“For many it can become uncomfortable”

The Bishop of Essen, Franz-Josef Overbeck, is responsible for the Latin America relief organization Adveniat and experienced the Pope at World Youth Day. In an interview, he talks about the possible impact of the pope's remarks on the German church.

CBA: Bishop Overbeck, the Pope is leading the way: From when do we see you in a small car on business trips?

Bishop Overbeck: To each his own, I would say. And the pope is much shorter than I am with my long legs. Therefore I would like to stay with a car in which I can still sit well.

CBA: Seriously: How can the German Church put into practice the Pope's demands for more humility and modesty??

Bishop Overbeck: We, too, are adjusting to having to get by with less money in the future. But I also notice that some people like to call loudly for a poorer church – unless their own parish is affected and may have to sell buildings or close facilities. This is a huge challenge, but we will not be able to avoid having to give up cherished tasks, habits and buildings.

CBA: Also the church tax?

Bishop Overbeck: I think no. For we must remain present in society. And if you really want to help poor and needy people, you also need money for it. This is true here at home, but also worldwide. As the bishop responsible for the Latin American relief organization Adveniat, I experience time and again that without the money of German Catholics we would not be able to help the poor as effectively. It is therefore important what we do with the money and that we remain credible in doing so.

CBA: Pope Francis repeatedly calls for a church that goes out to the margins of society. How could the German church breathe life into an "option for the poor" that the church in Latin America has embraced?

Bishop Overbeck: Of course, poverty in Germany cannot be compared with poverty in Latin America or Africa. But I cordially invite you all to come with me to the northern Ruhr area and see the work of our pastors on the ground there. Then experience what Option for the Poor means in our country! I am thinking, for example, of the commitment to young people who are among the educational losers and who cannot find a job or training position here. Or for the many women who have to raise their children alone. Or for the many old people who live there and have no one to take care of them. And who have hardly any money for everyday life and nothing in the fridge.

CBA: The pope addressed many other topics – from the role of the laity to the role of women in the church to dealing with people who have left the church ?

Bishop Overbeck: Or also the question of collegiality – between us bishops among ourselves and between the bishops with the pope. Loud topics, which are yes also with the discussion process in the German church again and again addressed. And, of course, the words of the pope are very important impulses. However, we must not just choose the words that are convenient for us at the moment.

CBA: For example?

Bishop Overbeck: I mention the discussion about the role of women. Let's not limit the use of women in the church, Francis says there. But also clear that the door to women's priesthood is closed.

CBA: His statements about homosexuals also cause a lot of stir. Sentences such as "Who am I to condemn them?". Some are now talking about a radical change of course, others are waving it away, saying that the Catechism already forbids any discrimination against homosexuals, and that Benedict XVI too. I have said nothing else. What is true?

Bishop Overbeck: He has quite simply emphasized the Church's teaching. Perhaps the circumstances or the way in which he expressed it led to such reactions. Or that he has spoken out about this for the first time as pope. But what he said is something that we German bishops have also said many times before – so it's nothing new.

CBA: Finally, a look ahead: Francis has been Pope for more than 100 days and has now completed his first trip abroad. What do you think? How will the Church continue to develop with Pope Francis??

Bishop Overbeck: After four months in office, one should politely, wisely and cautiously hold back with predictions. But I believe that we are indeed facing a time when it can become uncomfortable for many. Above all, because the pope, in all his radicalism, is a thoroughly spiritual man. And he has a more direct access to many realities of people's lives. He seems to make that very clear in the way he lives his life. This could have repercussions for us all in the long run.

The interview was conducted by Gottfried Bohl.

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Christina Cherry
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