Rorate Caeli

Archbishop Gänswein’s Thinly Veiled Critique of the German Bishops

In a speech given at the opening of the academic year of the theological seminary of the Austrian Cistercian Abbey, Stift Heiligenkreuz (Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule Benedikt XVI. Heiligenkreuz), H.E. Archbishop Georg Gänswein offered what amounted to a thinly veiled attack on the German episcopate’s current campaign to conform the Church to the world. The speech, which has been made available on youtube (embedded above), was concerned with the reception in Germany of Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to German Catholics in the Freiburg Concert House, on the necessity of purifying the Church from worldliness. Archbishop Gänswein bewailed the fact that many in Germany had tried to play down the implications of that speech for German ecclesial life (“the pope never mentioned the Church tax”). He didn’t say exactly who the people playing down the implications were, but it became clear that he was speaking about the German episcopate. The climax of Archbishop Gänswein’s speech (beginning at the 15:17 mark) seemed to imply as much (Rorate translation):

The decisive adaptation that is demanded of the Church and of us Christians is not adaptation to the modern world and its spirit, but rather adaption [conformity] to the truth of the Gospel. At this point I quote an entirely unprejudiced source, I will say where I found it afterwards: “The crisis of the Church’s life is not finally based on difficulties in adapting [Anpassungsschwierigkeitento our modern life and modern sensibilities, but rather on difficulties in conforming ourselves [Anpassungsschwierigkeiten] to Him in whom our hope is rooted and from Whose being it receives its height and depth, its way and its future: Jesus Christ with His message of the Kingdom of God.” This quotation is neither from Joseph Ratzinger nor from Hans Urs von Balthasar, but rather from the Common Synod of the Bishops of West Germany in the year 1976. [Laughter, applause]. 

The Archbishop went on to argue that many in the German Church see the Church not as the divinely instituted means of salvation, which must always stand in a certain opposition to the world, but rather as one organization among many in German society, whose chief mission is to contribute to a common social project, and which must therefore be in harmony with the moral consensus of German society. Therefore, the first thing that the German Church needs in order to purify itself from worldliness is a conversion to Christ.

The Archbishop did not go into much detail on what practical measures might help to enable such a conversion, nor into the status of Pope Benedict’s demands in the pontificate of Pope Francis. In our opinion the abolition of the Church tax, and the enormous Church bureaucracy that it funds would be a salutary first step. But even in a pontificate which has explicitly called for a “poor Church for the poor” the prospects are bleak for such a step being taken in the face of the implacable opposition of the German bishops.