No quick “fixes” or organisational change will renew the Catholic Church in Germany, Pope Francis has said, maintaining that what is needed is a spiritual renewal and Gospel transparency.
In a letter to “the pilgrim people of God in Germany”, published by the Vatican, the Pope said efforts to eliminate tension solely by “being in order and in harmony” would ultimately “numb and domesticate the heart of our people and diminish and even silence the vital and evangelical strength the Spirit wants to give us”.
“You would have a good ecclesial body that is well organised and even ‘modernised’ but without soul and evangelical newness; we would live a ‘gaseous’ Christianity without evangelical bite,” he wrote.
In late September, the bishops’ conference released a study that revealed an estimated 3,700 cases of sexual abuse reported in the German Church from 1946 to 2014.
The statistics prompted outrage in the general public, and the German bishops held several meetings to discuss reforms; some of the suggestions included reviewing the Church’s discipline on priestly celibacy, reviewing Church law, promoting more women in Church administration and reviewing Catholic teaching on sexual morality.
In the letter, Pope Francis said that taking a synodal path is a process that must be guided by the Holy Spirit with patience and not a “search for immediate results that generate quick and immediate consequences but are ephemeral due to the lack of maturity or because they do not respond to the vocation to which we are called”.
In trying to resolve problems and shortcomings, the Pope warned, there is the temptation to think that “the best response would be to reorganise things, to make changes and ‘fixes’ that would allow the life of the Church to be put in order and in tune”.
But a true transformation, the Pope continued, cannot be made as a “reaction to external data or demands”, even those that are valid, but must flow from the identity of the Church itself.
“True transformation responds to and calls for demands that are born of our being believers and of the Church’s own evangelising dynamic,” he said. In other words, “it calls for pastoral conversion”.