German bishops leading the Church—over the cliff?
Terry Mattingly of GetReligion is invariably on target with his critiques of media coverage. But he hits the very center of the bullseye with this column, on a Washington Post story that ran under the headline: German bishops want to modernize the church. Are they getting too far ahead of Pope Francis? In the Post story, Mattingly observes, “German bishops are the good guys.” The only question is whether the Pope will follow their leadership.
But where are they leading? The Post is satisfied that the German hierarchy is in the vanguard in calling for married priests, woman priests, shared communion, and a general relaxation of Church teaching on moral questions. If your goal is to change the Catholic Church, then, yes, the German bishops are “far ahead” of the universal Church.
But what if your goal is to spread the Catholic faith? Then the German bishops are, as a group, miserable failures. Mattingly notes that 216,078 Germans formally renounced their Catholic faith last year. That trend is well established; the German bishops expect to lose another 10 million faithful by 2035. So Mattingly asks the key questions
If you were writing about the rising influence of German Catholic bishops in the bitter global debates about the future of Catholic doctrine, worship and tradition, how much material would your story need to include about the health of the German church? Would you assume that the Catholic world needs to be more like Germany, if the goal is growth and “reform”?
The Post does mention the exodus from the German Church—but never explores the reasons behind it. German bishops, the Post tells us, “have watched as more than 100,000 Germans leave the Catholic Church every year.” (Well, yes; “more than” 100,000; in fact more than twice that figure.) There’s a quick reference to the sex-abuse crisis which has “intensified the discontent,” and then we’re back to the need for “making the church more relevant to people’s lives.” Which will be done, presumably, by emphasizing the issues dear to the Washington Post.
If you actually want to know how the Catholic Church might attract more people, Mattingly observes, “all roads lead to Africa—where the Catholic population has grown by nearly 250% since 1980.”
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