“I am not in favor of always preaching renunciation”

Barbara Hendricks © Markus Nowak (KNA)

She is a politician and a Catholic: former Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks talks about the blessing of same-sex couples, about the Church and climate protection – and explains why she is not fighting for the diaconate of women.

CBA: Ms. Hendricks, in the Central Committee of German Catholics, you are fighting for changes in the Catholic Church. What are you personally advocating for?

Barbara Hendricks (member of the ZdK, SPD member of the Bundestag and former Federal Environment Minister): I very much welcome the fact that the Catholic Church in Germany is now embarking on a process of reform and dialogue, the so-called synodal path. I know that there are different currents within the bishops' conference and that this step was not easy for all bishops. I'm not sure if this process will lead to consensual results at all, or only to a few agreements between the laity on the one hand and the bishops' conference on the other. But in principle it is an important step toward the renewal of the Church in Germany.

CBA: What concrete results would you like to see?

Hendricks: I would like to see lay people more involved in the Church – beyond the Central Committee of German Catholics. We urgently need to talk about the ordination offices. I am aware that the Catholic Church is a universal church and that changes must be recognized by the Vatican. But in my view, there can be diversity within the one big church. If we do not achieve this diversity, I see a danger in the long run that the faithful will run away from the church in different regions of the world.

CBA: What exactly should be changed in the ordination offices?
Hendricks: All ordained offices must also be open to women. I have therefore never taken part in the initiatives for the diaconate of women. Why should women only be admitted to the diaconate, but not to the priesthood and the episcopate? There is no reason for this.

CBA: Can you identify with the Maria 2 movement?.0 identify?

Hendricks: Yes. Mary 2.0 is a really remarkable initiative. The fact that women stayed away from all honorary positions in the church for a week was more than a strike and a strong signal.

If the Catholic Church in Germany didn't have the many women volunteers, it would have died long ago.

CBA: You are married to a woman and thus live in a partnership that is not sanctioned by your church. What changes would you like to see in this area?

Hendricks: I don't expect my church to allow same-sex couples to give each other the sacrament of marriage. That might still be too much to ask. But I do expect my church to bless same-sex partnerships. There is really no reason to bless horses, tractors and houses, but not homosexual couples. This cannot be right.
CBA: Do you believe that the churches will be able to restore the trust lost as a result of the abuse scandal??
Hendricks: I believe so. But this will still take a lot of effort and time. The first prerequisite is a clear acknowledgement of what has happened. After many years, this has finally happened.

In addition, the way the official church deals with those affected is important – as is the way it deals with those who committed the transgressions and are still alive. Finally, the Church must ensure that new incidents are not covered up in the future and that perpetrators are transferred back and forth. All this must be neatly worked through to regain trust.

CBA: Do you see the churches on a good path there?
Hendricks: This is different in every diocese. I believe that in most dioceses at least an effort is being made. Whether the church is really already on a good path, I'm not sure.
CBA: The topic of climate protection is on everyone's lips at the moment. In your view, what are the most important steps that need to be taken now?
Hendricks: Germany has set itself the goal of cutting CO2 by a total of 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. To do this, we must bring about changes in five sectors: energy, industry, transportation, construction and agriculture. We need clear guidelines for each of these fields in order to create reliability for all those involved.
CBA: That is, without prohibitions and restrictions it will not go?
Hendricks: No. We need limits set by law. This is not new. In addition, I think it is also reasonable to work with incentives, which is also already common practice. Those who install a new heating system in their home can already get subsidies. However, the funding programs could be even more targeted.
CBA: Where do you see the greatest challenge?
Hendricks: In traffic. In urban areas, motorized individual traffic must be reduced. This requires appropriate offers such as car sharing, better public transport and reasonable bicycle lanes. By the way, this is a basic principle for all areas: We must create a good offer to make uninteresting what we really do not want.
CBA: What do you think of Greta Thunberg and the "Fridays for Future" movement?
Hendricks: I am particularly pleased about this because now, at last, politics is being debated again – also in families. Some demands of the movement cannot be implemented so quickly, but the direction is right. That young people are more impatient and somewhat more demanding of their goals than older people is, after all, absolutely normal.
CBA: What role would you assign to the churches in this climate protection debate??

Hendricks: The churches have an important role to play, first of all in a narrower sense, because they have a lot of buildings. Here they have already compiled quite good handouts. In a broader sense, they need to raise their voices from the point of view of preserving creation.

They are allowed to do that a bit more.

CBA: What should the churches be advocating in concrete terms??

Hendricks: They should make it clear to citizens – whether they believe in God or not – that they have a responsibility and that they can live a good life also with a different kind of consumption. I am not in favor of always preaching renunciation. We have to live differently in the future, but that doesn't mean we have to live worse.

The interview was conducted by Michael Althaus.

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