Bishop Voderholzer’s remedy to dropping numbers

In a homily at the pilgrimage site of St. Anna Schäffer in Mindelstetten, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg addressed the recently released statistics regarding church attendance and such in the Catholic Church in Germany. He compares them to the equally disastrous numbers in the Lutheran church and explains that the standard liberal remedies of constantly wanting to change church and faith, and getting rid of perceived oppressive dogmas, is not the solution to the crisis.

According to Bishop Voderholzer, the numbers point out something else: an evaporation of faith. He also puts this into perspective, saying that the Lord never promised his followers to be a majority anywhere. Rather, he foresaw difficulties and opposition. So, depressing numbers should, in themselves, really not be a cause for us to give up.

1085557_m1w590q75v2214_PortrtbildBischof_2“Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Last Friday, the 21st of July, the statistics for the Catholic Churc and the Lutheran Church in Germany for the year 2016 were published. You will probably have heard a few things about it via radio and television or in the newspaper.

The outcome was not very surprising. Like before, the number of people leaving the Church are disconcertingly high, even when they have dropped by some 11 percent in the Catholic Church as compared to 2015. The number of baptisms has increased slightly, the number of marriages decreased soewhat. In Hamburg and Berlin the number of Catholics has grown, due to the influx of Catholic foreigners; but in general the number of Catholics is growing smaller.

Dear sisters and brothers, I do not want to bore you with numbers and statictics today, on the Anna Schäffer Day of Remembrance. But the public reactions to these numbers are noteworthy and lead us to look further.

As a remedy to turn these trends around and to preserve our social relevance we are continuously advised to – literally – “open up and rid ourselves of rigid conservative dogmas.”

In this case, these are:

Abolishing the celibacy of priests;

Removing the different tasks and appointments of men and women in the Church and admitting women into apostolic ministry;

Consenting to the demand of full legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage;

Admitting everyone to Communion, and so on.

You know the list of demands as well as I do.

Dear sisters and brothers! The problematic nature of this advice becomes clear with a quick glance at the statistics of the Lutheran church. If the application of the aforementioned pieces of advice would really be a way of improving the situation of the Church, flourishing life must be visible in the Lutheran church.

But what do the numbers say? More people leave the Lutheran church – and have done so, with the exception of 2014, for years – than the Catholic Church, despite the fact that in the Lutheran church these demands have all basically been fulfilled and all these alleged impediments to being church are no longer present. But this is generally ignored in public, even though the numbers were presented on the same day. Isn’t the reason that this is being ignored perhaps that it would reveal the blatant weakness, yes, the inconsistency and absurdity of this “good” advice to the Catholic Church?! Can one, in all seriousness, present the path of the Lutheran church as a remedy, when it is so often led to an even greater distance to the faith and the church? I say this without malice! I know Lutheran fellow Christians who completely agree with my assessment and who warn us Catholics not to make the same mistakes.

We must look much further in the whole debate. The statictics reveal a secularisation which has been progressing for years, a loss of church affiliation and lastly a decline in the substance of faith, an evaporation of the awareness of God. That is why we do not really have a shortage of priests, but a much more fundamental shortage of faith. The priest shortage is a symptom, like a fever. But the fever is not itself the disease, but it indicates the presence of an inflammation. I am certain: the fever of the priest shortage indicates the disease of lack of faith. As an aside, the Lutheran church has also long known the phantom of lack of priests, as there are too few young people who study theology and are willing to also put themselves professionally at the service of the Gospel; all this without celibacy and with the possibility for women to also assume the office of the priesthood! This should give us a sense of the true reasons for the lack of church adherence.

Dear sisters and brothers, come together at the grave of Saint Anna Schäffer! We all have the image and the fate of the Church at heart. But not in the sense that we belong to her as to a club whose public image and strength are the ultimate goal; but for the sake of the message and the sake of the people, for whose sake God became man in Jesus Christ. In the Church He takes us into service for His Gospel. The Lord did not promise us that we would always be the majority; rather, He predicted headwind and resistance.

For that reason we should not concern ourselves too much with numbers and statistics. What should concern us is that the Gospel can lighten up our environment, through our lives in faith. Everywhere where we overshadow the Gospel because of inattentiveness, lovelessness and hard-heartedness, we are called to convert and once more give the Lord space.

Instead of constantly changing the structures, also and especially the sacramental structures of the Church, instead of diluting the message of the Gospel and instead of proclaiming a light version of Jesus, evangelisation is called for, a saturation of society with the Spirit of Jesus. And the first and all-important step on that way is a daily striving towards holiness, the daily listening to God’s word and the willingness to begin the reform of the Church with myself. That is reformation: the renewal of faith, the restoration of the image of Christ which was engraved in us in Baptism and Confirmation. Where this is granted to us in God’s mercy, where we succeed in this, we will make the people of our time once again curious about the faith which supports us. And then we can also explain the hope that lives within us.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord! In the endeavours of evangelisation in our time Saint Anna Schäffer is in every aspect an example and also an advocate.

She wanted to devote her life to the mission abroad. But the Lord had destined her for the mission in her own country. Before becoming a comforter and source of joy in faith for many, she had to allow herself to be evangelised again, and radically so. Accepting her suffering as a partaking in the cross of Christ was anything but easy. Bedridden and with her gaze upon the cross she faced this process of inner healing and transformation. She so became a bright sign of God’s work, a messenger of faith to countless people and ultimately a saint of the Catholic Church.

And so we pray today for her intercession, that the Lord will grant each and everyone of us the grace to begin the reform of the Church in ourselves; that we muster the courage to lt ourselves be evangelised anew every day and in this way be prepared to serve the mission of the Church – for the salvation of humanity and the glory of the triune God, whose is the glory, today, every day and forever. Amen.”

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For Cologne, it’s 1988 all over again – Woelki comes home

Far earlier than anyone expected, and even before Erfurt, which has been vacant for 18 months, Cologne is given a new archbishop. Succeeding Cardinal Meisner, who retired in February, is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, until today the archbishop of Berlin.

woelkiA native son of Cologne, Cardinal Woelki was a priest and auxiliary bishop of that ancient see until he was appointed to Berlin almost exactly three years ago. This German-language video profile of the cardinal gives a hint of why Pope Francis chose him to head Cologne. Responsible for the caritas of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Woelki explains that the care for the poor is one of the three pillars of our faith, next to proclaimation and worship.

“A church without caritas, without diaconal ministry, is not the Church of Jesus Christ and has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

His parents having been refugees from eastern Prussia after the war, Cardinal Woelki is especially sensitive to the plight of refugees. Himself a resident in the subburb of Wedding, where his neighbours are mainly immigrants and labourers, Cardinal Woelki made an effort to meet with representatives of the Roma and other immigrant communities very soon after arriving in the German capital.

The new appointment, despite the generational differences, can be seen in continuity with Cardinal Meisner. Cardinal Woelki worked with Meisner as a priest and auxiliary bishop and is considered to be a confidant of the retired cardinal, whose personal secretary he was before being made a bishop. But Woelki also seems to be on a line with Pope Francis, as he emphasis the need for renewed pastoral approaches to homosexuals and remarried persons.

Like Meisner, Woelki is rumoured not to have been the choice of the cathedral chapter of Cologne, who had, it is said, put the names of diocesan administrator Msgr. Stefan Heße, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier and Bishop Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen (the latter, like Woelki, also a former auxiliary bishop of Cologne) on the list they sent to Rome. But, as happened in Freiburg in April, the Pope used his freedom to choose another.

Cardinal Woelki is generally quite popular with faithful and media for his clarity and pastoral aptitude in the headline topics of sexuality and the position of women in the Church. Regarding the former he has said he doesn’t want to police the bedroom, and concerning the latter he has entrusted several offices and duties in the Archdiocese of Berlin to women. The Church can not be an exclusively male club, he has said, and at the same time he supports the impossibility of ordination of women. But, as always, there are also topics for which he has been criticised, and these mainly have to do with decisions made regarding the efficiency of managing the Archdiocese of Berlin. Parishes are being merged and united into larger bodies, as they are in more than a few Northwestern European dioceses, and this has led to criticism regarding democracy, influence from the ground up and the distance between curia and faithful. Whether this will be an issue in Cologne, which has some 2 million faithful compared to Berlin’s 400,000, remains to be seen.

Cardinal Meisner headed the archdiocese for 25 years, and since Cardinal Woelki is only 57, we may be looking at another lengthy and influential period in Cologne’s history.

Photo credit: dapd

German Church ponders reforms, but does she go the right way?

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700A conference in Germany, held last week, in which the Catholic bishops of that country participated alongside some 300 experts to discuss reform in the Church, led to some worrying developments. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, president of the bishops’ conference, presented some of this at the conference’s closing.

The first suggestion is to allow women to be ordained as deacons. According to Archbishop Zollitsch, this would be one of the reforms that would  allow the Church to regain credibility and strength. But, as Regensburg’s Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer (the last German bishop to have been appointed by Benedict XVI) rightly commented, the diaconate is inextricably bound to the priesthood, which is only open to men. Allowing women to be deacons would make them different deacons than men: unable to progress on to priestly ordination, it remains to be seen what their duties in liturgy and parish would and could be. Whatever the case, they will not be deacons like men are deacons.

A second suggestion regards the position of divorced and remarried people in the Church. Their rights to sit on parish councils and the like is certainly open to debate, but their partaking of Communion and the other sacraments is another topic altogether. Archbishop Zollitsch said that he doesn’t intend to undermine the sanctity of marriage, but also wants to take these faithful seriously and make them feel welcome and respected.

Personally, I think that much greater progress may be made by the Church, as far as her credibility is concerned, in presenting her faith seriously and acting on it. But in the end, the Church is not in the business of being credible and liked. She is in the business of saving souls, and that purpose is not served by pandering to majority opinion, especially when that opinion does not gel with the faith of the centuries. In that respect, divorced and remarried faithful will be better served by good teaching and compassionate guidance, and not by pretending that there is no problem. Problems are not solved by ignoring them.

Throwing the diaconate open to women, even if this were possible, also will not solve any problem, assuming there even is a problem. Instead, it will only confuse people as to what is true and real; it will be a pretense.

Conferences on reform in the Church are actually bound to fail if they limit themselves to one country. The German bishops, for example, are not able to change the faith and teachings of the world Church. At most, they can create a rift between themselves and the rest of the Church. So what if a conference finds that there is a widespread desire for one thing or another? The standard response of the Church to that should not automatically be to agree and go along. Rather, she should consider it in the light of the faith and then decide of that desire is something she can work towards making reality. If she finds she can’t, her task is to teach, always motivated by love, and present the faith that Christ has given her to protect and communicate.

Synod of Bishops – Day Two

Yesterday saw the third and fourth general congregation of the Synod, presided over by Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega. The morning session was devoted to interventions from the Synod fathers, and 25 prelates made use of the option to make a five-minute presentation  on some point the wanted to highlight. And that time limit is rather strict, as Bishop Kicanas points out: “[I]t must be five minutes, since one’s mic is turned off exactly when five minutes have passed. Those getting close to being turned off rush to get in as much of their text as possible.”

There were several general trends in the interventions: penance, education and a focus on the personal relation with Jesus Christ. As Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, appointed to  Monterrey in Mexico one week ago, pointed out: “We cannot evangelise properly if we do not educate properly. And we do not educate properly if we do not evangelise.” Several prelates emphasised the need for humility, most notably  the Philippine Archbishops Luis Tagle of Manila and Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan. The latter said:

“The new evangelization calls for new humility. The Gospel cannot thrive in pride. When pride seeps into the heart of the Church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed […] The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry. We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes. We are humans among our human flock. All our beauty and holiness we owe to God. This humility will make us more credible new evangelizers. Our mission is to propose humbly not to impose proudly.”

There were also an intervention from one of the fraternal delegates, non-Catholics invited to attend and share their thoughts and experience. The Lutheran Bishop of Lapua in Finland, Simo Peura (pictured), summarised some of the points in the Instrumentum laboris and wished to all attendants and the “Synod of Bishops the Blessing of the Triune God.”

Special guest Dr. Lamar Vest of the American Bible Society, in the morning’s final intervention, emphasised the role of the Bible and harkened back to the previous Synod of Bishops, which was devoted to the Bible.

The fourth general congregation began in the late afternoon with prayer, followed by voting for the members of the Commission for the Message. This commission will compose a nuntius or pastoral Message to the People of God, especially those involved with the Synod. The message will be presented at the end of the Synod. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori and Archbishop Luis Tagle presided over the election, which will select eight members in addition to the aforementioned clerics and two members appointed directly by the pope.

After this election, the interventions continued. Nine Synod fathers intervened, among them Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who spoke first about the reality of evil and then about the important role of women in the Church. He said:

“It is time to clarify that, if the Church does not ordain female priests, this is not because they are less capable or less worthy! On the contrary! It is solely because the priest is not only a “minister of the rite”, but a representative of Christ the Groom Who came to wed humanity. Let us give thanks for the quality and the specificity of the massive contribution of women to evangelization. Some strong gestures should underline this clearly. Without joyous women, recognized in their own being and proud of belonging to the Church, there would be no new evangelization.”

Especially some of the South-American Synod fathers, but also Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, emphasised the importance of countering secularism in the parishes and society.

Following the interventions, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, presented a report on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, published after the previous Synod of Bishop which, as mentioned before, was devoted to the Word of God.

The second full day of the Synod was closed with a viewing of an edited version of a documentary produced by the  Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the Second Vatican Council.

Summaries of the interventions and Cardinal Ouellet’s report may be found in the two bulletins devoted to yesterday’s proceedings.

 Photo credit: [1] Pope Benedict XVI speaking with Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, CNS Photot/Paul Haring, [2] KT/Markku Pihlaja

The male side of ‘being Church’

Archbishop Ludwig Schick, of the German Archdiocese of Bamberg, issued an interesting warning recently. The man is slowly disappearing from the Church. Just like society, the Church is ‘feminising’. The archbishop, who holds the ‘male affairs’ portfolio within the German Bishops’ Conference, stated that “we need to win them back”.

The Catholic Church has always maintained the innate equality of man and woman without making the mistake of saying that they are the same, a mistake that society is making. Physically, mentally and also spiritually, men and women are different. This difference is often ignored or outright denied in the name of equality, but they are very different concepts. One does not deny the other.

Emphasising and supporting women’s rights to do or say something is not threatened by doing the same for men, but that’s not what’s happening now, because of this fear that difference means inequality (slogans to the effect that we should “be different” or “be who we are” are just that: slogans. They merely reflect society’s acceptance of certain politically correct differences).

Archbishop Schick is right in his assessment that we lack a ‘masculine’ Church. We must engage the men in our congregations or run the risk of losing them. In my opinion that calls for a robust and practical faith life which is not afraid to take positions and have very tangible and practical goals. Simply put, we need men who are unafraid of being men. Brothers and fathers – biological and spiritual – who are unafraid to love, support and take responsibility.

Photo credit: Tobias Hase/dpa