“The pope is a provocation”

Munster's Bishop Felix Genn sees in Pope Francis a provocation for the German Church. Dioceses and parishes should consider whether their property really corresponds to the church's mission, he says in an interview in Munster.

CBA: Bishop Genn, everyone is concerned about the size of their car. Does that surprise you??

Bishop Genn: No. In the debate about the church's finances, people look closely at how its ministers live. Since people can't come into my living room, look for how I move on the street.

CBA: Does that annoy you?

Bishop Genn: It annoys me then if it is not also seen why I need the car. Privately, the model with which I was on the road as a chaplain would be enough for me: that was an R4, by the way. But now I have to drive long distances. And if I have to justify myself all the time for a car in which I can also work, then that annoys me.

CBA: German Environmental Aid proposes economical rolling offices. Are you already tossing through car catalogs?

Bishop Genn: I personally do not, because I really have no idea about it. That's what my co-workers do. But of course we have to consider which car is appropriate for me as a priest and bishop. The question of environmental compatibility certainly also plays a role here.

CBA: The new pope wants a poor church for the poor. Is this a provocation for the German church?

Bishop Genn: In any case. And one must not only think of the bishops' cars here. Every Christian must ask himself about his lifestyle. Dioceses, including parishes, should consider whether their property really corresponds to the Church's mission and whether, for example, all the real estate we own is necessary.

CBA: What does the pope's call to go to the margins of society mean?

Bishop Genn: It is a call to the whole church. I ask this question again and again in the local parishes. In a civic church, this can easily be overlooked. Thank God I learn that often away from the public eye, many women and men do a lot of good on a voluntary basis and help people on the margins of our society.

CBA: In the coming year, you are planning a tour to nine social institutions – in other words, to said margins?

Bishop Genn: This has been planned for some time. The pastoral plan of the diocese of Munster strongly emphasizes the importance of a serving church. It is a great concern for me to experience concretely what an important service is performed in these institutions. And I want to see directly: What are the living conditions in a refugee facility, what is the work with dementia patients like, what perspectives can be opened to homeless people – just to name a few examples.

CBA: Jesus was also born under poor circumstances. Does the German Christmas with all the consumption fit in with this?

Bishop Genn: Certainly, it is a challenge to give gifts at Christmas without exaggerat. But many Christian families also practice this.

CBA: The pope has been in office for three quarters of a year. What impression does he make on you??

Bishop Genn: I am glad that we have him. As a Latin American he comes "from the ends of the earth", as he himself says. He contributes to the fact that people look at the church quite differently – from the inside as well as from the outside. Why has he been declared "Man of the Year"?? That's a nice sign.

CBA: How did you receive the doctrinal letter "Evangelii gaudium"?

Bishop Genn: When I read it, I think: Here is a well-educated pastor speaking to his faithful and saying what is precious to him about the Bible. It doesn't always have to be a curial style.

CBA: He pleads for a reorientation of the papacy…

Bishop Genn: He picks up on what John Paul II already said. Has suggested. But perhaps it will take 20 years and a special person to push the ie to the forefront.

CBA: It also sounds new when he speaks out against excessive centralism…

Bishop Genn: This is certainly also connected with his own life story, that is, with having been a bishop "at the ends of the earth". He knows the tension between universal church and local church. I think it is good when he brings in his experience.

CBA: A central concept is mercy. Can remarried divorcees hope to be admitted to communion??

Bishop Genn: This is a magisterial question. Then we have to find an answer for these people that is not simply perceived as excluding them. Pope Francis has called a synod on marriage and the family for next October. He wants to address the question of how we can deal pastorally with remarried divorcees without contradicting the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage.

CBA: Archbishop of the Curia Muller insists on exclusion from communion, Cardinal Marx does not consider the discussion to be over. Is there a conflict of direction there?

Bishop Genn: As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Muller has the task of preserving the faith of the Church. And Cardinal Marx says that for pastoral reasons we need to think further here. This is a tension that we in the church have to endure.

CBA: A survey initiated by the Pope shows that most Catholics do not share the Church's teaching on marriage, family and sexuality. How do you deal with this finding?

Bishop Genn: I take him very seriously. And I ask myself how we can better promote the biblically based ideals and at the same time be close to people who cannot or do not want to live according to these ideals. One starting point for me can be that the survey also shows that our values, namely above all faithfulness, reliability and love, have a very high acceptance.

CBA: In light of upcoming change in Cologne, an initiative urges lay participation in episcopate.

Bishop Genn: I do not think much of it – in the form in which it has now been expressed. I find it inappropriate, shortly before the birthday of the Cardinal of Cologne, to publicly discredit his office in this way. Moreover, when the authors make this demand, they question the contract between state and church. Do they really want quite other questions to be up for debate, such as the role of theological faculties, religious education or church financing? And above all, it's not at all as if the laity are generally not involved in a bishop's office: If a diocese handles an election well, then lay people are also asked in advance who they could imagine as bishop. That's how it was in my home diocese of Trier, that's how it was in Essen, and that's how it is here in Munster as well.

CBA: How heavily does the Limburg case weigh on the church??

Bishop Genn: Very. Many people question the credibility of the church and some draw the consequence and leave the church. With regard to Limburg, we must now wait and see what the commission of inquiry finds out and what the Holy Father decides. The commission sees more than I do from the outside.

The interview was conducted by Andreas Otto.

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Christina Cherry
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