“Dying and death moved to the center of society”

Because of the Corona pandemic, the timetable for the Synodal Way has been delayed. Now regional conferences will be held in five locations. The Corona crisis is also a topic. For Cardinal Woelki, the church had too few answers for this.

According to Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the Catholic Church has given too few answers to existential questions in the Corona crisis. Corona had caused, in addition to all other consequences, "that we as human beings have been confronted with our finiteness," said Woelki on Friday at the regional conference of the Catholic reform dialogue Synodal Way in Frankfurt.

The pandemic has "brought death and dying into the center of society". The church "often had no answers" to this or "did not dare to give answers," Woelki said.

The auxiliary bishop of Cologne, Ansgar Puff, said: "I ask myself the question: Does Corona perhaps have a prophetic dimension??" In any case, the crisis gives the answer: "Remember, you are only human."This is where the church has to come up with answers. The Bishop of Limburg and President of the German Bishops' Conference, Georg Batzing, said that the pandemic would "exacerbate inequalities and injustices", also worldwide.

In addition, he saw "divisive tendencies" that were being promoted from various sides. Sometimes, he said, he has the impression that "anything but cohesion" is made an ie in the church, too. He warned against "badmouthing" the church's efforts in the crisis.

Bishop Kohlgraf of Mainz said: "I, too, have the impression that divisions are deepening. In the Church, we must not all fall into the trap of using the crisis only to reinforce our own opinions."

The one-day regional conferences will be held simultaneously and with the same program on Friday in Frankfurt, Dortmund, Berlin, Munich and Ludwigshafen – with a maximum of 50 participants. The new format is due to the Corona pandemic and takes the place of the second synodal assembly originally planned for the first weekend of September in Frankfurt.

A substantive focus was on the consequences of the pandemic. In the afternoon, debates on the topics of women and sexuality are on the agenda. The forums are to do the substantive groundwork for the synodal assemblies.

Bishop Overbeck: Corona shows church its problems

According to Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, the Corona crisis has brought the problems of the Catholic Church home to the Church. Even after the resumption of public services, many churches are not overflowing with believers, the Ruhr bishop said Friday at a regional conference of the Synodal Way in Dortmund. Above all young people were missing. "The Corona pandemic is something like a fire accelerator."

To prevent the spread of the Corona virus, the churches had temporarily suspended public worship services. Some pastors had celebrated Sunday Mass alone on behalf of their congregation. Aachen Bishop Helmut Dieser stressed that celebrating the Lord's Supper is not a privilege of priests. "Eucharist is always inclusive and inclusive," he said. His dream, he said, is that "we leave behind us any clericalist overreaching and encumbrance of the Eucharist."

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, complained that during the crisis Christians had been treated as one of many social groups with certain interests – but "not as a force that determines and permeates this society.". He was shocked that the public debate about Corona did not include the question of God.

Archbishop Hebe: Church must reflect on freedom rights

According to Hamburg Archbishop Stefan Hebe, the Catholic Church must reflect more on its handling of civil liberties within its own ranks. "The freedom impulse of faith must be implemented by the church in its own organization and communication," said Hebe on Friday in Berlin at the start of the regional conference of the Catholic reform project Synodal Way.

Corona had only accelerated church developments "that were already underway anyway," Hebe continued. "Crises are always accelerators of developments. And so the ecclesiastical reform efforts are also accelerated by Corona."He emphasized that the church needs a presence and publicity: "The church is not there for itself and must not only revolve around itself. Church must get out into society."

Journalism professor Claudia Nothelle, who co-chaired the Berlin regional conference session with Hebe, added that Corona had exacerbated the credibility crisis. "But Corona has just also released reform forces, because you had to change."This should be understood as an impulse for a new beginning. "And one must not now only look at how we return to the old state of affairs. Tradition is alive when it develops," said Nothelle, who is also a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).

ZdK Secretary General Marc Frings said that the church's questions about power had intensified and intensified again during the pandemic. There is a simultaneity: "The view that the power of clerics increased in the Corona period is just as correct as the view that more participation and involvement was possible for the laity."These different developments and perceptions must be discussed.

Archbishop Koch of Berlin added, referring to the clergy of his diocese: "Some priests have developed a great deal of creativity in the course of Corona, especially together with their parishioners. Others withdrew altogether, so not much took place then."In all this, one must also ask: "What are the expectations of the parishes for the priests?? In my opinion, this has also changed," said Koch.

Because of the Corona pandemic, the second synodal assembly, actually scheduled for early September, was pushed back about half a year. Instead, regional conferences have been convened in Berlin, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Ludwigshafen and Munich. There are about 50 participants each. The Ludwigshafen assembly consisted of delegates from the dioceses of Freiburg, Rottenburg, Speyer, Trier and Wurzburg.

No overall assessment of the Corona crisis possible yet

For an overall assessment and a detailed evaluation of the action of the Catholic Church in the Corona crisis, it is still "too early". Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx and Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer agree on this point. Those who had been asleep before had continued to do so, those who had already been committed had become even more active, Marx said Friday in Munich at the regional conference of the Synodal Way.

Voderholzer took the opportunity to thank the priests and pastoral staff who had represented the credibility of the church during the lockdown.

In addition, Voderholzer explained that his diocese had commissioned a study from the pastoral-theological chair at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University in order to obtain a scientific review of the Corona period, when public church services were impossible.

This had already begun after Easter. The response to the questionnaires distributed has so far been astonishingly high.

Marx referred to letters that had reached him that had brought out "magical ideas" in some of the faithful. These include, among other things, the conviction that one cannot catch the virus during communion. For the church, this means digging even deeper into what it actually has to proclaim when it talks about God. The cardinal critically reflected that no visits of relatives had been allowed into the old people's and nursing homes as well as hospitals. The fact that human closeness was not possible must not happen again.

Benedictine Sister Philippa Rath added from her own experience that in a hospital ward people had had a lot of longing – "not for the usual Catholic program," but for "spiritual closeness". In her community, on the other hand, she had noticed that because of the cancelled Eucharistic celebrations, "great imagination" had been developed for new forms of services.

She called for the church to become more "open" to this in the future. But this requires guidance and introduction.

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Christina Cherry
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