop Wiesemann expressed it beautifully in the meeting on Saturday. He said that he was a person with strengths, with weaknesses, but also with limits to the stresses he could bear. This line had simply been crossed with him several times in recent weeks, so that doctors advised him to take this step.

On Saturday he made the experience that the diocese of Speyer really stands behind him in a great sympathy and has advised him exactly to take this step and we wish him all the best for these weeks that have now begun for him.

Interviewer: You can hear that there are these mammoth challenges that many bishops are facing right now: The crisis in the Catholic Church in connection with coming to terms with sexualized violence. Are these the reasons?

Lord: As you describe the situation of the church, I would agree with you 100 percent. We are experiencing in many places that the popular church we know from past years is increasingly becoming a thing of the past and that it is now a matter of developing a new form of church creatively and with fresh visions. Of course, that creates a high degree of uncertainty. It also requires a lot of strength to shape this. In addition to all this, there is now the processing of the abuse.

In an interview in December, our bishop made public accusations against the diocese's former vicar general and officiant. In retrospect, that was a very decisive step. Since then, many victims have come to us who have not yet confided in anyone. A woman recently told the bishop in a conversation that only now, after this publication of the name of the person concerned, i.e. the former vicar general and officiant as the perpetrator, does she actually believe that the church is more concerned with the suffering of those affected than with the protection of the perpetrators.

This is a very important and good experience for us, because on the other hand we see that in the lives of these people, who have often had the experience of not being heard, there is now a situation in which they can reveal themselves. Now they can share that, but they can also share that with other people.

Our bishop has also had many pastoral conversations with those affected in recent years. That is the positive side, that in the lives of those affected by this new situation, something actually comes into order.

Interviewer: These conversations simply do not leave a bishop unscathed. Now the news that your bishop is taking these two months off has attracted a comparatively large amount of media attention. Did that surprise you personally?

Lord: I think it makes clear the difference that exists between a private person and a public person. Of course, this also includes bishops whose private circumstances are of much greater interest to the public. I'm thinking, for example, of the pope with the sciatica problems that have been a frequent topic of discussion in recent weeks.

For me, the wave of sympathy and encouragement that reached the bishop, especially via social networks, but also via many e-mails, after the bishop had made this public, was touching. People have declared themselves and said: I know this experience. I have felt this way at other points in my life as well. And that is exactly right, how they act and that they also really name it in all openness.

So he really received a lot of encouragement and support. Since Saturday, several hundred people have reported back to the bishop, and that is also a very moving experience.

The interview was conducted by Verena Troster.

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