“'It has always been this way' is not an argument”

Can the church reform itself or do the structures prevent that?? Katharina Norpoth is hopeful. She is one of the younger members at the "Synodal Way" and reports in the "Himmelklar Podcast" about democracy and compromise.

Himmelklar: Do you actually feel out of place when you're under thirty and surrounded largely by gray-haired bishops or professors?

Katharina Norpoth (Member of the Assembly of the "Synodal Way"): That's exactly why we have to be there. A perspective must be brought into the synodal way, which is perhaps also completely far away from any theological knowledge, in order to simply also question things, in order to make things clear, in order to be able to formulate that then also in such a way that we are able to speak at the end for all humans and that also all humans understand that, which we discuss there.

When it comes to power, it's always about language as power, and we have to make sure that we make this language so understandable that it really speaks to everyone and that no one feels excluded just because of language.

It has not only been the case since the Synodal Way that one has to explain again and again what the Catholic Church actually does? It is much more fundamental that some people no longer understand what the Catholic Church means at all. That we become capable of speaking, that we can also translate this into simple language. This must be an essential concern.

Sky Clear: Are you then satisfied how the synodal way is going now? Or would you have imagined it differently?

Norpoth: I find it difficult to answer this unequivocally because this has very different facets. One thing is that I would have liked us to be much further along at this point, more than a year after the synodal journey began. But sometimes I also believe that it is important to take this time for ourselves. Maybe Corona has something positive at this point, that we were able to discuss more intensively last year.

Beyond that it must become now simply more concrete. If we really want to make progress and if we also want to send a signal to the outside world that the Catholic Church is developing, that we are all developing as we are, we need concrete resolutions. Unfortunately, the regional conferences and now the online conference have not yet been able to summarize them. And I believe that we really need these resolutions in order to continue working constructively and well.

Clear as day: The most diverse opinions and points of view really do come up. Especially from the conservative corner there is a lot of headwind for reform ideas. Is it at all possible to achieve something that goes beyond a minimum consensus??

Norpoth: There are sometimes voices that are very loud, even though there are not many people behind them. I believe that the positions, where significantly more people stand behind, must also become significantly louder again. But we also have to look at how we can establish changes and at what level we can do that. There are various things, for example, what was presented last year by the forum "Women in Ministries and Offices of the Church" to the regional conferences. The texts show very clearly that a lot could be done in this area, even within the existing structures.

The same applies to other areas, also with regard to the inclusion of remarried divorcees in the divine service. We simply have to exploit that first and foremost. But beyond that, there are certainly demands that need to be clarified at the world church level, such as z.B. The ordination of women, the revision of the catechism. We will – unfortunately – not be able to decide this with the synodal assembly. We can decide that we will work for things to be changed accordingly, that they will be taken to Rome. We cannot implement this independently at a regional level. Maybe in the end it will lead to a stronger focus on regionality and to changes that really take place at the local level. But then we will see.

What is very interesting, however, is that Germany is getting a lot of attention, especially from abroad. Especially with regard to the synodal way, because the problems that we discuss and deal with in the synodal way apply not only to Germany, but also to many other countries in the world. Accordingly, Germany could of course play a pioneering role. And I would definitely like to push this further, because I think it's important to make changes in the structures and the power structure. And they are relatively similar in the whole world church and the effects as well.

Himmelklar: However, this is precisely what is being criticized, sometimes heavily, from abroad and also from conservative circles in Germany. Sometimes one can get the impression that the critics have not really dealt with the topics and the approach of the Synodal Way. Is it difficult to deal with criticism when you cannot argue against it objectively??

Norpoth: Yes, of course it's always easier when you have critical constructive discussions and include facts. It is not without reason that there are many calls to involve science more, to involve medicine more, because we notice in many places that the Catholic Church is far removed from any kind of.

This makes it difficult to discuss with these people, because "It has always been like this" and "Actually, it has always been good" do not work. The latter certainly not at all, and secondly, it is not an argument in the sense of "what is actually good" or "how can we also discuss it again together"? To then perhaps even find common denominators. But on the one hand, that takes time and, above all, it takes the will to really get to grips with the other person's position.

Clear as daylight: The most important argument, after all, is the origin of the Synodical Way, and that is the thousands of cases of sexualized violence in the church. Something has to happen, you can't bury your head in the sand and carry on as before, can you??

Norpoth: Absolutely. I think many would not be part of this church anymore if they didn't at least have the hope to change something. And on Thursday evening, three members of the Concerned Persons Advisory Board also spoke at the Synod Assembly online conference. That was very impressive. And these are all three people who would like to change, who would like to contribute their expertise, so that the church changes for the better. People who, above all, I think, are concerned that what happened to them should no longer be possible in the future. And that should also be the claim of all, of all believers, that such a thing can no longer happen. And for that we first of all need changed structures.

Sky Clear: Last week, therefore, we met online, with almost all 230 synod members. Does such an online conference also have advantages?

Norpoth: Maybe it has the advantage that you can go directly from the breakfast table to the desk, so to speak, or maybe even have breakfast during the conference. However, conferences still live from the interpersonal togetherness and in "Frankfurt I", as the first synodal assembly last year is often called, it was incredibly important that we could go into personal exchange in addition to the conference parts, that we could get into conversation with each other in the evening about the topics of the Synodal Way, but perhaps also about completely different topics that moved us. And also this question of: Who sits next to whom? This was also discussed very often last year. We sat in alphabetical order, and this enabled us to come into contact and exchange with people with whom we might not otherwise have come into contact. And that is of course a pity with such an online conference. It is to be hoped that we can meet there soon again in natura and Face to Face, in order to do exactly that again.

On the other hand, the online conference has certainly been an opportunity for some people, because it has been less barrier-free. For some, at least, but for some it may have been yet another hurdle to dial into this online conference.

Himmelklar: Doesn't that also give us the chance to communicate more directly?. One to one, without whispering? Everyone is then listened to right away…

Norpoth: I would share the assessment rather less, because you are sometimes distracted in front of the screen, from what else is happening at home. Be it that the doorbell rings. Be it that someone calls again and you just turn off the camera for a moment. That's why I'm very skeptical about it.

Nevertheless, I believe that, for example, while the three people concerned were speaking, a mood was also spreading online that corresponds to this mood, that you could hear a pin drop to the ground. So that I think, was there already very impressive.

Himmelklar: In addition to the plenary, however, you also participate in Forum 4, which focuses on living in successful relationships. Here, too, the most diverse views come together. How does the work proceed there??

Norpoth: We were fortunate last year that we were able to meet and form ourselves before the first lockdown and had the first opportunity to get to know each other personally as forum members. Because such a forum cooperation, especially when it comes to sensitive topics, presupposes a high level of trust that one can also discuss these critical points with each other.

After all, our forum is about successful relationships. Living love in sexuality and partnership. And when you hear this title, it is very unwieldy at first hearing and accordingly we had to break it down and look: What is actually behind all this?? Which topics do we want to work on? Where do we see a need for change? How can we change this and how can we anchor it structurally?? And what are our expectations of what needs to change?? In the past year, we have repeatedly defined this, repeatedly worked in small groups, and written texts. At the Regions Conference last year, we presented initial recommendations for action that were very brief and abbreviated, but which at least expressed where we see a need for change. And we are currently in the process of drafting further action texts on the various topics, in order to be able to present them in the first reading of the next synodal assembly.

Clear as daylight: Now there are sometimes also reports that speak of the fact that some opinions in the forums are downright suppressed and marginalized, however, your forum was not mentioned in the process. Nevertheless, there is no hiding the fact that there are major conflicts in terms of content. How to deal with this without getting bogged down in these conflicts?

Norpoth: Forum work presupposes that people treat each other with mutual respect and that they first respect each other's opinions and points of view. But then we also have to discuss again and again how valid the arguments actually are. And who can prove what and how. Then we have to look at: How can we have good discussions with each other and how can we make progress together?? I believe that this is possible up to a certain point. At a certain point, however, it also starts to become difficult, because points of view, as we all know, are reluctantly abandoned. In particular, we certainly won't give up without a fight. And then, I think, democracy really helps us to look at what majority decisions can be? Of course, this is also seen critically in the whole context of the synodal way. There are always voices that say: If, then we must reach consensus-oriented solutions. Personally, however, I do not think that this is a permanently viable path. I think we have to see where we can come together and where we can find common denominators. At some point, however, we also need decisions that will take us further on the basis of majorities.

The question of minority votes or the formulation of how to give minorities a voice can certainly be discussed. But in the end, I think, it must be clear how the majority of us stand on certain things, and this must also be communicated to the outside world. In the youth associations, in the BDKJ, we have had incredibly good experiences with this. Of course, very different associations of all stripes are represented here, and they certainly do not have the same opinion at different points. But if a democratic decision is made, no matter on which topic, then every youth association stands behind it in the sense of the BDKJ decision and represents it to the outside. It is also possible to have a different opinion within the association. And I believe that this corresponds to all the democratic structures that we have at the various levels.

Clear as day: Which also corresponds to the decision-making process in politics and society. What the majority wants will be done.

Norpoth: Of course, we as youth associations have been fighting for this for a long time. But it seems that other triggers are needed first, which then bring about real discussions about changing structures. And we can only hope that this will now finally be implemented.

Sky clear: Decision-making aside, there's something else from the online conference that hasn't quite left you yet?

Norpoth: On Thursday and also during the work on the synodal way, misanthropic statements fall again and again and they are absolutely not okay. And that's where we need to get to, that they're not accepted and that we position ourselves more clearly there. That such inhuman statements really have no place in our Church and that they are simply not acceptable.

Clear as day: What brings you hope? In the synodal journey, but also beyond it?

Norpoth: It gives me hope to know that there are many people close to me – either physically or mentally – who are very interested in formulating and implementing reforms. And faith is totally important to all of us. And for us, this church is also an important building block in life. And I have great hope that because we are all so motivated, we will continue to build on this, that we will really make progress. I also said this last week in the online conference: It would be important if we gave all people the same dignity, and really all people, no matter who they are. And there I know that there are many people who think the same as I do. And I hope that we can continue to work on a church that is fit for the future. The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

The interview is part of the Podcasts Sky Clear – an interdiocesan podcast project coordinated by MD GmbH in cooperation with katholisch.de and our site. Supported by the Catholic Media House in Bonn and APG mbH. Moderated by Renardo Schlegelmilch and Katharina Geiger.

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