Personnel change in difficult times

Personnel change in difficult times

Thomas Sternberg © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

Thomas Sternberg is an exceptionally versatile person. Theologian, art expert, politician and since 2015 president of the Central Committee of German Catholics. However, he does not intend to run for this office again.

He says he already announced this when he was first elected. Friends and fellow campaigners are nevertheless surprised and shocked: The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg (69), announced on Friday that he will not run for office again in November.

Frings, who comes from Munster, took over the highest representative office of the German lay Catholics from CSU politician Alois Gluck in 2015, thus continuing the uninterrupted line of Union politicians in this office.

"When you elected me president of the ZdK in 2015, I had announced that I would be available for the remaining period of my predecessor Alois Gluck and one more," Sternberg told delegates at the ZdK Spring Plenary Assembly, referring to his age. Nothing had changed in his decision at that time.

Change of personnel in difficult times

It will be a change of personnel in difficult times. The advice of Abraham Lincoln, probably the most famous U.S. president, that it is better not to change horses while crossing the river, therefore does not apply to the Zdk. The Katholikenkomitee is in the middle of the controversy about the reappraisal of sexual abuse. Sternberg played a major role in shaping the reform process of the Synodal Way, which began in December 2019.

The ZdK itself is also experiencing major upheavals: in January 2020, Marc Frings, a new ZdK General Secretary, took office. Next January, the Secretariat will move from Bonn to Berlin. Catholic laity should be closer to political decision-makers. Major tasks for the new leadership.

The native of Sauerland is a tree of a man. One who radiates a great zest for action. After finishing high school, he studied German, philosophy, art history, and theology, and earned two doctorates, one in German studies and the other in theology. The year of study abroad in Rome has left a deep impression on him.

As director of the traditional Catholic Social Academy in the diocese of Munster, Sternberg also profiled the "Franz-Hitze-Haus" as a venue for culture and art exhibitions. In addition, the father of five children was also involved in the Munster City Council and later became the cultural policy spokesman for the CDU state parliamentary group in Dusseldorf. Since 2001 he has been honorary professor of art and liturgy at the University of Munster.

Church in Germany faces change

Sternberg is clear that the church in Germany is facing a dramatic change and must redefine its role. In his 2015 application speech to the plenary assembly of the ZdK, the former journeyman baker spoke of the fact that the laity should be leaven in the church.

Sternberg himself still has one foot in the middle of the old popular church structures as he experienced them in Westphalia. Liturgy is important to him, especially the celebration of the Easter Vigil, also Taize. About his own faith, Sternberg says he is committed and critical.

The man from Munster embodies stamina and self-confidence, and is able to show clear edges. At the 100. At the 16th Katholikentag in Leipzig in 2016, he stood firm against massive criticism in not offering the AfD a podium.

Several times he has spoken out in favor of a new council – also to advance the role of women in the church. He is in favor of opening the office of deacon to women, calls for more separation of powers and administrative jurisdiction in the church, and has strongly opposed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's no to the blessing of homosexual couples.

One accusation hits him hard

Sternberg was very hurt on Friday by criticism that he is not critical enough with regard to the reappraisal of sexual abuse, that he seeks too much solidarity with the bishops and that he does not put the suffering of those affected and of the victims at the center of the reappraisal.

"This accusation strikes me deeply, and I think it is also wrong on the merits," he told the assembly. "I would like to resolutely oppose a polarizing, often polemical and hysterical style of debate, as promoted by the social media, which is not social at all."

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Christina Cherry
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