Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Survey Of German Catholics Points To Some Serious Disconnect With German Bishops


German Catholic reformers out for a little stroll where the hills are alive with the sound of music.

German Catholics have had a tumultuous few years.  First there was the ongoing German abuse crisis and then the revelation that their bishops were the proud owners of one of Germany's largest porn houses, and then the Church tax issue and just lately they found out Catholic rape victims aren't going to get treated in Catholic hospitals lest treating rape victims violate Catholic medical ethics.  Given all of this it's not surprising German Catholics are dissatisfied.  The following article describes a small but in depth study done by a group controlled by the German bishops.  The results are not encouraging for the German bishops.  Article courtesy of Vatican Insider. 

German Catholics vent their dissatisfaction with the Church

A study on Germany's Catholic community reveals the discontent of faithful with the ecclesiastical institution. But proposals for solutions are lacking

Alessandro Alviani - Vatican Insider - 1/25/2013 Berlin - 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. (I wonder if instead of 'tacitly accepted' a better description might be endured in silence.)

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. (This is the most damning sentence in this whole article.)
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.


It would be interesting to get more information on this study, because limited as it is in numbers, only 100 participants, it appears from this article to have been an in depth kind of survey.  A couple of findings are really intriguing.  The first one is the statement that open criticism has increased dramatically in the last year. Given the number of less than flattering stories that have come out of Germany since 2011 it's easy to see where the frustration level may be very high amongst German Catholics.  It doesn't seem that having a German Pope appoint a German head of the CDF has made much difference.  German nationalism is not trumping German Catholic frustration.  I find that important because it seems to me a true understanding of what Jesus taught should transcend nationalism or tribalism.  Catholics should have a global outlook, not a provincial outlook.

The other tidbit I found very disturbing is the assertion that in the lower social economic classes it would make no difference if the Church ceased to exist.  That is also a trend in the US as more and more inner city parishes are closed in favor of wealthier suburban parishes.  The truth is the Church has no reason to exist if it abandons the poorest of the flock.  In the US,  the strategy of chasing after the monied classes has not been particularly effective except with some people at the very pinnacle of the financial pyramid.  People who have more financial freedom coupled with the education that buys, are less inclined to follow authoritarian religious figures.  The virtual refusal of Western Catholics to follow Humanae Vitae would be one example of outright rejection of the kind of authoritarian edicts previous generations, without that freedom or education, routinely obeyed without question.  They accepted such edicts as part of their Catholic identity.  Not any more.

It seems to me the abuse crisis has been the final straw for Catholics who still held onto vestiges of unquestioning obedience.  It's taken 10+ years, but Catholics now have enough information to know the clerical abuse phenomenon was global and systemic,  and the response orchestrated from the Vatican was consistent, demanded under a vow of pontifical silence, and obeyed without question.  Victims came last, protecting the reputation of the clergy came first.  It was all smoke and mirrors if not outright lies. Now the danger becomes lay Catholics asking if the whole shebang isn't all smoke and mirrors and outright lies.  Which brings me to my last thought.  

According to this survey, German Catholics still look to the Church for spiritual guidance and 'meaning'.  Lots of people still look to the Church for spiritual guidance and meaning.  That is very different from looking for all the answers for morality and life itself or seeking personal salvation from the wrath of a vengeful God.  It leads to a need for a different kind of leadership and leadership structure.  It expects inclusion and welcome and meaningful believable answers to the age old questions.  Some of those answers will never change because they are indeed truth, and those answers are all about the power of love and compassion. It's about the importance of non judgmental acceptance of people where they are at as the first step in moving beyond that place.  It's about that whole yearning for more emphasis on God's love for us and our love for our neighbor. For this kind of catholic the reality of God's love manifested in and through the Church is a whole lot more real and important than any notion of papal infallibility or apostolic succession.  Our apostolic successors and infallible pope should give serious consideration to this fact before they make themselves totally irrelevant.


  1. It's no surprise that German bishops are out of touch with their people - how many bishops, anywhere, are?

    The really interesting thing to me, is the multiple signs, all around the world, of Catholic communities, groups and individuals who are simply refusing to go along with it any longer. Fr Tony Flattery, and his outright refusal to be silences, is just the latest example, to be added to the Austrian priests' Call to Disobedience, the shining example of the American Nuns on the Bus, and so many more.

    Looking around my garden today, in the depths of winter, I can see numerous signs not of spring yet, but of a spring that is to come. Snowdrops are in bloom, japonicas are in bud, crocuses are in leaf and will soon be ready to flower.

    In the same way, I suspect that while we are not yet seeing any real Catholic Spring, we may weil be seeing some early green shoots, signs of a spring that is to come.

  2. Terry I have to agree with you, there are signs popping up everywhere that many really committed Catholics have had enough of the Roman circus. I get that the Vatican has it's sights on Africa, but that is such a short term myopic view. Africa will secularize faster than they think and then what? They will be stuck with a religious footprint that most of humanity will have evolved beyond.

    Right now in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is having to face the fact a large portion of Egyptian society has moved past their version Islam and isn't going to put up with replacing one dictatorial system with another. As Michael Bayly points out in his current post at Wild Reed, we live in very interesting times.

  3. And I agree that Michael's post is fascinating, and worth careful reflection. John McNeill has been saying for years, and I think convincingly, that the Catholic Church is entering a Kairos moment - a time right and ripe for change. Michael's post is the first I have to suggest that this may be a transformative time for much more than just the Catholic Church.