After cases of abuse in the church and a crisis of confidence, the German bishops want to regain lost trust and map out possible areas of church reform. The President of the German Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Robert Zolltisch, on a broad-based dialogue process.
CBA: Archbishop, at the recent meeting of the German bishops, you called for consequences to be drawn from the current crisis of confidence in the Church. You have in mind a broad-based process of dialogue and reflection. What are the topics to be discussed?
Zollitsch: We will talk about the ies that are of particular urgency for the life of the church in Germany. In the dialogue initiative, which is a resolution of the plenary assembly of the German Bishops' Conference, we want to involve both the dioceses and the parishes as well as people who are not active in the Church. At the same time we will – on the basis of the good experiences of our reflection day in Fulda – increasingly cultivate the self-critical discussion in the Bishops' Conference.
CBA: Why is this initiative coming now? What goal are you pursuing with this??
Zollitsch: The experiences and upheavals of the past six months demand that we critically and increasingly address the ies of our time. We understand this dialogue as a way of living as a church of pilgrimage, especially also as a listening church. It's about witnessing, sharing and practically affirming the faith.
CBA: Decide now whether church will still be a home for young people 15 years from now?
Zollitsch: In any case. I believe that our responsibility, especially to young people, must remain a priority. I am confident that the church will continue to be a place where young people feel at home. The 100.000 members in youth associations or the 45.000 altar boys and girls who made the pilgrimage from Germany to Rome this summer are the best example of that.
CBA: In your speech at the Bishops' Plenary Assembly, you spoke self-critically of too great a distance between "normal" believers and the bishops. How do you intend to change this? So who can and should have a say in the dialogue initiative of the Catholic Church in Germany??
Zollitsch: Where the perceived distance is too great, you have to try to better understand the life and belief situation of the other parties involved in each case. As an important cooperation partner, the Central Committee of German Catholics is also an important part of this. In the dioceses, I also count on the various diocesan councils and on the experiences we bishops make during our visitations.
CBA: In the archdiocese of Freiburg, you have announced an agreement on detailed questions of the talks by the end of the year. What red lines are emerging in terms of organization and content?
Zollitsch: The organization and content of the dialogue initiative in the Archdiocese of Freiburg will be discussed in all committees and with all central dialogue partners by the end of the year. All regions, deaneries, parish councils, associations, religious orders, spiritual communities, universities, schools, Caritas and church institutions are asked to make suggestions and to name the topics and perspectives that are relevant from their point of view. Thus, from spring to summer 2011, in common prayer and listening to God and in a clearly structured process, we want to find out together what is possible and realizable within the horizon of the Gospel.
CBA: What concrete questions do you want to address in Freiburg?
Zollitsch: The transmission of our faith is the central theme:
How can we again activate more interfaces to the living world of the people, strengthen our competence in dialogue, understand the changed situation as a challenge and thus do justice to our mission as Christians?? It is becoming clear that not everyone is short-sightedly focusing only on two or three topics that are constantly discussed in Germany. Thank God, there are not a few Catholics who are broadening their horizons and – with a realistic view of what is feasible in our country – are getting involved locally in the renewal and future of our church, thus daring a new departure.
CBA: Critics point to 'federal' structure of Catholic Church in Germany. Accordingly, a dialogue is always dependent on the will of the respective local bishop. What is the first nationwide feedback from their brother bishops?
Zollitsch: The decision to launch the dialogue process was unanimous. No further feedback is necessary. This will be an important topic at the next meeting of the bishops, the Permanent Council.
CBA: Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller of Regensburg has already publicly ruled out talks on questions of sexual morality, celibacy or an ordination of women as deacons. Do critical Catholics who want to make a difference in their church get involved in a dialogue at all if you are not involved in selecting the topics and objectives of the talks?
Zollitsch: We offer dialogue – everyone can participate and there are many topics to talk about. At the same time, it is clear that truths of faith offer no room for arbitrary interpretations.
CBA: Is the church on the way to a new nationwide church assembly, 40 years after the Wurzburg Synod, which as early as 1971 was also about a new style of cooperation between church people and church leadership??
Zollitsch: We will make the jubilee of the Wurzburg Synod as well as the jubilee of the Second Vatican Council a point of reference in terms of content and include it in the process. But we don't need a new synod. Synods are forms of the Church regulated by canon law, which are good in certain times and situations. We need the concrete and speedy conversation in a horizontal and vertical communication of the Catholic Church in Germany. By the way, I experience a generally good cooperation and do not let myself be disturbed by the individual actions of some groups.
CBA: Hope for an atmosphere of departure, which could then also lead to a worldwide church assembly – a council?
Zollitsch: Whether God desires a renewed council for the Church or not, I do not presume to judge that. In any case, a new appropriation of the Council documents, which are still valuable today, is important.
What has been said and written needs to be visualized and brought to life. We have to work on that if we want to dare a new departure.