Old Catholic Bishop Ring: Not everything is good with us either

The old Catholic Church emerged in the late 19th century after the First Vatican Council in opposition to the papal dogmas infallibility and Dec. precedence of jurisdiction. Today, the church has become much more autonomous – in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church Women ordained priestessesremarried divorced people are not excluded from the sacraments, and gay couples are blessed and married: Much of the reform-oriented Roman Catholic hope is possible there – and in fact there have been several conversions, recently Speyer Vice President Andreas Sturm announced his conversion with his resignation. But the ancient Catholics are not interested in poaching their Roman siblings. The bishop of the old Catholic diocese in Germany, Matthias Ring, emphasizes in an interview with catholic.de that the crisis in the sister church also worries him – and pleads for a more relaxed ecumenism.

Question: Bishop Ring, at the Synod of the Old Catholic Diocese did you hear from one last year ecumenical community of responsibility spoken in the light of the crisis of the Roman Catholic Church. What did you mean by that?

Ring: If the Roman Catholic Church loses status in society, then all churches lose status. Ultimately, there is no ecumenical-denominational differentiation. Many different processes are gathered here: We have an increasing secularization, along with the loss of trust in the church itself as a result of the abuse cases and the inadequate treatment. It all comes together in such a way that we will feel it too. For example, I perceive, depending on the region, that in politics, in the municipalities, the understanding of ecclesiastical considerations is present to varying degrees and sometimes declining.

Photo: © The Episcopal Council of Speyer

Andreas Sturm was vicar general of the diocese of Speyer until his resignation in May 2022. He announced that he would become pastor of the old Catholic Church.

Question: In the old Catholic Church increase in membership. Is not that a reason for your joy?

Ring: On the one hand, it all moves in dimensions that are downright ridiculous in light of the number leaving the big churches. Last year we had twice as many members as the year before, but that means in absolute numbers 380. That is a relatively large number of new members for us, but compared to the more than 200,000 people who left the church per large denomination, it is very small. It means: Almost everyone who goes leaves the church in no man’s land. On the other hand, I think it’s a phase that will ebb out again. With a view to further development, therefore, the subject of the Church in secular society is becoming increasingly important to us.

Question: To what extent?

Ring: So far, and especially now, the majority of the people who come to us come from a church background, mostly Roman Catholic. But it is becoming less and less the case. This is a “medium height”. People are already coming to our congregations without church socialization. We therefore ask ourselves how we can talk about faith and inspire people to believe who have never heard of it.

Question: In the Roman Catholic Church, people who have supported the communities with their commitment for years and who have been active in associations, seem increasingly disappointed. Do these people resonate with you?

Ring: Priests tell me that the member profile has changed. In the past, it was often people who had not had contact with their traditional denominations for years, who might be in the middle of life and began to ask themselves questions about meaning and religion, or who in connection with parenting, asked themselves Ask what you will pass on to your child. Now we experience that people really come from the middle of their former parish, who were speakers there, in the parish council, active in various associations, who then say that it is no longer possible, we can no longer support it . This is a relatively new development.

Question: What does it do to the churches? Roman Catholic and Old Catholic parishes are structured very differently.

Ring: A pastor told me that he hopes that those who come to us will not compare the reality of the ancient Catholic society with their former Roman Catholic. We have diaspora congregations that span large areas, so a certain form of congregational life is not possible, as people from denominations are used to where there are still more traditional church situations. Corona also made it quite difficult for people to feel at home in our community. It’s getting better now because much more is happening among those present, but last year, when joint events were often not possible apart from the service, it was difficult to feel at home in an old Catholic community beyond the formal act of joining. . It is not a given that everyone who comes to us stays – as much as I hope they stay, and as much as our communities try to include these people to the extent they want.

Question: People who change denominations often bring damage from their previous membership. A church shaped by converts can therefore also be a church shaped by people who have been hurt by the church. How do you handle this pastoral?

Ring: This is not a new phenomenon. We have always had people with us who came up with a story of injuries. But the way has changed: 30 years ago, it was mainly people who had been divorced and remarried and then experienced being excluded from the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, or people who were excluded from the sacraments because of their sexuality. orientation that came to us. Today come the people who are leaving their former church because of their dissatisfaction with reforms. Admissions from a history of injury have always helped shape our church. It is important to follow such accessions well. When people come to us with a history of the wound, they can idealize the old Catholic Church as the best of all churches, and then they experience that even in this best of all churches there are conflicts and that all is not well. So there really should be a healing process. I am concerned when people continue to work on their Roman Catholic Church of Origin even years later. It was also important for me personally to eventually complete this process of secession from the Roman Catholic Church and say: I can also see the good things that I lived and experienced during this time.

Bishop Matthias Ring lays hands on a woman as she is ordained an Old Catholic deacon.
Photo: © KNA / Cornelis Gollhardt (archive photo)

In the Old Catholic Diocese, women are also ordained deaconesses and priestesses. Pictured is Bishop Ring ordaining a deaconess.

Question: Your diocese used to play with presenting itself as the “better” Catholic Church – just ten years ago, bags were handed out at church and Catholic days with the caption “Married Catholic priestess celebrates ecumenical communion – fiction? Reality!”. Are you saving yourself for such tips now?

Ring: Yes, and those bags no longer exist either. But we still experience today that people who have just come to us say that this is exactly what needs to be emphasized. In terms of “ad technology” – if I may say so – I think it’s completely wrong: when I buy a new car, I do not want to hear from the car dealer that my previous car brand was nonsense. It discredits my previous decision.

One can say that in the last ten to fifteen years there has been a process in our church where we have become aware that we are a church with its own profile. Before that, a certain emergency church dominance was dominant: we exist only because of the decisions of Vatican I; when these are no longer in demand, then we can dissolve and return to the Roman Catholic Church. It was in similar words in our rules and statutes.

Question: What caused this change?

Ring: This is partly related to our Episcopal Church, The Name of the Church of Jesus in Bonn. When this church was offered to us stating that we could use it as a bishop’s church, we asked ourselves: do we need such a thing? What does it mean? Are we no longer a denominational provisional event? Can this building be a spiritual center for us as a church? One fear was an unfavorable revaluation of the episcopate. As part of this process, our public relations also changed: less confrontationally, we now use the slogan “For all. For life. Your church”. In addition, our pastors are becoming more diverse in terms of their denominational background: there are fewer and fewer former Roman Catholic pastors coming to us. Instead, we have several people who have studied Roman Catholic theology without having been a priest and some with an evangelical background.

Question: How does this affect Ecumenism at the church leadership level out of? How is your relationship with the Roman Catholic bishops?

Ring: At this level it is relaxed. The relationship with the Evangelical Church has at least been really good for decades, there are also institutionalized relationships, such as a discussion group with the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany, and there is a steady rotation of mutual invitations. With the Roman Catholic Church, the mood has improved in many areas, but there are still relatively few opportunities to meet. A very banal example: We have only been invited to the annual reception of the Archdiocese of Cologne for a few years. It did not exist in Cardinal Meisner’s time.

Overall, the situation varies from pin to pin. We can often use Roman Catholic churches for worship services and even pastoral ordinations. All in all, I would say that the relationship is relaxed, but I do not want to talk about a lively relationship yet. There are isolated partnerships, for example with the Kindermissionswerk for the carol singers campaign, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Question: What is your vision for ecumenism with the Roman Catholic Church?

Ring: To be able to work together without fear that one could take something from the other. I have already mentioned the accession figures. Everything is on a level that is not a threat to the existence of the Roman Catholic Church, and yet I sometimes have the impression that people are very afraid of us. I also wish we would turn to the Roman Catholic side without fear and prejudice. It would be a basis: that one does not define the relationship on the basis of one’s own injuries, but see: This is the big sister, a sister church and not the enemy.

By Felix Neumann

To person

Matthias Ring has since 2010 been the tenth bishop of the old Catholic diocese of Germany. Born in Upper Franconia, he first studied Roman Catholic theology and was ordained a deacon and pastor of the old Catholic Church in 1989. The old Catholic Church in Germany originated in the 1870s boundary for decisions by The First Vatican Council (1869-1870) on the infallibility of the pope and the primacy of jurisdiction. The German diocese has more than 15,000 members in 60 parishes. Since 2009, Matthias Ring has been in charge of the foundation as the 10th bishop. that The church order of the old Catholic Church is episcopal-synodal.

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