German theologians' letter - bishops respond

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral

Father Hans Langendörfer SJ, secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, has issued a statement today, in response to a 4 January letter by around 120  German theologians calling for changes in doctrine and discipline.  To read the original in German see:

Fr  Langendörfer writes:

In this memorandum  many professors of Catholic theology contribute to the conversation about the future of faith and church in Germany..... For over twenty years, there has been structured dialogue with experts from the German bishops of various subjects of theology. These have worked well and are beneficial to both sides.

The memorandum essentially extends ideas often discussed together again. So it is not more than a first step. In a number of issues, the memorandum is in tension with theological beliefs and religious requirements of high liability. The relevant issues require urgent further clarification. It needs it more than just a concession by the bishops to address the difficult challenges.

The Church in Germany is looking ahead  with renewed vitality to where she now leads her pilgrimage. Errors and the failure of past policies, as well as the deficits and reform needs of the present, will be discussed and recognized. Bulky issues can not be escaped. Fear is in fact not a good adviser. The dialogue needs academic vision and intellectual acumen... The next plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference will in turn develop proposals and suggestions.

The original letter follows:

The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure

It is over a year since cases of sexual abuse of children and youth by priests and religious at the Canisius School in Berlin were made public. Thereupon followed a year that plunged the Catholic Church in Germany into an unequaled crisis. Today, a split image is projected. Much has been undertaken to do justice to the victims, to come to terms with the wrong done, and to search out the causes of abuse, cover-up, and double standards within the Church’s own ranks. Many responsible Christians, women and men, in office and unofficially, have come to realize, after their initial disgust, that deep-reaching reforms are necessary.

The appeal for an open dialogue on structures of power and communication, the form of official church offices, and the participation of the faithful in taking responsibility for morality and sexuality have aroused expectations, but also fears. This might be the last chance for departure from paralysis and resignation. Will this chance be missed by sitting out or minimizing the crisis? Not everyone is threatened by the unrest of an open dialogue without taboos – especially since the papal visit [to Germany] will soon take place. The alternative simply cannot be accepted: the “rest of the dead” because the last hopes have been destroyed.

The deep crisis of our Church demands that we address even those problems which, at first glance, do not have anything directly to do with the abuse scandal and its decades-long cover-up. As theology professors, women and men, we can keep silence no longer. We consider ourselves responsible for contributing to a true new beginning: 2011 must be a Year of Departure for the Church. In the past year, more Christians than ever before have withdrawn from the Catholic Church. They have officially terminated their legal membership, or they have privatized their spiritual life in order to protect it from the institution. The Church must understand these signs and pull itself from ossified structures in order to recover new vitality and credibility.

The renewal of church structures will succeed, not with anxious withdrawal from society, but only with the courage for self-criticism and the acceptance of critical impulses – including those from the outside. This is one of the lessons of the last year: the abuse crisis would not have been dealt with so decisively without the critical accompaniment of the larger public. Only through open communication can the Church win back trust. The Church will become credible when only its image of itself is not removed so far from the image others have of the Church. We turn to all those who have not yet given up hope for a new beginning in the Church and who work for this. We build upon the signals of departure and dialogue which some bishops have given in recent months in speeches, homilies, and interviews.

The Church does not exist for its own sake. The church has the mission to announce the liberating and loving God of Jesus Christ to all people. The Church can do this only when it is itself a place and a credible witness of the good news of the Gospel. The Church’s speaking and acting, its rules and structures – its entire engagement with people within and outside the Church – is under the standard of acknowledging and promoting the freedom of people as God’s creation. Absolute respect for every person, regard for freedom of conscience, commitment to justice and rights, solidarity with the poor and oppressed: these are the theological foundational standards which arise from the Church’s obligation to the Gospel. Through these, love of God and neighbor become tangible.

Finding our orientation in the biblical Good News implies a differentiated relationship to modern society. When it comes to acknowledgement of each person’s freedom, maturity, and responsibility, modern society surpasses the Church in many respects. As the Second Vatican Council emphasized, the Church can learn from this. In other respects, critique of modern society from the spirit of the Gospel is indispensable, as when people are judged only by their productivity, when mutual solidarity disintegrates, or when the dignity of the person is violated.

This holds true in every case: the Good News of the Gospel is the standard for a credible Church, for its action and its presence in society. The concrete demands which the Church must face are by no means new. And yet, we see hardly any trace of reform-oriented reforms. Open dialogue on these questions must take place in the following spheres of action.

1. Structures of Participation: In all areas of church life, participation of the faithful is a touchstone for the credibility of the Good News of the Gospel. According to the old legal principle “What applies to all should be decided by all,” more synodal structures are needed at all levels of the Church. The faithful should be involved in the naming of important officials (bishop, pastor). Whatever can be decided locally should be decided there. Decisions must be transparent.

2. Community: Christian communities should be places where people share spiritual and material goods with one another. But community life is eroding presently. Under the pressure of the priesthood shortage, larger and larger administrative entities (Size “Extra Large” Parishes) are constructed in which neighborliness and sense of belonging can hardly be experienced anymore. Historical identity and built-up social networks are given up. Priests are “overheated” and burn out. The faithful stay away when they are not trusted to share responsibility and to participate in democratic structures in the leadership of their communities. Church office must serve the life of communities – not the other way around. The Church also needs married priests and women in church ministry.

3. Legal culture: Acknowledgement of the dignity and freedom of every person is shown when conflicts are borne fairly and with mutual respect. Canon law deserves its name only when the faithful can truly make use of their rights. It is urgent that the protection of rights and legal culture be improved. A first step is the development of administrative justice in the Church.

4. Freedom of Conscience: Respect for individual conscience means placing trust in people’s ability to make decisions and carry responsibility. It is the task of the Church to support this capability. The Church must not revert to paternalism. Serious work needs to be done especially in the realm of personal life decisions and individual manners of life. The Church’s esteem for marriage and unmarried forms of life goes without saying. But this does not require that we exclude people who responsibly live out love, faithfulness, and mutual care in same-sex partnerships or in a remarriage after divorce.

5. Reconciliation: Solidarity with “sinners” presupposes that we take seriously the sin within our own ranks. Self-justified moral rigorism ill befits the Church. The Church cannot preach reconciliation with God if it does not create by its own actions the conditions for reconciliation with those before whom the Church is guilty: by violence, by withholding rights, by turning the biblical Good News into a rigorous morality without mercy.

6. Worship:  The liturgy lives from the active participation of all the faithful. Experiences and forms of expression of the present day must have their place. Worship services must not become frozen in traditionalism. Cultural diversity enriches liturgical life, but the tendency toward centralized uniformity is in tension with this. Only when the celebration of faith takes account of concrete life situations will the Church’s message reach people.

The already-begun dialogue process in the Church can lead to liberation and departure when all participants are ready to take up the pressing questions. We must lead the Church out of its crippling preoccupation with itself through a free and fair exchange of arguments and solutions. The tempest of the last year must not be followed by restful quietness! In the present situation, this could only be the “rest of the dead.” Anxiety has never been a good counselor in times of crisis. Female and male Christians are compelled by the Gospel to look to the future with courage, and walk on water like Peter as Jesus said to him, “Why do you have fear? Is your faith so weak?”

Signed by:
Albus, Michael, University of Freiburg  
Anzenbacher, Arno, University of Mainz  
Arens, Edmund, University of Lucerne
Autiero, Antonio; University of Munster  
Baumer, Franz Josef, University of Giessen  
Baumgartner, Isidor, University of Passau  
Bechmann, Ulrike, University of Graz  
Belok, Manfred, Theological University of Chur  
Benk, Andreas, Pedagogical University of Swabian-Gmund  
Bieberstein, Klaus, University of Bamberg  
Bieberstein, Sabine, Catholic University of Eichstatt  
Biesinger, Albert, University of Tubingen  
Bischof, Franz Xaver, University of Munich
Blasberg-Kuhnke, Martina, University of Osnabruck  
Bohnke, Michael, University of Wuppertal  
Bopp, Karl SDB, Philosophical-Theological University of Benediktbeuern   Bremer, Thomas, University of Munster  
Brosseder, Johannes, University of Cologne  
Broer, Ingo, University of Siegen  
Bucher, Anton A, University of Salzburg  
Collet, Giancarlo, University of Munster  
Dautzenberg, Gerhard, University of Giessen  
Demel, Sabine, University of Regensburg  
Droesser, Gerhard, University of Wurzburg  
Eckholt, Margit, University of Osnabruck  
Emunds, Bernhard, Philotophical-Theological University of St Georgen   Ernst, Stephan, University of Wurzburg  
Feiter, Reinhard, University of Munster  
Franz, Albert, University of Dresden  
Frevel, Christian, University of Bochum  
Frohling, Edward SAC, Philisophical-Theological University of Vallendar   Fuchs, Ottmar, University of Tubingen  
Furst, Alfons, University of Munster  
Gabriel, Karl, University Munster  
Garhammer, Erich, University of Wurzburg  
Gollner, Reinhard, University of Bochum  
Gortz, Heinz-Jurgen, University of Hannover  
Goertz, Stephan, University of Mainz  
Grumme, Bernhard, Pedagogical University of Ludwigsburg  
Hafner, Gerd, University of Munich
Haker, Hille, University of Frankfurt am Main / Chicago  
Hartmann, Richard, Theology Department of Fulda  
Heimbach-Steins, Marianne, University of Munster  
Heinz, Hanspeter, University of Augsburg  
Hemel, Ulrich, University of Regensburg  
Hengsbach, Friedhelm SJ, Philisophical-Theological University of St. Georgen  
Hilberath, Bernd-Jochen, University of Tubingen  
Hilpert, Konrad, University of Munich
Hofer, Rudolf, University of Graz  
Hohn, Hans-Joachim, University of Cologne  
Hoffmann, Johannes, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Hoffmann, Paul, University of Bamberg  
Holderegger, Adrian, University of Freiburg(Switzerland)  
Holzem, Andreas, University of Tubingen
Hunermann, Peter, University of Tubingen
Jaggle, Martin, University of Vienna
Jorissen, Hans, University of Bonn  
Kampling, Rainer, University of Berlin  
Karrer, Leo, University of Freiburg (Switzerland)
Kern, Walter, Pedagogical University of Ludwigsburg  
Kessler, Hans, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Kienzler, Klaus, University of Augsburg  
Kirchschlager, Walter, University of Lucerne  
Knobloch, Stefan, OFMCap, University of Mainz  
Konemann, Judith, University of Munster  
Kohler-Spiegel, Helga, Pedagogical University of Feldkirch/Vorarlberg   Kos, Elmar, University of Vechta  
Kraus, Georg, University of Bamberg  
Kruip, Gerhard, University of Mainz  
Kugler, Joachim, University of Bamberg  
Kuhnke, Ulrich, University of Osnabruck  
Kuld, Lothar, Pedagogical University of Weingarten  
Ladenhauf, Karl-Heinz, University of Graz  
Lang, Bernhard, University of Paderborn  
Langer, Wolfgang, Perchtolsdorf  
Lesch, Karl Josef, University of Vechta  
Loretan, Adrian, University of Lucerne
Ludicke, Klaus, University of Munster  
Ludwig, Heiner, University of Darmstadt  
Lutterbach, Hubertus, University of Duisburg-Essen  
Maier, Joachim, Schriesheim  
Meier, Johannes, University of Mainz  
Mennekes, Friedhelm SJ, Cologne
Merks, Karl-Wilhelm, Bonn  
Mette, Norbert, Technical University of Dortmund  
Michel, Andreas, University of Cologne
Mieth, Dietmar, Universities of Erfurt and Tubingen  
Missala, Heinrich, University of Duisburg-Essen  
Mohring-Hesse, Matthias, University of Vechta  
Mooney, Hilary, Pedagogical University of Weingarten  
Muler, Klaus, University of Munster  
Mullner, Ilse, University of Cassel  

Nauer, Doris, Philisophical-Theological University of Vallendar  
Neuner, Peter, University of Munich
Niederschlag, Heribert SAC, Philisophicl-Theological University Vallendar

Odenthal, Andreas, University of Tubingen
Ollig, Hans-Ludwig SJ, Philosophical-Theological University of St. Georgen Pellegrini, Silvia, University of Vechta  
Pemsel-Maier, Sabine, Pedagogical University of Karlsruhe  
Pesch, Otto Hermann, University of Hamburg  
Pock, Johann, University of Vienna
Poplutz, Uta, University of Wuppertal  
Porzelt, Burkard, University of Regensburg  
Raske, Michael, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Richter, Klemens, University of Munster  
Roebben, Bert, University Dortmund  
Rotter, Hans, University of Innsbruck  
Sauer, Ralph, University of Vechta  
Schaper, Sabine, Catholic Polytechnic University of Munster   Schmalzle, Udo, University of Munster  
Schmidt, Thomas M., University of Frankfurt am Main  
Schmiedl, Joachim, Philisophical-Theological University of Vallendar   Schockenhoff, Eberhard, University of Freiburg  
Scholl, Norbert, Pedagogical University of Heidelberg  
Schulz, Ehrenfried, University of Munich
Schreiber, Stefan, University of Augsburg  
Schreijaeck, Thomas, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Schuller, Thomas, University of Munster  
Schungel-Straumann, Helen, University of Cassel / Basel  
Seeliger, Hans-Reinhard, University of Tubingen  
Siller, Hermann Pius, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Simon, Werner, University of Mainz  
Spiegel, Egon, University of Vechta  
Steinkamp, Hermann, University of Munster  
Steins, Georg, University of Osnabruck  
Stosch, Klaus von, University of Paderborn  
Striet, Magnus, University of Freiburg  
Strotmann, Angelika, University of Paderborn  
Theobald, Michael, University of Tubingen  
Trautmann, Franz, Pedagogical University of Swabian-Gmund  
Trautmann, Maria, Catholic University of Eichstatt  
Trocholepczy, Bernd, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Vogt, Markus, University of Munich
Wacker, Marie-Theres, University of Munster  
Wahl, Heribert, University of Trier  
Walter, Peter, University of Freiburg  
Weirer, Wolfgang, University of Graz  
Wendel, Saskia, University of Cologne
Wenzel, Knut, University of Frankfurt am Main  
Werbick, Jurgen, University of Munster  
Willers, Ulrich, Catholic University of Eichstatt  
Ziebertz, Hans-Georg, University of Wurzburg  
Zwick, Reinhold, University of Munster

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