Pope Benedict laments state of Church in Germany and its ‘employee-like’ Catholics
October 12, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expresses doubts about the Catholic Church in Germany in his recently published interview book, Letzte Gespräche, according to Italian journalist Sandro Magister in a recent article.
The book, published by Bloomsbury, will come out in an English edition titled Last Testament: In His Own Words on November 15.
Instead of rightfully acting as the Bride of Christ, endowed with the mission to proclaim His good news in union with the Pope in Rome, the Church in Germany is an “established and highly paid Catholicism, oftentimes with employee-like Catholics who treat the Church with the mentality of a trade union member,” Benedict XVI explained in response to a question about the established Church in Germany and her enthusiasm for the faith.
“Church is for them [those employees] only an employer whom they can encounter with a critical attitude.”
With these statements, Benedict XVI evaluates a Church that is at the same time rich in resources and poor in participation as her membership declines and her leaders sometimes fail to proclaim the fullness of truth.
The bureaucracy originally developed to aid the Church in her mission to support the faith of lay people and clergy has turned against her, bogging down efforts and enthusiasm, requiring too much attention, and making the priest into a sort of administrator rather than a shepherd. “That is the danger of the Church in Germany: that she has so many paid workers and therefore an overhanging ledge of unspiritual bureaucracy.”
Benedict expresses doubt that the regulated Church tax is helpful. His skepticism is grounded in the fact that in the past money provided fuel for the worldly endeavors of the bishops and for their support of political stances not in accord with the Church. Whoever decides to leave the Church and therefore becomes exempt from paying Church tax is punished … with excommunication.
The German Bishops’ Conference has decreed that every person who leaves the official Church — signaling to the state that he wants to leave the Catholic Church — receives a letter in which he is informed about his punishment, which is excommunication. That means he is unable to receive the sacraments of penance and Eucharist except in cases of danger of death.
This praxis was already put in question in 2006 when the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts announced in accordance with the then-Pope Benedict XVI that formally rescinding one’s membership from the Church is not sufficient grounds for excommunication as long as it is not done in connection with a formal denial of the truths of the faith. The excommunication regulation has been in doubt ever since by many scholars, who are also specialists in Canon Law.
In his book, Benedict reiterates his concern regarding this current regulation: “Indeed, I foster doubts if the system of Church tax is right as it currently is. I do not mean that there should be no Church tax. But the automatic excommunication of those who do not pay it is – in my opinion – not tolerable.”
The riches of the German Church are, in the best case, no obstacle for a faith-based work, but in the worst case can be a blockade. Benedict posits that initiatives are more convincing when inspired by faith: “For example, the regular large meeting of Catholics in Rimini is based entirely on conviction.” All of the practical and preparatory work in these meetings is done by volunteers. “That is a completely different situation.”
Because this situation weighs heavily on his own home country, Benedict expresses his disappointment. “I am saddened by this situation, this surplus of money which then turns out to not be enough anyways; as well as the bitterness which grows from it, the malice that reigns in German intellectual circles.”
Benedict’s statements also show evidence of a kind of division in the Church in Germany between the “official” powerful and the “unofficial” faithful. As an example of this situation, he spoke of his visit in 2011: “Naturally, I was conscious of the fact that the established Catholicism would not agree with what I had to say, but on the other hand my talks have created thoughtfulness, have inspired silent powers in the Church and strengthened them.”
In the end, Benedict’s message to the Germany Church could be summarized in one word: un-worlding (Entweltlichung). Though unfortunately it has sometimes been twisted from his original intention, the term properly means a refusal and a cleansing from everything mundane. “The word ‘Entweltlichung’ is evidently very foreign to the people, so maybe it was not so clever to put that in the foreground. But I think that the content of it was clear enough and whoever wanted to understand it did so.”