One chair remained empty

Ten pastors from the archdiocese of Cologne have pledged their support to the initiators of the Austrian pastors' initiative and have thus joined the step into the public eye. On Tuesday evening, a round table discussion on the demands took place in the Karl-Rahner-Academy in Cologne. our site editor Johannes Schroer was there.

Stuffy air. Heated tempers in the Karl Rahner Academy. The meeting room is crowded, the discussion is transferred to a second room. Several hundred Catholics from the Archdiocese of Cologne came to get first-hand information from the rebelling parish priests' initiative, but also to let off their steam, to vent their displeasure about the internal church structures and manners. A chair on the podium remains empty. "We have invited a representative of the archdiocese. I have worked hard on this," says Father Franz Decker, long-time Caritas chairman of the Cologne Caritas Association. Then he enumerates whom he has written to and addressed. "There were only cancellations. All had no time tonight. But the chair on the podium should not remain empty: "Who in the audience would like to represent the archdiocese's side?? Who would like to join us on the stage?". Silence. Finally someone comes forward, who at first receives a lot of appreciative applause. In the discussion he tries to get into the conversation, but remains quiet and in his rare arguments unconvincing. —-"We want to show solidarity with the pastors in Austria," says pastor Decker and asks further: "What is obedience?? Obedience includes listening to God's Spirit. Mutual listening of bishop, pastor and congregation to each other and sharing in conversation about it. That obliges then also".
There is talk of a "horizontal church schism. Practicing Catholics have long lived a different faith and morality than the bishops and the pope preach. "Eighty percent of all Catholics do not adhere to the sexual morality prescribed in the catechism," says a priest.

—-30 pastors in the public –Today, not only the priests who have already joined the parish initiative in Cologne have come – there are more than 30 other parish priests from the Archdiocese of Cologne in the audience. They are all toying with the idea of joining the initiative. In the course of the discussion, a priest stands up and promises to do so spontaneously and to applause. —-"What would happen if all the German bishops went to Rome and said: "After careful examination, we will also give communion to remarried divorcees. Would the bishops then all be dismissed?" asks pastor Decker. There is also a demand for an open discussion about the possibility of ordaining women as Catholic priests. Much applause for the demands of pastor Decker, applause especially from the women.

—-Experiences with the cardinal — And hovering over everything is the big ie: how capable of conflict is Cologne's Archbishop Cardinal Meisner? In individual statements, participants share their experiences with the cardinal, experiences that have disappointed and also deeply hurt them. Joachim Frank, the leader of the discussion, points out that one does not get further by cultivating the "small-town conflict". In this way he prevents the evening from becoming an evening of complaining about the Archbishop of Cologne. There is more at stake here, it is about how then pastoral practice in the parishes looks like in contrast to the official orders.—-What happens next in the parishes? This is the question that drives the committed participants, the priests and the laity. What does the future of the Catholic Church look like?? They are worried, but also angry. Their energy is palpable – even though almost all of those present are retired, and their youthful vigor does not match the outward image of the audience. —-The participants of the discussion evening are well aware that only older believers, the over-60s, have come to the Karl Rahner Academy. "Where are the young people? Why don't they come here to talk about future of communities?", asks one. A question that remains unanswered. In the past, there were also fierce protests and discussions among the young – just think of the Essen Catholic Day in the 1960s. Among the clergy who have so far joined the Cologne priests' initiative, there is no young priest. "We are dinosaurs after all," says a retired priest. He recently spoke with a chaplain who told him: "We are not interested in your theological disputes. We have the Bible and the catechism.".

—-Offer of discussion by the archdiocese –In the end, everyone agrees: something has to happen. "We appreciate their support and solidarity," says Rev. Decker. A pastor in the audience promises to approach more colleagues in Cologne.
The Archdiocese of Cologne reports almost simultaneously that it does not shy away from dialogue. There is to be a meeting with the archdiocese's new personnel director and the secretary of the priests' council on Friday. First behind closed doors and without the media and the public. There is no question that there is plenty to talk about – as the discussion evening at the Karl Rahner Academy showed.

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Christina Cherry
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