“We also have a share in the kingdom of god”

Is there discontent between laity and consecrated in the Archdiocese of Cologne? What is certain is that the expert report on dealing with sexualized violence, the Synodal Way and the Vatican's no to the blessing of homosexual couples are causing discussion.

Interviewer: Over the weekend, the diocesan pastoral council met with Cardinal Woelki. Which topics have been put on the table there?

Tim Kurzbach (Chairman of the Diocesan Council in the Archdiocese of Cologne): Well, not surprisingly, it was of course the topic of coming to terms with the sexual abuse, where Professor Gercke also gave a lecture once again and afterwards many, many questions about coming to terms with the abuse itself were discussed intensively, but also about the urgent topics in the Archdiocese of Cologne.

Interviewer: What kind of questions were discussed there?

Kurzbach: It is clear that in addition to the important and priority ie of sexual abuse, it is also a question of what the systemic causes of sexual abuse of children and young people are. This is how it was mentioned in the expert report by Professor Gercke. How do we deal with the division of power and authority in the church?? In a church that always shifts absolutely everything to one office, for example the office of bishop, where there is no separation of powers.

What about the role of women? How do we envision the future of congregations? All this is already connected with each other and has at least been put on the table as a question.

Interviewer: In the press release of the Archdiocese of Cologne it says, and I quote: "In the debate, partly very different assessments of the need for reform in the church and in the Archdiocese of Cologne were expressed, on which there was an urgent need for further discussion."How controversial was this debate, which you have already described??

Kurzbach: Well, if the press office of the archdiocese writes something like that, then you can perhaps imagine that it was quite diverse what was discussed there. The statements went from "The church is a sacramental hierarchy and that's the way it is" to "If we don't take the worries and needs, the fears and frustrations of the many in the congregations seriously, then we'll really drive the place up the wall."

You also have to see what is still coming in. I just had another long Zoom conference yesterday evening at the Thomas Morus Academy. The shock goes right into every parish council, every parish. Everywhere we notice that there is great uncertainty and an immense loss of trust, and that the people who profess this church are pressing for reforms and urgently want changes to take place.

Interviewer: How much do you stand between the chairs as the highest representative of the laity in the archdiocese?? There are definitely different voices.

Kurzbach: Absolutely, there are, and that's also important, that they get into conversation with each other. What I find extremely unfortunate is that we do not have a real dialogue with each other about what can be changed. There are committees where this is expressed. It's not like we've only been at it for a few weeks or months. Basically, as far as the topic of sexual abuse is concerned, it has been ten years. For three years now, we have been intensively calling for this debate to be initiated in the Archdiocese of Cologne as well.

We have been on the way in the synodal path for years now and it is recognizable that far too little is happening. And that just leads to this great frustration.

Interviewer: It sounds now as if there is more arguing than actually constructive work going on.

Kurzbach: Arguing is perhaps not the right expression, but rather that positions are placed next to each other and we have not yet found a modus vivendi, how we now really work on it operationally. What are we changing? Where do we tackle it? Where does the change come from when we talk about congregations of the future, about the role of women, about the distribution of power in the church??

There must be an offer to talk, where you can really talk. Or you also use something like the synodical way effectively for once. Because there are many good things being discussed, they are right on top of all the ies. But then one would have to approach this process in an affirmative way and take a positive attitude towards it.

Interviewer: The gap between the official church, as it can also be called, and the laity at the grassroots, is also felt to be widening because, for example, topics such as the blessing of homosexual couples are seen in a completely different way. In your opinion, can this divide be overcome?

Kurzbach: Yes, although this is not a gap between the laity and the consecrated. When I see that the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference criticizes the Vatican announcement that bishops everywhere say that if their priests bless people, then we will not sanction that.

And honestly, if you want to develop a feeling for how much this does not correspond to the reality of the people, take a look at the hundreds of churches in the archdiocese of Cologne. Personally, I have never seen so many rainbow flags flying in front of churches as these days. I also did it in front of the Cologne Cathedral. We bless a fence, but we cannot bless the love of people. For me, this has nothing at all to do with the message of love, the primacy of the love of Jesus Christ.

Interviewer: But the rainbow flag at the Cologne Cathedral is missing.

Kurzbach: We hung it on the fence last Saturday. Well, that was not officially the cathedral chapter that did it, but we with some lay people.

I can imagine that the Cathedral Swiss have cleared away again. But I have also seen that those responsible from the city deanery have also made it clearly recognizable that the love of people is always the focus of our work and is always the core of the Gospel message.

Interviewer: Let's look back again at the expert opinion that has now come out of it. On the 18. March, which many, many people, not only here in the archdiocese, have been looking forward to. Will everything be better now with this expert opinion, with what's in it?

Kurzbach: Well, the expert Professor Gercke himself says that it is a very strict criminal law expert opinion. And if you read through it, and not even all 900 pages, then you can see that he always inserts things when they have not been clearly proven or documented. And he also adds again and again, it has happened or it has been investigated on the basis of a rather disastrous, he says himself chaotic file situation. But that is what was mainly present. From there: Yes, it's a first step, it's a good basis to build on in terms of criminal law.

But he himself says that for the historical reappraisal alone, there is a need for further interdisciplinary approaches of a sociological and historical nature. And then the exciting question, which of course also moves us very much, the question of what consequences for the future of the Church, to take up its title, do we take from this?. Because it is also quite clear, there are also systemic causes: Men's unions, no distribution of violence, no distribution of power, which have also led to this.

Interviewer: In addition to this nationwide reform process Synodal Way, there is also the one here in the archdiocese. What does this mean now for the pastoral future path here in the Archdiocese of Cologne?? The cooperation with the diocese leadership is officially on ice. How does it go on there now?

Kurzbach: We have declared that as long as the ie of sexual abuse is not resolved, we will suspend our cooperation. The diocese itself has also declared that it has now stopped this work on the Pastoral Way Forward. Yes, I think the shock is also so deep, as far as this topic is concerned, that we can't just go on like this. And again: Above all, we must draw the systemic conclusions from this.

We can't just say: Let's plan the church according to the money we'll have in ten years, according to the full-time positions we'll have and accordingly we'll have congregations that will have 30.000, 40.000 souls or which consist of 20 or 30 former parishes. This does not do justice to priests and pastoral caregivers. That's why I think they've already got together and said: We don't really want to work that way. But that does not do justice to the mission of the baptized and confirmed, because we also have a share in the kingdom of God and therefore we are also prepared to take on tasks, if we are allowed to do so.

Interviewer: The diocese of Osnabruck is now planning an action week with lay sermons for mid-September with the goal that the sermon in the service can also come from a non-ordained believer or a non-ordained believer. Wouldn't that be something for the archdiocese of Cologne, too??

Kurzbach: To be honest, you would have to look around in some dioceses and see what is already on the way there. Trier has made a diocesan synod. You had just mentioned Osnabruck. But if you honestly look into the parishes of the Archdiocese of Cologne and honestly admit that lay people are already leading services everywhere, without them the church could literally no longer be present in the village, where many forms have broken down.

We always present a very priest-centered image at the diocesan level. This cannot and will not be the future. I have respect for the ordained ministry and the priesthood, but to focus on it alone will only diminish the church to a small holy remnant in the future.

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