Rorate Caeli

The German Catholic Collapse: The Priests confess once a year, if at all -- what about the Lay Faithful?

The Priests confess once a year. And the faithful?...

Saint Adelaide Catholic Church in Geldern, North Rhine-Westphalia,
Diocese of Münster - demolished in 2008 to give way to a senior center
Lorenzo Bertocchi
La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
April 24, 2015

The German laity confirm their desire for evolution in the Church: according to a document made available on the Episcopal Conference site, the answers to the questionnaire between the Synods show that the Catholics of Germany are expecting major openings from the Synod on the Family. Mainly on the thorniest issues: “they are asking for the admittance of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, a “development” of moral doctrine for the pastoral acceptance of homosexual people and a form of “church blessing for second civil-marriages.”

Are these requests an expression of serious discernment or, do they show a watered-down, Catholicism, about-to-be-defeated? It is a legitimate question, especially in the light of what is emerging from another survey reported last Thursday. Again on the Episcopal Conference site, there was data as well, on the results of another analysis conducted on 8,000 “pastoral workers” from all over Germany. The examples, made up of 48% of the priests, 22% of “expert parish-collaborators”, 18% of “pastoral assistants” and 12% of deacons, had to give information on the satisfaction-level regarding their life and “work.” The survey, directed by some academics from important study centers, obtained results that perhaps help us to interpret the answers to the Synod questionnaire.

Of the Catholic priests in Germany, only one out of two would be disposed to choosing the celibate life again, a quarter no longer would like to live a celibate life and a quarter declare themselves candidly, “undecided”. Not a few priests speak of the problem which comes from “affective loneliness” in not having a long-term relationship with another person. According to what is reported, the Tagesspiegel inquiry shows that some priests admit [they have] “an immature relationship with their sexuality, or with their sexual orientation.”

The collection of data was carried out between 2012 and 2014 and had very wide results. The study can be purchased online, but an extensive report is available on the [news] site [of the Cologne Archdiocese] Generally speaking, the pastoral workers are in line with the level of life-satisfaction shown also in other social categories, but, at the same time, they show problems of the stress and discomfort which are typical to our times. There is, however, some data, which, apart from every other consideration, gives pause for reflection on the “faith life” of German Catholic communities. A kind of worldliness seems to have taken hold over priests, seeing that 54% of them declare that they go to Confession just once a year (or even less frequently) and is the same for 70% of the deacons. The percentage reaches vertiginous heights with regard to “pastoral assistants”. Only 58% of priests say that they “pray every day or a number of times a day.

To this data we may add that of another survey on German Catholicism of a few months ago, this time by the Allensbach Institute. To the question, “Why are you Catholic?” , 68% of Germans responded saying “Because it allows us to celebrate the important events of life”, and then, immediately after, because “it’s a family tradition”. 60% of the faithful say they don’t believe in life after death, and only a third believe in the Resurrection of Christ. One German in four, however, thinks that if a black cat crosses their path, it brings bad luck. Without going into the numbers, we must remember, however, that the German Church statistics for decades have indicated a continuous drop in data referring to the number of priests and the number of participants at Sunday Mass.

This deposit of data, even if in the nature of a summary, is quite indicative of the Catholic Church’s health in Germany. We remember Cardinal Marx’s words when he stated, that the German bishops would have exercised autonomous pastoral decisions on the Synod’s themes, independent of its results, as the German Church - said the Cardinal - was not a mere “subsidiary” of the Roman Church. Without going into questions regarding the relationship between the Vatican and Episcopal Conferences, the doubt persists however, whether these requests are motivated by authentic discernment or by a worldly desire to save what is salvageable.

[Translation: contributor Francesca Romana]