The Roman Catholic priest sex abuse crisis is prompting Germany's
faithful to revisit the spiritual roots of their church.
Revelations of child abuse by priests in Europe and the United
States are a crisis for the Roman Catholic church. But they are also
leading Catholics to speak more freely, raising reform voices among
lay members, priests, and theologians.
The top priority for many Catholics is generating a more
spiritual and biblical focus for the church and ending a traditional
"two-track" Catholicism, where priests are implicitly considered to
have a higher religious nature. They also see the abuse crisis as
part of a deeper malaise and hypocrisy that can still be redeemed.
In Germany, Pope Benedict's native land, where the abuse crisis
hit suddenly and hard in a series of cases since January, some
dioceses have reported surging defections by parishioners. Devout
Catholics have been reeling, but are also searching to restore moral
credibility to a church they love.
Reformist Catholic theologian Hans Kung, who is censured by Rome,
called it "the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation" in an
April 18 open letter to Catholic bishops. Mr. Kung laid out plans
for change and charged the pope with having sent "a solemn document"
in 2001 to all bishops telling them to keep abuse violations secret.
'The only way to be credible again'
But reform voices also include that of Wolfgang Sturm, a craggy-
faced mechanical engineer who for 19 years has been part of a lay
Catholic council in Munich. Mr. Sturm says he "is in the church
because I believe Jesus Christ's message from 2,000 years ago." Last
week at a sprawling Catholic school and sports complex in a Munich
suburb, Sturm called, along with some 150 other lay Catholics, for
church leaders to fess up clearly.
"I want them to stand in front of the people and say it doesn't
matter how much pedophilia there is in the secular world, or in
families, or by soccer coaches. I want them to stand and say this
crisis is our responsibility and we admit it. It is the only way to
ever be credible again," he told one smaller group.
With the priesthood in crisis, many lay council members want to
go into the community and try to restore the image of the church.
Sturm, like an estimated 70 percent of German Catholics, has "no
problem" with married priests and thinks the rules on mandatory
celibacy should be changed.
For retired Munich businessman Rudiger Bruggemann, a lifelong
Catholic, the crisis has brought to a head the "main question" of
his life: "Do you stay in the church or do you leave? I stay because
it is the only way to help. You have no voice if you leave," he
says. "But at this point, after 74 years, I can no longer take
things at face value. Our problems are extensive, and we need the
message of Christ, not of institution. …