Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hesitant Brave

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch (©BZ)
On the occasion of today's 75th birthday of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch Freiburg's Sunday paper Der Sonntag published a whole page already two weeks ago. The article was titled: Der zaghafte Mutige (The hesitant brave) meaning that Archbishop Robert epitomizes the dilemma of the Catholic Church. He stands for minor reforms that eventually run into the sand.

During my stay in Switzerland I participated in the preparation of the Swiss Synode 72 in the 1970s. As an introduction the Swiss bishops wrote: To prepare we need your support and your collaboration. All suggestions and requests will be carefully examined and evaluated. After long debates the discussion groups came up with some well-balanced proposals for reforms. The Catholic episcopate politely took note and expressed thanks but except for mere outer appearances fundamental changes on root and branch of the Church were not even started.

In Freiburg in April this year a Diocesan Assembly demanded above all courage.The Catholic Church should no longer consider the political and social liberties of modern society as a danger but rather as an opportunity for reforms. Following three days of intense debate it was the same old story: Archbishop Robert took note but indicated that his hands were tied.

Shaken by child abuse, financial scandals, and an internal Mafia (why did Pope Benedict step down?) the Catholic Church is muddling through. In the meantime the number of people leaving the Church increases and churches without parish priests stay empty. So far the lack of priests has been somewhat compensated by imports from Poland but as I reported earlier: the last Polish Franciscans will leave Freiburg soon.

The other evening at a recent Stammtisch of the Freiburg-Madison Gesellschaft I learned that Americans continue to trust in God. Religious life is thriving. People assemble in manageable sized congregations and live the Sunday community with their ministers like the early Christians. Personal cohesion and solidarity are most important in a parish whereas the Catholic Church in Germany tries to compensate for the lack of priests by aggregating parishes. These larger entities called pastoral units are counter productive for the formation of a community. Robert Zollitsch said that the size of pastoral units in his archdiocese was based on the assumption of twenty new priests per year. Now he admits that the number is considerably lower.

Although the Protestant Church in Germany has problems too there still is the recollection of the traditional Lutheran parsonage where the pastor preached the Gospel and his wife exercised her charitable role. Why does the Catholic Church not abolish celibacy? In the near future when the last old men will try to keep the Catholic ship afloat they will possibly regret not having allowed priests to marry. It is comforting to read that Archbishop Robert who had previously said that celibacy is not "necessary" for priesthood at least allows his sheep to discuss the issue. In the same interview Robert considered God quite capable of working miracles.

Georg Gänswein congratulating Robert Zollitsch.
When asked about his future plans George said
that he liked his work in Rome very much. (©BZ)
Archbishop Robert turns 75 today and I wish him all the best for his future. At that age he is obliged to propose his retirement to Pope Francis who may take it or leave it. Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Colonge will retire too. In this situation many Catholics hope that the Vatican's George Clooney Georg Gänswein will come back to Germany as a bishop. Is he the flicker of hope although he is considered to be as conservative as his former master Pope Benedict?

On August 10, the Badische Zeitung reported about the festivities on the occasion of Robert Zollitsch's birthday. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics said nothing other than what I wrote: Robert has the courage to walk his way, he is open, always constructive, creating a new culture of discussion within the Church. In his laudatio Cardinal Walter Kasper went a step further: We cannot build a new Church but we should become a new kind of Church drawing our force from our roots. As Pope Francis said: The Church must go to its limits.

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