The Church in Germany, though fed by several different streams and sources, to a large extent is dissipating into its secular environs. The vast majority of the 24 million German Catholics in 2015 are neither practising their faith nor sufficiently aware of its teachings. Church attendance hovers around 12%. More alarming still, as a recent study shows, that almost half of all priests neither pray daily nor go to confessions. Other Western countries are registering similar trends . What, makes Germanys different are three important factors which are felevant in the context of the ensuing Synod on Family,called by Pope Francis.
First, the Faith continues to dissipate and membership decline. The German Church is materially very rich ,mainly due to the Church tax, socially rather powerful and politically influential. The Church is the country’s second largest employer running child care centres, schools,retirement homes , libraries and hospitals. Catholic clergy has a major role in important public institutions such as National Ethics Committee. The contribution of German Catholic relief organisations is rightfully legendary. Its financial contribution to the Universal Church in Rome is also highly significant.
The second factor is that Germany views Catholicism with deep suspicion. The country’s identity is marked by distrust of the papacy and the Church’s claims to any type of authority, even a moral one. Modern Germany is built on a heritage that is, at best, uneasy with Roman Catholicism. This sentiment dates back to the days of the “Holy Roman Empire” and was reinforced by the Reformation, the subsequent horrors of Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic invasions,Prussia’s historically rabid sense of superiority, the Nazi terror and the Second World War . In fact, Germany as a nation and culture is to a large extent defined by its centuries of tension with the Latin dominated Church of Rome. These tensions range from open conflict to more subtle, but also more common anti‐Catholic stereotypes and mind set. They draw on decades of anti‐Church sentiment from the time of an earnest Luther to the savvy Bismarck right down to the incomparably nastier Goebbels.
In its current secular form, anti‐Catholic propaganda portrays orthodox Catholics as suspect and requiring state surveillance, since the are “ultra conservative” (i.e. right wing which is a modern German taboo). They are
presented as a potential threat to the open society in general and democracy in particular.
The third dimension German in this context is the tendency of over generalisation of the German national character which emphasises earnest debate and rational thought at the expense of moderation, temperance and other so called virtues. As one visiting priest from Africa has observed : “German Catholics no longer know how to pray the Ave Maria. But they know very well what their bishop is doing wrong”
Sharing critical opinions with others is considered a good thing in the German culture and not scandalous. This attitude has its advantages, it makes Germans including German theologians and even the Cardinals rather forthright and at times abrupt.
Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that Catholicism in Germany flows in three currents that while commingling yet remain distinct. At the centre, but beneath the surface, runs the slow and cool, if not the lukewarm current of the disaffected majority. Above it, and fed by it, is the liberal stream, drawing on the shallow but plentiful waters of the Church tax. Along the banks, finally, are the marginal but strong currents of practising orthodox Catholics.
This last current may sometimes run parallel or even counter to the official structures and institutions. From it are drawn the influential bishops commonly labelled as “conservative”, such as the young Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.
(Adapted from an article written by Anian Christop Wimmer , a German Australian broadcaster; writer and journalist that appeared in the Catolic Herald, UK dated 17 July 2015. Wimmer is editor‐ in‐chief of the weekly news paper Munchner Kirchenzeitung’
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