Gluck's moments

Gluck's moments

Alois Luck © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

After six years in office, Alois Gluck retires from the leadership of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). The little Upper Bavarian leaves big footprints behind him.

Since 2009 Alois Gluck is the face of German Catholicism. Even if six years is a rather short span for the church time calculation, the president of the central committee of the German Catholics (ZdK) leaving on Saturday from the office leaves deep traces. At least two moments will be remembered – moments of happiness.

2010: In the first months of the year, the Catholic Church in Germany experiences one of its worst crises. Starting in Berlin, a wave of revelations about child abuse in church institutions sweeps through the country. The bishops are paralyzed at first and cannot find words. Gluck has only been in office for a few weeks, but the CSU leader is jumping into the breach and giving more interviews than ever before. The Upper Bavarian does not gloss over anything, but does not expose anyone either.

6. November 2015: The Bundestag bans assisted suicide on a businesslike basis. The delegates have the choice between four requests, the parliamentary group obligation is lifted. The decision is made early and with a broad majority. It is also a success for Gluck, who in the past months has done a lot of convincing work at all levels, through letters, confidential background discussions, and public statements. Some conservative Catholics and also bishops would have preferred a total ban, but that had no chance of gaining a majority.

Never invoking God or the Pope

The process is typical of what Gluck stands for: for a dignified compromise, for a realistic view of what is feasible in a pluralistic society in which the convinced Christians are no longer becoming. In promoting his position, which is supported by a broad majority of the Catholic and Protestant churches, the trained farmer from Chiemgau has never referred to God or the Pope.

The ZdK is convinced that in a secular society it is no longer possible to achieve a breakthrough by referring to religious authorities or pure conviction. The only argument that counts is the one presented with expertise, which moreover must not give the impression of safeguarding purely ecclesiastical interests, but must be oriented toward the common good.

Gluck followed this credo not only as ZdK president, but also before that as a parliamentarian. His party has given him the informal honorary title of "walking mediation committee" for his efforts. In retrospect, the 75-year-old does not hide the fact that he would have liked to have more support from his church at times.

He was the emergency helper

Under Gluck's aegis, the highest Catholic lay body has consolidated itself. In 2009, the passionate mountain rescuer had to step in as an emergency helper, contrary to his personal life plans. The German Bishops' Conference had previously rejected a candidate who had already been elected. The hitherto Bavarian president of the state parliament allowed himself to be taken to task. During his tenure, there were no further tests of strength, even though the ZdK's public position before the family synod in favor of ecclesiastical recognition of same-sex partnerships caused several bishops to frown.

The expressions of displeasure from the episcopate were clear, but this did not lead to a rift. This is also due to the fact that the relationship between bishops and representatives of church associations, councils and initiatives has become more resilient. Gluck has not profiled his body as an opposition to the church office, but as an integrative force.

In the dialogue process, which Gluck helped to drive forward after the abuse scandal, new trust was built up. In the end, even bishops who had initially been skeptical joined in. At the Regensburg Katholikentag 2014 in Regensburg, conservative groups that had previously had reservations about the ZdK were involved for the first time. It seems as if it has become easier in the Catholic Church in Germany to carry out and endure differences among themselves. It will be interesting to see how Gluck's successor will deal with this legacy.

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