Theologian Essen: Crisis of the Catholic Church explosive and dramatic

According to Berlin theologian Georg Essen, the situation in the Roman Catholic Church is “as explosive as it is dramatic”. On the basis of its teaching and judicial system, it was unable to “open up the freedom consciousness of its believers to develop the opportunities it deserves,” Essen said Friday in Berlin. The director of the Department of Catholic Theology (ICT) at Humboldt University spoke at the start of a conference on “Religious-political reform perspectives for the churches”.

Essen stressed that there was no way out, “that the religion-neutral state here should step into the breach”. State intervention in the internal affairs of churches is prohibited due to the constitutional right of self-determination of denominations. “The church itself must carry out the due task of self-modernization, no one can do it for it – and not at all the state,” said the dogma professor.

Can the church be a support for democracy in a crisis?

But the church’s situation is “not just an internal problem in the church itself, which it can handle or not,” Essen admitted. It also has implications for the church’s public work in the community. “Can a church like the Roman Catholic support a democracy in crisis, can it contribute to the revitalization of political identity, can it strengthen the fragile consciousness of citizens when it comes to their own liberal competence not to the best is ordered,” asked the ICT director. This topic “should concern the religion-neutral and therefore cooperative state more than it now seems”.

Essen expressed the assumption that “the church’s stubborn refusal to take due account of modernity’s consciousness of freedom in its internal constitution” is an indication “that in times of crisis it will only half-heartedly support the liberal democracy that opens up room for maneuver”. There are also forces in Catholicism, “standing up for an illiberal democracy, which for them is truly Christian, and therefore looking for anti-modernist intensification”.

At the same conference, Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz defended the legal relationship between the state and religious communities in Germany. The model of separation with simultaneous cooperation has largely prevented a “religious accusation” on political issues that exists in secular states, the deputy chairman of the Green parliamentary group in Berlin said on Friday. He referred to mass demonstrations in France aimed at political reforms in favor of homosexuals.

Von Notz, who is one of three religious commissioners in his parliamentary group, opposed questioning the German church-state relationship because of how churches handle cases of sexualized violence. Abuse is a worldwide problem in, for example, the Catholic Church – also in countries where denominations have a completely different legal status. At the same time, he stressed that the demands of the Catholic Church for a more emphatic treatment of sexualized violence and a reform of its special labor laws are justified.

Opening of top positions in the Vatican for “revolutionary” women

Lucerne’s state church law expert Adrian Loretan stressed that the Catholic Church had made significant contributions to the development of parliamentary and democratic governance for centuries. These legal traditions have Pope Pius IX. however, “thrown overboard” with the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). Loretan acknowledged Pope Francis’ decision to open top positions in the Vatican to women as revolutionaries.

The Berlin constitutional lawyer Christian Waldhoff pointed out that cooperation between the state and religious communities in Germany had led to changes on both sides. For example, the state has accepted advisory boards with representatives of Muslim organizations instead of church-like collaborators to establish Islamic religious education. In turn, this led to membership structures that were “not established” in their religious tradition. The State Church’s lawyer Ansgar Hense (Bonn / Dresden) called it a “constant task” to see through the limits of the state’s and religious community’s competencies. (cbr / KNA)

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