Head of German laity speaks out without reference to God, Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Grace and prayer also absent!

Surprises are always possible during reform discussions

ZdK President: Canon law will not remain as it is

The Rhine must never again be allowed to pollute the Tiber

The Church will change, the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp, is certain of that. It relies on surprises in the reform discussion in the church - and on pressure for change from all over the world.

World Synod, Catholic Day, the German reform debate. The Catholic Church has exciting weeks and months ahead, believes Irme Stetter-Karp. In the conversation, the President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) looks at the relationship between bishops and laypeople, the role of Rome and the political work of the ZdK in Berlin.

Question: Ms. Stetter-Karp, for everyone who hasn't heard about the reform debate in the Catholic Church in Germany for a while: Where are we right now?

Stetter-Karp: We now have the certainty that we can continue to work in the Synodal Committee, which is a transitional body preparing the Synodal Council. This committee had already been constituted in the autumn. But due to Roman intervention, it was uncertain what would happen next.

Question: You allude to the fact that in the planned Synodal Council bishops and lay people want to discuss and decide together on important issues in the church. Rome rejects the latter. After a meeting between a delegation from the German Bishops' Conference and high-ranking Vatican representatives, is at least the committee clear?

Stetter-Karp: We are in good spirits for the second meeting of the committee, which is planned for mid-June in Mainz.

Question: One of the open points was the financing of the committee. Has this question been resolved now?

Stetter-Karp: The invitation to the founding meeting of an association that is supposed to ensure financing was issued for Holy Week. I don't have a newer version. But I would certainly have noticed if the founding had not taken place.

Question: This step became necessary because the Bishops of Cologne, Eichstätt, Regensburg and Passau had declared, citing the Vatican's position, that they would not take part in the Synodal Committee. But what arguments do you now want to use to justify your absence? The Vatican gave the green light to the committee.

Stetter-Karp: I'm curious to see how they further explain their position to their believers, but I don't know of any new statements about it. Regardless of this, I know of course that the delegates from these four dioceses and the diocesan councils there have already asked this question in the past. And I'm sure they'll keep making them.

Question: As ZdK, you have repeatedly suggested that representatives of the laity should also be involved in the talks with Rome about the reform dialogue. That didn't happen this time either. Do you have hope that this will change?

Stetter-Karp: I don't see any signs that there is a change here.

Question: How do you read the contents of the joint statement published by the Bishops' Conference and the Holy See after their recent conversation in the Vatican?

Stetter-Karp: As a declaration of intent from both sides to continue the talks as quickly and as quickly as possible. Of course, it will be exciting to see how the Synodal Council can develop under the auspices of this declaration.

Question: What do you mean?

Stetter-Karp: For me, the central question is: Will we be able to free ourselves in terms of content to such an extent that we can actually achieve something substantial and at the same time overcome the hurdle of Rome then approving the text?

Question: Assuming that this balancing act succeeds: Doesn't the Synodal Council still threaten to become a toothless tiger, because ultimately everything is under Roman reservation and the original idea of establishing a joint decision-making body made up of bishops and laypeople continues encounters resistance from Rome?

Stetter-Karp: I think it's not all that easy to assess. We also see at the World Synod convened by Pope Francis that surprising turns occur every now and then that could not have been foreseen before. On a positive note, I would like to remind you that months before the first meeting of the Synod, the responsible authorities said that it was completely unthinkable that women, especially laypeople, could participate with the right to vote. But that's exactly what happened.

Question: And on the negative side...

Stetter-Karp: ...I would give as an example that suddenly exciting topics should not be dealt with in the second session of the Synod, but should be considered by others.

Question: So we should be prepared for one or two surprises?

Stetter-Karp: Absolutely. In any case, I don't believe that in the end canon law will always remain as it is. And I hope that the pressure for change will continue in other countries too.

Question: What do you expect from the second meeting of the Synodal Committee?

Stetter-Karp: Firstly, a discussion about the status of the implementation of the action texts that we adopted on the synodal path. This applies, for example, to women in ministries and offices in the church and blessings for couples who love each other. And then we want to think again fundamentally about the understanding of Synodality.

Question: The Catholic Congress starts in Erfurt at the end of May. What role will the AfD and its dealings with the party play in the upcoming election year?

Stetter-Karp: I assume and hope that the Catholic Congress will promote discussions on this. We have prepared ourselves for this. However, we have also decided not to give AfD representatives a platform on the podiums.

Question: Aren't you worried that individual elected officials will seek the attention of the Catholic Congress despite this? Finally, there are state elections in Thuringia in the fall.

Stetter-Karp: Of course we know where we are holding the Catholic Congress. In this respect, we are already expecting discussions about this. The Catholic Congress knows how to deal with possible disruptions.

Question: The ZdK moved from Bonn to Berlin at the beginning of 2022 in order to have a stronger influence in political debates. Did this calculation work?

Stetter-Karp: Of course, it was clear to us beforehand that it wouldn't be a sure-fire success. But I can say, especially looking back at the past year: We as the Presidium of the ZdK are very satisfied with the opportunities we had in political discussions with, among others, the Federal Chancellor, Federal President and several party executives.

Question: The two major churches no longer seem to speak with one voice in some current debates, for example on assisted suicide. How do you perceive that?

Stetter-Karp: I think this is a difficult development from a socio-political perspective and I very much regret that the two churches are no longer so close to one another. In recent months there have been individual Protestant regional bishops who have advocated in their church to seek consensus more intensively in order to be more visible to the public. However, at the moment I can't see how this will work. As ZdK, we are of course always interested in ecumenical cooperation. This is also shown by the contacts and joint discussions at the Catholic Congresses and the Protestant Church Congresses.