The recent abuse scandals are shaking the Catholic Church to its foundations. The retired German pope is now considered a cover-up and even a liar, who as a bishop held his hand over child molesters. The sheep are running away from the church, the number of people leaving the church is increasing enormously. But what do those who love this Church, who are part of the Catholic family or even represent it publicly, do?
One of them is Christian Wirz (48), regional dean and provost of the Basilica of St. Clemens. Wirz has been the top Catholic in the region since 2019, and in January 2022 the priest is quite sad. “These people who did that, and also those who didn’t do it – they were believers. How can you believe in Jesus Christ, in a good God, and at the same time not worry about the suffering of the little ones?” he asks himself. And: “To what extent has faith become an external facade so that something like this can happen with priests?”
“The victims have not yet been considered”
Since an outbreak with the victims, but also in their own church family. And with it the system that made such deeds possible. There are different protagonists in the stories of abuse, “whether it happened in Hildesheim or in Munich, but basically the cases and how they are dealt with are similar. Little or no focus was placed on the victims. We are working to change that.”
Processing and prevention is required
The “fruit” of this work is an approximately 400-page study and was published in September 2021. It was about cases of abuse in the diocese of Hildesheim under the British Bishop Heinrich Maria Janssen, who died in 1988. The study was commissioned by the incumbent Bishop Heiner Wilmer. With him, “we have a bishop who has made this issue a priority and is acting very consistently.” But Wirz is also clear: “This will not have been the last report, it will be processed at different levels” and as a way out of the misery “prevention was set up on a broad front”. There is a staff unit for prevention and processing in his diocese, “which should ensure that both prevention and processing can work better”.
Felizitas Teske, after Wirz second chairwoman of the Dean’s Pastoral Council (a kind of church parliament), is rather angry. “But it is not the first time that something like this has happened, we are now experiencing an increase: a pastor, a bishop, a pope,” said the 64-year-old, who has been working for the Catholic Church on a voluntary basis for more than 40 years. But she also says: “A pope is not fundamentally infallible, a pope is also a person who grew up in a structure that has always focused on the institution and less on the people affected.” Giving up offices or leaving the church is not an alternative for her . “Sometimes a decent thunderstorm can clear the air.” The current situation can and must lead to reforms. “It’s about not further concealing, not trying to save what can be saved, but redesigning it.”
Criticism of the male power system
She agrees with Peter Sutor (73), who is even more angry at Benedict XVI. and the dominated male power system of his church. Sutor, part of the reform movements “Church from below” and “Maria 2.0” does not want “a public crucifixion of a 94-year-old”, but empathy with those who have suffered. “I haven’t heard a word of true, honest sympathy so far,” he says, committing to “Maria 2.0”. “Ratzinger should refrain from using the Pope’s name, this demand is absolutely justified.”
Not only that. The church would have to reform itself from the ground up, not just finally appointing women to the highest offices. “The consecrated priesthood should be questioned,” he says, and the services should be closer to the people, “the liturgical fuss is dispensable”. If good-hearted people who know the Bible were to conduct the services, a lot would change. “The exercise of priestly power is the most dangerous thing one can encounter in the Roman Catholic Church,” says Peter Sutor.
No connection with celibacy
The ordained pastor Christian Wirz is also committed to reformed priestly training. Because of him, the sense and nonsense of celibacy can also be discussed. However, there is no evidence for a connection between celibacy and pedophilia. “But you have to see whether the celibate way of life attracts people who have a sexual problem,” says the churchman openly. “You can’t solve that by simply abolishing celibacy, but you have to take a closer look: How can we be sure that we are not dealing with ticking points in time?”
And what does God think?
Will the Catholic Church survive the scandals? Sutor isn’t so sure and Teske believes “we’re getting smaller, poorer, but closer to people”. And how do believers think how God looks at his representatives on earth? “God loves us like a father loves his children,” says Provost Wirz hopefully. “Even if he’s not always happy with what they do.”
By Petra Rückerl