Church’s relevance in society is diminishing says bishop

The Church’s relevance in today’s society is diminishing, says Bishop Heiner Wilmer of Hildersheim, Germany.

Last year, a record 272,771 Catholics in Germany formally left the Church.

While Wilmer is concerned there could be a further drop in church attendance due to the coronavirus crisis, his main concern is the Church’s apparent irrelevance in today’s world.

Phenomena like clerical sexual abuse, Church structures and Church tax are only ostensible causes for the decline of Catholicism, Wilmer believes.

In his view, what’s really at the heart of reduction in the Church’s relevance is that “We, as a Church, and therefore our interpretation of life, are becoming less important,” he said.

In today’s societies, the Catholic Church is only one “provider” among many other alternatives that gives meaning to people’s lives, he noted.

A change in structure is needed to put the Church back into the running, he suggests.

Instead of classical parishes with their claim to exclusivity, the Church needs more vibrant “power centers” that radiate presence and charisma.

Committed lay Christians, rather than priests, should run these centers, in Wilmar’s opinion. These people could be found, for example, within universities or house communities.

“I don’t want to talk down classical parishes, but we need alternatives to the proclamation of the Gospel message,” Wilmer says.

At the same time, these people need to be physically present, if they are to be useful as witnesses to the Christian faith. They must learn how to live and proclaim the Gospel message and not flee into cyberspace, he says.

“It is a case of being together, walking through life shoulder to shoulder and sitting opposite one another at the kitchen table, at the workplace, where people are growing old, where they are sick and frail, laughing and weeping together, face to face, and really being present physically.”

Over 8,000 Catholics officially left the Church in Wilmer’s Hildesheim Diocese in 2019 – an increase of more than 1,000 from the previous year.

The overall number of Catholics in the diocese has reduced from 593,360 in 2018 to 581,460 in 2019.


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