Faithful with rosary © Elisabeth Rahe (KNA)
It is a glimmer of hope: In 2015, significantly fewer believers left the Catholic Church than in the "record year" 2014. The current church statistics of the German Bishops' Conference bear this out. A look at the parishes:
Pretty much 8.St. Peter's parish in Bonn has 350 "souls" who are cared for by Father Raimund Blanke and his team. Parish life is diverse, with offerings ranging from refugee aid and street retreats to literature evenings, men's hiking weekends and discussion groups for young people. With the "Petrus Way," the parish is also pursuing a path of participation by as many parishioners as possible. It does not seem to be due to a lack of commitment that the list of resignations is growing much faster than the list of admissions – and has been doing so for years now. 88 people turned their backs on the church here in 2015 alone – up from four intakes.
"I have the feeling that, as far as the church is concerned, we are no longer facing a change throughout Germany, but rather a demolition, even if that sounds very negative," Pastor Blanke comments on the figures. At the same time, he stresses to have hope despite everything. "I see many signs in our congregation that give me courage."
A resignation is declared before the district court, and the residents' registration office then reports it to the municipality. Everyone who has taken this step receives a letter from pastor Blanke, in which a conversation is offered and the reasons are asked for. "But in the almost ten years I've been here, such exchanges have only happened a couple of times," regrets the pastor. Thus Blanke can only ame "that many probably do not feel adequately perceived". The question remains, how this is to change in the future, in view of constantly increasing congregations.
One of Blanke's parishioners who left last year is Annette Beckmann (name changed). "Primarily for financial reasons," as she freely admits. Beckmann worked for a large company that had cut jobs in recent years. At some point, it was also her turn – after all, there was a high severance pay. For Beckmann, that was precisely the crux of the matter. She would have had to pay a five-figure amount in church taxes.
"I preferred to give the money to my family or to aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders."The problem with church tax, she thinks at least, is that you have "no idea" where all the money is going.
Faithful without church
Still, she didn't really feel comfortable when it came to filling out the resignation form. "I remain a believer," emphasizes the woman in her mid-fifties, who by her own admission gets nervous if there is no palm branch and no blessed candle in the house on Easter. Why she nevertheless turned her back on the church?
Beckmann pauses for a moment. And then talks about how she has experienced church in recent years. In the Catholic hospital where her mother was dying. And where there was only one contact with a chaplain. Or at the parish priest of her birthplace, who did not want to fulfill the family's wish for a funeral mass on Sunday under any circumstances. Listening to Beckmann, it sometimes seems as if today's ubiquitous service society and the formerly ubiquitous church are no longer compatible with one another.
Francis as a beacon of hope
Guys with rough edges are obviously still in demand. For example, Pope Francis. "That's a cool sock," Beckmann says, suddenly sounding thoroughly enthusiastic about church. "He makes people realize that we are living in 2016 and no longer in the times of the Inquisition."But it remains. There is nothing to shake about her resignation – for the time being.
Joachim Nadstawek has also left once before. That was in 2011, and he had wrestled with himself for a long time. The trigger was an appearance by Essen Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck on Anne Will's ARD talk show the year before. At that time, the bishop called homosexuality a sin, saying it contradicted human nature. Although Overbeck revised his statements a little later, also met with representatives of gays and lesbians. But for Nadstawek, the ship had already sailed at that point. "I found that simply antediluvian" – out of "personal concern", as he says, but also because Jesus had approached all people in the same way with his message.
Nadstawek, who had been in the church "since time immemorial" and had always been connected to it, but without a permanent congregation in Bonn, called it a day. As a pain therapist, the physician learned to deal honestly with seriously ill people. Now he wants to be honest with himself. Leaving hurt, he admits. But he seemed consistent – until that Christmas mass in the collegiate church. "I was impressed that the priest there was critical of things that were happening in the church," he recalls of Raimund Blanke's sermon.
Critical view of management personnel
It did not remain with the one visit to the church service. Nadstawek came more often, felt at home in the congregation. What attracted him specifically? The personal atmosphere, the "we-feeling". Faith, as the 67-year-old sums it up, also has a lot to do with those who communicate it. A bishop persuaded him to leave with his remarks, a pastor to rejoin in March 2015. Nevertheless, Nadstawek has retained a critical view – also of the leadership personnel: They must make the church more future-oriented. And questions such as the priesthood for women and an end to compulsory celibacy for priests should be approached with an open mind, he thinks.
The physician remains a realist. "I probably won't see any more women at the altar."For his personal involvement in the church, however, this did not play the main role. The same applies to the case if Raimund Blanke one day has to give the leadership of the parish into other hands. The congregation has grown together over the years. "Nobody is going to break that in a hurry," he expresses his conviction. For him, a circle has closed in Bonn: "I have found again what I had lost in the meantime."