We Are Church International

We are Church: First Stocktake on the visit to Germany by Pope Benedict XVI

- Call for Ecumenism: „Do what unites us!“
- Pre-modern core of speech to the Bundestag
- Talking about God must not become a distraction


Press Release Berlin / Erfurt / Freiburg / Munich, 25 September 2011

At the end of the visit to Germany by Pope Benedict XVI, the Church People’s Movement We are Church (Wir sind Kirche) is appealing to all Christians to continue decisively along the road of dialogue and to meet the challenges of the times together in Christian hope. The motto “A daring new departure“ of the Catholic Conference in Mannheim next year should be a guideline in view of the current church and social crises, which can only be overcome together.


Call to all parishes for ecumenism: “Do what unites us!”

In view of the bitter disappointment of the ecumenical meeting of the Pope in Erfurt, We are Church is calling upon all Catholic and Protestant parishes to join themselves together ecumenically and to “do what unites us!”. The parishes in Germany should declare that the unspeakable splitting of Christendom, which has lasted for almost 500 years, has been ended for them, and should follow the example of the Churches in Bruchsal, which have declared: “We believe that the will of Jesus Christ, that all should be one, is more important than all considerations and questions of theology and church politics, and we know ourselves to be obliged by conviction to obey him more than people.” (www.joerg-sieger.de/oekumene.htm)

The encounter in the friendly atmosphere of the Augustinian Monastery at Erfurt cannot hide the fact that no further initiatives can be expected from this Pope, although at the time of his election he had promised to support concrete visible signs of ecumenism. The appreciative words of Pope Benedict for Martin Luther’s questions about a gracious God, which are just as current today, are certainly worth noticing. But the questions from Luther about the Papacy and the Church, and the share of the Roman Church in the schism of the Churches at that time, were not mentioned by the Pope even in one syllable.

In the decades of theological convergence, the leadership of the Roman Church has gambled away every advance towards trust through its self-righteousness, its rejections and its official blockages. The great majority of the faithful can and will simply no longer follow the inflexible arguments from Rome. Since Erfurt, it is therefore a right and a duty for all who have been baptised in the name of Jesus Christ no longer to hope for further steps from the Church leadership, but to follow their own consciences. It is time to proclaim the one community, the one Church of Jesus Christ that we have long been, and to “do what unites us”. Pope Benedict must be asked why he has not really used the unique opportunity for ecumenism with the Churches of the Reformation.

Pre-modern core of a Bundestag speech argued in a modern way

In his speech to the German Bundestag, the Pope may have succeeded in winning over many critics for himself by mentioning the ecological movement. The repeated legitimate references to human rights will however continue to be incredible, as long as the Catholic Church itself does not fully and completely admit human rights, and make them a reality even within its own Church. His intellectually ambitious speech overlooks the fact that his predecessors fought vehemently against freedom of conscience and opinion. And it deliberately remained silent about the fact that only the Holy See or Vatican and Belorussia have not yet signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Pope accepts the autonomous status of conscience without any reservation, but he binds it just as unreservedly to objective, predetermined standards, such as sexuality in the procreation of offspring. It is just there that the pre-modern core lies within his speech, argued in a modern way. Will the Papal discourse succeed in appropriating the phrase “the protection of nature” for his own concepts, so that it makes everyone think of Catholic natural law? Is the Pope perhaps trying to unwind the picture of the window thrown open by his predecessor John XXIII, so that it no longer tells of a fresh wind in the Church, but of obedience in respect of higher norms? Benedict’s message is: “Where God is, there are clear standards.”

For those who know Ratzinger’s writings, there is hardly anything new to hear. A pessimistic undertone marked his thoughts. In Erfurt Pope Benedict, who places his emphases consciously, continued his speech from Berlin, instead of taking a position towards ecumenism and pointing out ways that lead onwards, for example in relation to the year 2017. Ecumenical steps have nothing to do with political calculus, as the Pope supposes. He said in Berlin that mankind does not make itself. In Erfurt he declared that faith is not something home-made. In other words – nothing will change.

Talking about God must not become a distraction from the crisis in the Church

Before this Papal visit, there were no convinced expectations of Joseph Ratzinger. It is well known that he has possessed responsibility in Rome for the worldwide Church for almost 30 years: first as Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, and for a good six years as Pope Benedict XVI. But it is alarming that he now as Pope shows so little readiness at least to acknowledge the situation of crises in the Church, referred to clearly by the Federal President, and to encourage the continuation of the conversation processes which the bishops began. Instead, in his sermon in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the Pope issued a clear rebuff to all home-made “Church dreams”.

However correct it may be to lament the increasing absence of God from the consciousness of humanity, talking about God must not become a distraction from the crises and problems within the Church. His reference to a spiritual renewal of faith is so true: even ecclesiastical hierarchical structures preach, and must therefore always be measured by the message of Jesus Christ. Many Catholics will find it an especially painful omission that the Pope provided no kind of hope for new pastoral ways, for example for remarried divorced people, whom recently even Archbishop Zollitsch had supported.

The overloaded programme with 17 speeches and sermons by the Pope was a respectable achievement for him, but sadly it was no programme of dialogue. With all his personal modesty, this journey showed very clearly the religious, moral and even political claim to power, which the Roman Catholic Church despite dramatically falling membership still continues to represent. The meeting with the Judges of the Federal Constitutional Court in the Seminary at Freiburg threw up the question of the legal position and the claim to power of the Papacy: as representative of the “Holy See”, as head of state of the Vatican City mini-state and as supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church too.

Press contacts:
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Translation: RD