Plan for halting mass exodus from church underway

German bishops are looking for ways to halt the massive exodus from the Church in Germany caused by the clerical abuse crisis.

The bishops’ conference launched a two-year “synodal procedure” for church reform last weekend, on the first Sunday of Advent.

Working together with the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), special synodal candles were lit before Mass in all 27 German cathedrals and the four co-cathedrals.

Conference president Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK vice-president of the ZdK, Karin Kortmann, lit the synodal candle together in Munich Cathedral during Mass.

Marx’s homily stressed the importance of listening to one another and reaching consensus, despite differences of opinion.

“After the ghastly experience of discovering that clerical sexual abuse occurred in the Church, it is now crucial to examine systemic dangers like bad governance”.

“In order once again to become credible witnesses of joy and hope, we will have to remove certain obstacles.”

In a video message after Mass, Marx and ZdK president Thomas Sternberg said: “Credibility is an absolute must and we want to regain it through self-critical discussion.”

The next two years will see the synodal procedure focusing on resolving two specific systemic problems in particular.

These problems have resulted in the Church fostering abuse and standing in the way of credibly proclaiming the Gospel message.

In a combined letter to the German Faithful weekend, Cardinal Marx and Sternberg said it was time to admit “self-critically” that the Gospel message had been “obscured and even terribly damaged”, particularly by the clerical sexual abuse of minors.

“We must take the consequences and make sure the Church is a safe place,” they said.

Four days before the synodal procedure was officially launched, a group of diocesan press spokesmen from 12 dioceses called on the media’s critical cooperation.

“Particularly as far as scandals, crises and conflicts are concerned, the only thing that helps is as much transparency as possible.

“We would be grateful if the media were to accompany this crucial debate on the future of the Catholic Church in Germany,” they said.

Several bishops have spoken out about their hopes and fears regarding the procedure in sermons and interviews.

Among these was Cardinal Walter Kasper, emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

He said he hoped the participants in the four synodal procedure forums on “power and checks and balances”, “sexual morality”, “the priestly lifestyle” and “women’s place in the Church” would “earnestly listen to one another and not just exchange maximum demands, otherwise the whole project will go wrong”.

He himself was still “somewhat sceptical”, he said.

In Bishop Heiner Wilmer’s opinion, the discussions won’t be easy and the German Church will be a different Church afterwards.

“It will certainly be more participatory and more feminine,” he said.



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