“I consider the reform process in the Church to be essential,” said Bp. Heiner Wilmer of Hildesheim, Germany in an interview published Monday with German newspaper Rheinische Post. “I am in favor of an open discussion and personally trust in the Holy Spirit,” said the German prelate, who explained everything must be brought to the table, including the ordination of women and eradicating mandatory priestly celibacy.
Subscribing to Pope Francis’ “accompaniment” model of the Church, Wilmer said in the interview that the Church’s mission is “to be with the people and make sure that the increasing cold in our society is transformed back into warmth.” Key to living out that model is putting “people” at the forefront, according to the bishop. “People, not institutions, must be at the center of all reforms,” he said.
At the end of the interview, Wilmer praised the German church tax known as the Kirchensteuer, saying that “the German system with the church tax is very reliable and enables the churches in this country to fulfill their mission for the people and society in a good way.”
The Kirchensteuer is a mandatory part of yearly tax for German citizens officially registered as Catholics, Protestants or Jews.
Longtime Advocate of Doctrinal Dissent
In an interview published last summer, Bp. Wilmer told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that developing a “new theology” is essential for making Catholicism relevant.
Opining that the Church has focused too much on sexual morality, the German prelate said, “We allowed the Church to deteriorate into a moral institution focused on what may or may not take place beneath the sheets.”
“We can no longer simply say that the question of women’s ordination has been decided once and for all, full stop,” Bp. Wilmer said.
In January, Wilmer endorsed a proposal for Protestants and Catholics to worship under the same roof. “I firmly believe that there is much more connecting than separating between the two major German churches,” Wilmer said.
“As Christians, we are all called to testify and preach the gospel,” he added. “How we can go together in pastoral care is a right and important question for the future. We will certainly deal with that in ecumenism.”
German Catholic Exodus
A statistical office in Munich recently reported that nearly 11,000 Catholics formally withdrew from the Church in 2019, marking the highest exodus since record-keeping began.
While Wilmer praises the German tax system, the dwindling numbers are leading to dwindling revenue, since officially withdrawing from the Church exempts one from the church tax.
Dr. Yasemin El-Menouar from the Bertelsmann Foundation’s religion monitor has been studying the trend for years and says people typically leave because they are disappointed with scandals and/or do not want to pay the church tax.
The scandals range from clergy sex abuse and cover-up to the push for radical reform, as exemplified in the German “synodal way.”
The synodal way is a two-year project begun on the first Sunday of Advent 2019 that attempts to rethink immutable Church teaching and longstanding discipline on a host of topics like women’s ordination, human sexuality and priestly celibacy.