Solutions needed for whole Church, not just Rome

Cardinal Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, visited La Croix for an interview. A member of Pope Francis’ advisory council of cardinals, he reflects on the crisis that the Church is currently experiencing.

How to do you see the crisis that the Catholic Church is experiencing today?

Since Vatican II, we have asked ourselves how the Church should situate itself within a modern, pluralist society where people are free to believe or not that Jesus was raised from the dead and that they can actually meet him.

What we need to imagine is not ‘a new Church’ but a Church that situates itself ‘in another way.’

Catholics themselves have said they want change.

However, this is a slow and painful process. Raising awareness does not occur at the same pace everywhere and some prefer to seek security in the past.

This is reinforced today by a loss of credibility resulting from the revelations of sexual abuse, as well as from a lack of financial transparency and a culture of secrecy.

This crisis has forced us to re-launch our substantive work. The Church can no longer be satisfied merely to preach.

Pope Francis has clearly understood this, as illustrated by his way of addressing himself to Catholics and seeking a new way of inviting people to faith.

The German Church often appears to be at the forefront of calls for reform. Is it also ahead of the curve in its understanding of the changes now under way?

Some find us ahead, but others regard us as heretics! However, we have many professors of theology, including many women, who teach in around twenty theological faculties and institutes. They are able to write, discuss and publish, and thus feed debate.

In addition, lay people are very well organized in parishes, dioceses and movements of the faithful, as well as in the Central Committee of German Catholics.

In the current crisis, this latter group has worked closely with the bishops but has also played a critical role.

Finally, Germany is the only European nation where there is no single dominant church, but rather two of them. Protestants are as numerous as Catholics.

Protestant theologians also freely express themselves in newspapers and on TV, which helps stimulate debate.

Do you have any concrete proposals in Germany to ‘rebuild the Church’?

We don’t have a ‘German response’ to the crisis! The path ahead needs to be sought with the universal Church and not just in Rome.

We cannot conceive of the universal Church without the local Churches. It is not a pyramid.

People can learn from the Church in Germany. But let us not forget that, like other countries, we have had our failures.

Everywhere our Churches are losing members, except perhaps, it seems to me, in South Korea. Why? Because Christianity there looks like a religion of the future.

We need to convince ourselves once again that the Church is a force for progress, a response for today and for tomorrow. And to achieve that it is necessary to return to the Gospel and to charity with the poor.

For us Christians, every man and women, whatever his or her color, religion or sexual orientation, is made in the image of God.

We belong to the same family and this affirmation in its radicalness distinguishes us from other religions. That is the message that is most necessary today!

Does this mean that structural reforms are secondary?

Witness is a priority. But, obviously, I am also in favor of better organization and a better distribution of responsibilities.

It took me several years to become aware of it, but it seems clear to me that we can no longer call synods of bishops without also inviting lay people, both men and women. This is urgent.

Another problem arises from the confusion of priesthood and power. It is our duty to better distinguish this and to envisage greater access to power. We also need to find ways of involving women in the governance of the Church.

Ultimately, a new reflection and vision of power will be necessary.

During our Plenary Assembly two weeks ago, we as bishops also worked on the life of priests. How can we form priests capable of living out celibacy in a fulfilling manner?

And can we help them to do so? Have we ordained men who lack sufficient emotional maturity?

In my view, celibacy is possible. But it is also necessary to integrate community aspects. Reflection is also needed on the issue of viri probati [i.e. the ordination of mature married men of proven virtue].

We need to tackle all these issues, as well as certain points of our sexual morality — for example, homosexuality. And that includes among the clergy.

How do you respond to those who fear that these changes are going too far and that they challenge the Catholic faith?

I receive letters from people who suspect me of watering down doctrine. We need to be firmer and clearer, they say.

Obviously, that is not the case. Faith is not a burden, but a pathway. Nor is the objective to ‘adapt to the spirit of the times,’ as some people fear.

What the Second Vatican Council asked us to do is ‘read the signs of the times’ in the light of the Gospel, which is much more challenging.

If we read the Gospel together at Mass every Sunday, and if together we serve the poor, then we will manage to find the right path.

Sowing division and mistrust among ourselves is the work of the devil.

Seek together what the Lord expects of us. And accept that several paths of faith exist.

LaCroix International

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