Catholic Day between a lot of church crisis and a little hope

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Many Christians longed for a big festival of faith in Corona times. Now 25,000 participants in the Catholic Day are hoping for new strength in the church – and for reforms. From Stuttgart Christoph Strack.

ZdK President Irme Stetter-Karp, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Baden-Württemberg Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann

Sometimes a pithy statement only needs twelve words. “With all that crap that's always in the press…” says the older gentleman when asked how the Catholic Church is doing. He turns away and walks on. There is no great hope in his words.

Distinguishes between the official church and the parishes: Sabine Röhlmann from Lower Saxony

At the 102nd German Catholic Day, which began on Wednesday evening in Stuttgart, many think the same way. “I differentiate between the official church and the local church,” stresses Sabine Röhlmann, who came to the Neckar from Lower Saxony, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “I'm at odds with the official church. There's a lot of room for improvement. With the local church, I feel in good hands.”

“The women should assert themselves”

Wolfgang Tress puts it very concretely. “I hope that women will assert themselves more. Then, as a Catholic, I would find my way back to the church if the priesthood weren't so private.” Tress is not a participant in the Christian gathering. He lives in the greater Stuttgart area and just takes a quick look at the hustle and bustle in the city center this afternoon. 

In Germany, the Catholic lay community is more organized than in most other countries, and Catholic Days have a tradition here that goes back more than 170 years. They are regarded as determining the position of the church. Around 25,000 participants want to discuss social issues and celebrate their Christian faith by Sunday. 25,000 – that's far fewer than at comparable meetings in previous years and also fewer than the organizers had expected. This is certainly also due to the corona pandemic, one or the other speaker had to cancel this week due to an acute infection.

Opening with warning words: Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

But the number of registrations also had something to do with the “crisis situation” of their church, said Irme Stetter-Karp, the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), which was also responsible for organizing it, before the start of the meeting. After all, it was “no Coincidence that we have more than 30 events on the urgent reform issues in the Catholic Church in the program”. It's about gender justice in the church, about women's access to church offices, about more democracy in the structure of the church.

“Slow clarification of the abuse” 

Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took part in the Catholic Day at the start on Wednesday and Thursday, also addressed the state of the church and the processing of sexualised violence in the church in his opening speech. The head of state, himself a Protestant Christian, called the investigation “slow” and emphasized that abuse and cover-ups “damaged and destroyed a lot of trust”. Many would have turned away, also out of disappointment. And for that he got a lot of applause from the Catholic base.

All the more so, according to Steinmeier, that he wanted to “encourage all those who are actively committed to the renewal of the Catholic Church in Germany”. On Thursday morning after the Ascension Day service, Steinmeier demonstratively visited the information stands of the Association of Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Church, the Synodal Way reform project and the Central Committee of German Catholics in downtown Stuttgart. And emphasized once again: “Our society needs a strong church that is relevant. That's why I hope that you will make progress in your efforts to reform the church.”

Criticism of Bishops' Conference Chairman Bätzing

< p>At one of the larger events, the chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, confirmed the need for church innovations and at the same time called for patience. “In the situation we are in now, we are cheating many people out of a bridge to God.” In a conversation with Johanna Beck, who herself experienced sexualized violence in a church context, Bätzing advocated starting reforms at the grassroots level and not always looking to Rome.

But the reform-loving bishops' chairman is also under pressure these days. Shortly before the Catholic Day, the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” published an investigation according to which Bätzing had promoted a priest in his diocese against whom two women had accused years earlier of harassment, which the priest also admitted, according to the bishop.

The motto of the Catholic Day: “Share life”

The motto of the Catholic Day is “sharing life” and ties in with the figure of Saint Martin, who, according to legend, shared his cloak with a beggar. Martin is the patron saint of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. There are various events on this motto “sharing life” until Saturday. The social situation after the previous corona pandemic often plays a role. And the dramatic situation in Ukraine also characterizes Catholic Day. Several panels deal with the war. A peace rally entitled “Sharing life means sharing sorrow and hope” was added to the program for Friday afternoon at short notice. It may well become the most popular event at this Christian gathering.

Think about reforming the Church: Pedro Bravo from Ecuador

Pedro Bravo also wants to take part in this. The young man from Ecuador has been studying in Munich for four years. He, too, is concerned with the question of church reform. He tells DW that he sees “a dispute between two positions” in the church. Society is more advanced than the church when it comes to progressive views. This has already made “a good step”, but she is still facing obstacles.

“Experiencing the fellowship of the church”

Bravo emphasizes how important it is for many other believers in Stuttgart to meet, to exchange ideas with them, to experience the community. This concerns many, especially after the restrictions in the corona pandemic, when you ask them why they are taking part in the Catholic Day.

Enthusiastic about singing together: Elisabeth Lippert

Elisabeth Lippert raves about singing together, about meeting other believers. But she also thinks it's right to further clarify the abuse scandal. It's about, she says, “a reappraisal, not about dismantling the church.” What image would she use for the current situation of the Catholic Church? “Good Friday,” she replies quite spontaneously. “This day dark with death, and waiting for the resurrection.”

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