WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE CHURCH IN GERMANY?
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with cardinal Paul Josef Cordes – a German cooperator of John Paul II
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - In our interview about John Paul II (‘Niedziela’ no. 24/2018) Eminency mentioned about Benedict VI. After the pope from Poland the pope from Germany was elected – the compatriot of the Eminency and a prominent theologian. Why did the pontificate of Benedict XVI, similarly as the one of John Paul II, met with such a strong criticism and opposition just in Germany?
CARDINAL PAUL JOSEF CORDES: - The opposition towards papacy and its representatives is, unfortunately, the heritage of countries being in the North from the Alps. The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a book years ago ‘Anti-Roman resentment’ (Freiburg 1974, in Polish translation: Poznań 2004). He wrote that our ‘Catholic feelings are still undermined by constant attacking statements of media, press and numerous books which expose their Christian maturity through conceited one-upmanship over everything which comes from Rome, what is happening in Rome and goes to Rome’. When in 1980 I was called up to Rome by Pope, one of my co-brothers asked me: ‘Cannot anything be done against this nomination?’. Another one wrote: ‘You in Rome? I can only express my grief’. Because anti-Roman resentment is in Germany – in the country where Luther started reformation – particularly clear. Moving towards the north from the Alps there is aversion to Rome and papacy.
St. John Paul II met with it after a great applause which he experienced first in Germany. In January 1989 163 Catholic professors from the so-called Cologne Declaration cast a curse onto the successor of St. Peter, when the latter one – from the point of view of the ecclesiastical law was completely right – to appoint Joachim Meisner an arch-bishop of Cologne. A wave of aggression spread out onto the whole world. Also wrongful and hurting rebuking the Pope is worth mentioning, after the Pope emphasized, in his declaration ‘Dominus Iesus’ the central role of Jesus in the work of salvation.
- But why was the German Pope criticized?
- In the case of Benedict XVI that anti-Roman illness comes out also because of his past as a teacher of theology. As a professor and cardinal he often challenged his colleagues to a verbal duel and overcame them. It cannot be forgotten by ambitious university professors. Later there were public pronouncements of cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for example, a dispute with a German star of philosophy Jurgen Habermas in a Munich Catholic Academy in 2004. A lot of people asked the question why Ratzinger had been elected for the supreme post of the Church: ‘Wasn’t he one of us?’ Somebody who does not inhibit his ambitions, he gets full of hostility and expresses it. Not speaking about a crowd of people so far away from the Church, who- as von Balthasar wrote – inspire media in Germany and do not stand believers.
- Benedict XVI has always been critical towards the Church in his country. In his last interview in a book he spoke about negative results of the ecclesiastical tax system in Germany and excessively bureaucratic structure of the German Church: ‘In Germany we are dealing with organized and well-paid Catholicism. In many cases these are employed laymen with mentality towards the Church like employees associated in labour unions. The Church is only an employer for them at whom they are looking critically. They do not follow dynamics of faith, but the positions that they hold. A great threat for the Church is the fact that it has got so many paid employees which makes the surplus of secular bureaucracy’. When I read that the arch-diocese of Munich had over 800 employees but only about 30 seminary students per 1.7 million Catholics, I see the Church as a bureaucratic machine. How does it happen that German bishops do not understand that ecclesiastical bureaucracy is not able to strengthen people in faith nor raise vocations for priesthood?
- These observations are, unfortunately, right. God let the Gospel in Germany become strong and gentle beginnings of faith renewal would be accepted by bishops and parishes.
- Another gentle point in the life of the German Church is a church tax. I will quote words of archbishop George Ganswein who in an interview for ‘Schwabische Zeitung’ asked a question: ‘How does the Church in Germany react in the cases of not paying taxes for the Church?’ And he gave an answer: ‘It reacts with an automatic exclusion from the church community – which is the same as excommunication. There are doubts in dogmas but nobody is excluded for that. Would it be a more serious offence not to pay ‘Kirchensteuer’ than rejection of faith truths? It seems to me that when considering faith, this is not a tragedy but when considering money, it is not fun’. The Church where people do not attend confession, where they are divorced and live in another relationship, receive the Holy Communion unscrupulously, where ‘married couples’ of homosexuals receive blessing more and more often, does not permit for avoiding paying tax – isn’t it a reason to worry?
- Every institution, if it wants to exist and function, needs financial means. Also the Catholic Church the so-called Kirchensteuer was established in Germany in a long process of the history of the Church; there is no place to discuss it but without getting to know the history this method of financing is incomprehensible for non-Germans.
But also considering the reasons which led to this tax, its practice (administrative tax collection, from which – obviously – in particular cases one can resign) and its consequences (in the case of not paying – removing from the Church) are very bad, often scandalous. Responsible priests should look for another model of financing – maybe it would be an Italian system: 0.8 per cent (‘Otto per mille’)? According to it, every citizen should make their own decision whether a part of taxes paid by them will be assigned for a religious community or any other national cultural purposes. Certainly, such a change of the system would require an agreement of other religions – for example, protestants.
- German Catholics often criticized or attacked John Paul II and Benedict XVI, especially in sacramental, anthropology and bioethics disciplines. However, I remember that recently an influential chairman of the Committee of German Catholics has demanded on ‘his own pastoral practice’ for every country and cardinal Reinhard Marx said: ‘We are not a branch of Rome’. Recently most German bishops have opened up to a possibility of allowing the Holy Communion among non-Catholic spouses. Is the Catholic Church in Germany still a Roman-Catholic Church?
- At a meeting of all German bishops in Hildesheim on 24 February 2015, the chair bishops and other bishops organized a press conference. In a report on it, not only is it strange that the German Church is granted a particular significance in Ecclesia Catholica. What is more irritating are theological inaccuracies of the chair bishop such as a lapidary statement: ‘We are not a branch of Rome. Every Episcopal conference is competent in the issues of pastoral ministry on its own cultural area and it is to be independent in proclaiming the Gospel in a suitable way it finds’. Cardinal Marx is a social ethic and possibly has a lot of knowledge in the dependence of a branch on a big enterprise. However, in the context of the Church such words go together more with a table in a café. As a chairperson of the German Episcopal Conference he should be more careful about what he says. What does he understand through ‘competences’ in ‘the pastoral cultural environment’? He might mean a new publication of a songbook for liturgy or a program of a big pilgrimage? After all, nobody prohibits him to decide about these issues. But he speaks about something completely different! The chair bishop expresses his opinion about the problem of the second marriage of the divorced and this matter goes far beyond pragmatic sympathies of a particular cultural area. For he belongs to a theological centre Ecclesia Catholica. On this field even a cardinal cannot solve a complicated the Gordian knot with a cut of a sword. For example, he must hold to theology of sacraments given to him by the Council of Trent or speeches of pope Benedict XVI who stated on 21 January 2012 in the presence of the competent Tribunal of the Roman Rota that in pastoral decisions nobody should ignore the binding teaching of the Church. A responsible priest cannot follow an unclear ‘mercifulness’. If a chair bishop of the episcopate says that he wants to stay in the ‘community of the Church’ with this teaching, he may not know any boundaries which are marked by the teaching in the pastoral ministry, or he utters meaningless statements in a careless way. An essential sense of the community is defined by the central, theological-spiritual fundament on which the Church of the whole world is based. However, it seems that at press conferences nobody considers it – although every bishop vowed ‘unity with the college of bishops under the successor of Peter’ during his bishopric consecration. Or is the sentence: ‘We do not have enough time to wait till a Council will say what marriage and family pastoral ministry must look like here’ compatible with the ecclesiastical meaning of the community, with the spirit ‘communio’? Such statements are rather taken from the technique of ‘pre-emptive obedience’, from completely political strategy which creates facts so as to take a control of a process of making decisions and force other more honest – opponents to dismiss. Couldn’t the bishop use an occasion in his speech to show the Catholic grace ‘communio’ at the press conference and show its redeeming superiority over Christian communities of faith in history, which got dependent of the state? The anti-Roman resentment was not invented at a desk; in the northern geographical latitudes through its centrifugal power its is destructive also for the unity of faith. A concerned observer would like the chair bishop of the Episcopal conference to use is knowledge with his new important curial tasks in order to oppose to this resentment.
- During the last plenary meeting bishops of the German Episcopal Conference decided with the majority of votes that in mixed marriages an evangelical partner can receive the Holy Communion in particular cases and under particular conditions. This decision echoed in the world. What could Eminence say about it?
- It should be emphasized that this decision will encounter serious theological obstacles – it is mainly a well-testified church tradition. Ludwig von Hertling in an excellent historical article described a practice of the Holy Communion in the early time of Christianity - I would like to quote only a few threads. The author writes, among the others, that Eucharistic Communion is a visible sign of the church community for the early Christianity. When at about the half of the century bishop Polikarp from Smyrna arrived in Rome in order to talk with pope Anicet about the dispute on the date of Easter, these two bishops did not make an agreement. But they did not break the ecclesiastical ‘communio’ for that reason. Ireneusz from Lyon expresses his opinion on the maintained community of faith: ‘They were going to receive communion together’. There used to be the rule against appearing wrong teachings and heresies: ‘Everybody belongs where he receives the Holy Communion’. The heretic patriarch Macedoniusz from Constantinople immediately forced opposing Catholics to receive ‘his’ Communion; he forced them to open their mouths and receive Eucharist in this way. We still have this opinion in the 7th century. We get to know that Catholics who travelled to unknown parts of the world used to take Lord’s Body with themselves. The same was done by heretics so that they did not have to build a community of faith with Catholics. It is what faith and practice of the early Church look like. Receiving Lord’s Body is a more authentic confirmation of faith than all words.
Whereas today we have an explicit command from the Teaching Office of the Church. It was presented by Benedict XVI in his post-synod apostolic exhortation ‘Sacramentum caritatis’ (About Eucharist, the source and peak of life and mission of the Church, from 22 February 2007). We read in it: ‘However, on the other hand, the respect which we should show towards the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, does not allow us to treat it only as the ‘means’ which we could use without a suitable distinction for achieving this unity. For Eucharist does not only express our personal communion with Jesus Christ but it also assumes a complete ‘communio’ with the Church. So, this is the reason for which, being full of pain, but not without hope, we are asking Christians non-Catholics to understand and respect our belief which reaches back to the Bible and Tradition. We maintain that Eucharistic Communion and the communion of the Church belong to each other so much that in fact, it is impossible to receive one and not enjoying the other one by Christian non-Catholics’.
- In one of his books, a few years ago, Andreas Puttmann defined Germany as ‘gesellschaft ohne Gott’ (a society without God) and explained that two dictatorships had a lot of influence on Germany: the Nazis one and the communist one – both of them aimed at destroying religion. Whereas today there is appearing a problem of ‘a widespread scientistic opinion which imposes a way of looking at religion as something archaic. It is the reason for which only 11 percent of Catholics and only 3 percent of protestants practice their religions’. Why isn’t the German Church able to stop de-christianization, and what is worse, it agrees to undergo the process, which Jan Fleischhauer, a journalist of the magazine ‘Der Spiegel’, defined as ‘selbstsakularisierung’, that is, self-secularization? Does this process make the Catholic Church undergo ‘protestantization’?
- Perceiving only ‘protestantization’ in the mistakes of the Catholic Church in Germany does not consider the roots of evil. In fact we are facing up the spirit of this world in the teaching of the Church – the spirit which dilutes Protestantism. The danger is increasing when ecclesiastical structures are mixed with the state ones, especially when the Church considers itself a kind of UNO and wants to redeem the world not through proclaiming God’s salvation done in Jesus Christ, but through the worldly means. The Church is supposed to proclaim and strengthen faith.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 25/2018 (24 IV 2018)