“We have to look forward constructively”

Commissioning of parish and pastoral ministers in 2020 © Beatrice Tomasetti (DR)

The head of the Archdiocese of Cologne is currently under criticism. Regina Oediger-Spinrath, spokeswoman for the association of pastoral assistants, ventures an emotional outlook on how things can now continue together.

this site: How does your association assess the current situation in the Archdiocese of Cologne?

Regina Oediger-Spinrath (Spokeswoman of the Association of Pastoral Care Workers*): I would also like to speak for the association of parish workers, because we are very closely networked, even though we are two separate professional groups, but we have a very similar effect in the archdiocese. We really had a lot of meetings and feel in our own ranks, but also in the places where we are deployed, in parishes, institutions, associations, that at the moment the bishop is no longer trusted to be able to cope with this crisis and to lead the church in the crisis and out of the crisis.

People are in a big conflict of loyalties. The ie here is how to deal with the reappraisal. How has one actually dealt with the many sexual abuses, the many sexual violence? There is a lot of focus on the legal side and far too little on ethical and moral responsibility. There is also far too little look at what the systemic causes actually are that have led to these terrible of the most terrible forms of this abuse of power, namely sexual violence.

this site: Have you confronted the archbishop with the allegations?

Oediger-Spinrath: Yes. He says himself, there are cracks, fractures, which cannot be simply putty like that. We were able to address all this openly. But I think we are already far apart.

We often get the reproach that all topics are now mixed up with each other. So coming to terms with the handling of sexual abuse and violence, the women's ie in the church, the no from Rome to the blessing of homosexual couples and the participation of women in leadership positions.

We see it quite differently. There is also the problem of the sole sovereignty of interpretation: what is rightly Catholic, what is wrong? And I believe that many people, many fellow Christians, are no longer prepared to say that they cannot participate in decision-making and serious consultation.

this site: The word resignation is also in the room?

Oediger-Spinrath: We believe that it is not just a question of an individual resigning, but of how we imagine leadership in the first place. How to redefine authority with power? How can the look in this church? Just changing people now does not help much.

However, we already have doubts whether he is the one who can manage this great crisis. Because I have to think ahead, I have to be more open. I have to be more courageous. Because the inner and outer exodus among the people we meet, in parishes, in associations, is so great that in all the decades – I have been in pastoral ministry for a long time now – it has really never happened before.

this site: What are the reactions at the grassroots?

Oediger-Spinrath: Many say quite openly: I feel screwed. If you look at the forums on the pastoral access route, questions were collected, three were selected and simply answered from above. They do not want to ask any questions. People want to have a say, to have a say in decisions. These are very talented people. And they don't just want to be addressed on their charism for taking on an honorary office, but they also want to have a say in decision-making. And I think they do not see that.

Many people have said to me: We have lost our spiritual home. We are in a conflict of loyalties. You are being reproached even as a full-time professional, whether in associations such as the SkF (Social Service of Catholic Women, note. d. Red), in counseling centers, at educational forums: You support the system. It is a very difficult situation, of course also for the volunteers. Should we still participate at all??

And at the same time, the church is doing really good work in these places. In counseling centers, in social associations, in educational institutions, in the whole family center, in hospitals. People are torn. One person once put it in a nutshell: "We are distant from the church and close to it. You can't just switch from one soccer club to the next, but these were home towns, places where they got to know and love the faith, learned to appreciate it. In every conversation, even in mourning conversations, I can't avoid the topic of the church, even though I don't bring it up at all.

this site: Now you have let off steam here. But how to go on?

Oediger-Spinrath: On the one hand, we seek the conversation with the Cardinal. We have written another letter, signed by over 150 members of our two associations, that we would like to follow up on the conversation at the end of January. We have networked, also with other groups in our Catholic Church, with the two parish networks, the BDKJ, Maria 2.0. We should think together: How can we move forward constructively?.

It's good that we're not alone. That many now also have the courage to show their colors and look: Where can we make our contribution as theologians and religious educators?? Because we also have a responsibility. We can also help to judge things, because we ourselves also have the expertise.

And we will also certainly make a statement to the outside world again. This is also expected. What is your position on this as pastoral parish workers? We are for constructive changes. We are simply sounding out what the right steps are at the moment.

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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