A study on Germany’s Catholic community reveals the discontent of faithful with the ecclesiastical institution. But proposals for solutions are lacking
By ALESSANDRO ALVIANI
The Pope’s ecclesiastical policies are “backward-looking” and suspected of trying to take the Church back to the pre-Second Vatican Council period. As for the Church’s leaders, they are “cut off from reality, reactionary and obstructionist.”
This is the opinion German faithful have of Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church according to a study by Sinus Institute and consulting agency MDG (which the German Church controls). In-depth interviews were conducted with 100 Catholics from different social backgrounds. According to the study, which picks up on a similar one carried out in 2005, German faithful are convinced that today’s Church finds itself in a “desolate situation” and the most obvious manifestation of this is the sex abuse scandal.
The authors of the study wrote that the scandal seriously damaged the image of the Church, even in the eyes of the most fervent Catholics, whose faith was deeply shaken. The scandal was seen as confirmation of the Church’s “modernization deficit”. The Church lost a great deal of credibility not just as a result of the accusations of paedophilia made against it but also because many believe it dealt with the abuse issue inadequately.
Internal dogma and rules that had been tacitly accepted until about a year ago are now openly criticised by faithful. Criticisms range from complaints about “discrimination against women” and celibacy, to the condemnation of homosexuality, contraception and sex outside wedlock, to the marginalisation of lay people involved in Church life.
Another factor that is creating animosity, is the organisational restructuring that is taking place in Germany, with a number of parishes being merged because of the shortage in parish priests, for example.
The study also shows the Church’s detachment from the weakest sections of society: it would make no difference to the lower social classes if the Church ceased to exist.
Despite their criticisms, however, faithful still look to the Church for “spiritual guidance” and “meaning”. The majority of them do not want to lose their Catholic identity and few consider leaving the Church.
So what do German faithful expect from the Church? They want lay people involved in the Church to play a greater role; they want more women in leadership roles; the possibility for women to be ordained priests; the elimination of celibacy; a different attitude towards sexuality and contraception; the sacraments to be administrated to all Christians, regardless of their denomination or sexual identity; less ostentation and less abuse of power and a greater focus on God’s love and love for one’s neighbour.
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