What The Germans Want and Why
by Beverly De Soto
Editor, Regina Magazine
Full disclosure: A New Yorker, I have lived and worked in Germany for the past 6 years and I happen to speak German as my first language. I have also edited the Winter 2014 edition of REGINA Magazine, which involved interviewing dozens of German priests and laity about the German Church and the situation of the Faith in Germany.
So, I feel duty-bound to share this on-the-ground knowledge with the rest of the English-speaking world — at least those who read REGINA Magazine — about what is motivating the German Bishops in the upcoming synod in Rome on the family.
Using the Web to Tell the Truth
In the 1960s, there was no Internet. It took 40 years or more before the information leaked out to the rest of the world about how a small but determined group of Germans and French hijacked Vatican II. We have all lived with the er, ‘fruits’ of this experiment in the destroyed liturgy and the anti-catechesis spread subsequently throughout the Catholic world.
Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out that the media created a Council of their own which had little to do with what the Council Fathers actually said. Certainly, in the 1970s and 1980s a kind of faux ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ seemed a juggernaut that almost no one could withstand. Here in Germany, the resistance was limited to a small but hardy group of serious intellectuals, who were publicly shunned by the Catholic hierarchy in the most Baroque of terms.
The post Vatican II tide that swept through Germany has now receded, however. In its wake are beautifully-maintained antique churches and some execrably modernist experiments — all well-funded, thanks to the Church tax on the incomes of well-paid German Catholics all these many decades.
Empty German Catholic churches
However, all of these German churches are mostly empty. In truth, the Faith has all but collapsed. In the villages, people over 70 straggle in to the Sunday Masses celebrated by Indian and Polish priests and the few remaining German clerics. In the cities, the only Catholic churches with substantial congregations celebrate the Latin Mass or Mass in Polish for immigrant workers. All the ‘normal’ German Catholics, it seems, have better things to do than go to Mass.
As for catechesis, the ignorance is complete. I recently asked a class of German college-bound high school students who St Boniface was. (Boniface was the ‘Saint Patrick’ of Germany.) They had no idea. And although they had spent their entire lives in the wine country, they also had no idea that it was Catholic monks who had built the environment they lived in.
Even for the most determined Catholic ostriches out there, the light seems to be slowly dawning — there is no ‘New Evangelization’ in Germany and most of the West. In reality, the Church is hemorrhaging Catholics. It is a stunning irony, but the German-led reform of the 1960s has all but driven the Faith out of Germany.
How can this be? For a long time the German hierarchy denied that there was a problem, but now the party line is that many millions of Germans are just yearning to come to Mass, but they won’t because they are divorced and remarried, and cannot receive Communion.
I asked the Germans if this could possibly be the case.
The dozen or so German priests I consulted all said that the question almost never arises. In contrast, many laypeople assured me that it is absolutely impossible to get an annulment in Germany. Full stop. Others seemed confused. Was it necessary? They were certain that it was just a mish-mash of church documentation, totally unnecessary. In addition, they said, none of the priests could offer them any assurances that they would actually receive an annulment if they chose to go through what they saw was a huge bureaucratic song-and-dance.
The Church, they told me, was just a huge, cold bureaucracy. Kind of like the government.
Exactly what is going on here?
First, the ordinary Germans are correct. The Catholic Church is Germany’s second-largest employer with 690,000 employees. (That’s 7 times the size of Mercedes Benz, folks.) Bishops take home between $10,000 and $15,000 per MONTH, and they don’t pay for their residence, their cars or their upkeep. You can read all about it here, but suffice to say that the German Catholic Church has been a gravy train for clerics for the last 60 years.
Second, the gravy train is about to come to an end. Fully 140,000 Germans leave the Church every year. Plus, a demographic cliff looms, and the Germans — world masters at corporate planning — can see the end coming very clearly. Estimates vary, but basically in 15-20 years the well will run dry. The old people will die. The young people won’t pay.
Third, the Germans are playing to a German audience. The German Bishops care about what the German media wants. In turn, the German media wants eyeballs — plus they want to see the Church completely de-fanged for the usual ideological reasons.
Fourth, there’s the embarrassment factor. Also — and this is really a very minor point — it is a bit uncomfortable when nosy foreigners and the occasional naive media pundit asks why the richest Church in the world is such an utter failure. If and when this is admitted, it must never be attributed to the thoroughly modern German approach to Catholicism, but should be blamed on Rome at all costs.
The Beautiful German Spin Machine
So, here’s the German spin, as carefully crafted as a hand-made Porsche, fresh from the Stuttgart factory:
“We are caring, liberal Catholic prelates, and we are going to Rome to bravely confront those old hard-liners who refuse to join the modern world. The Catholic family is in trouble, and the Church must meet this challenge by modernizing outdated sexual ideas.”
You can bet that the world’s media is taking their cues from this line. And don’t look for Der Speigel or any of the other powerful German media to ask any tough questions, either. Like, are the Indian and Polish prelates who are dependent on German ‘generosity’ really going to vote independently? And how about the Latin American and African bishops who take enormous handouts from super-wealthy German dioceses?
The Germans play rough, as anyone who has interacted with the German hierarchy and media can tell you. (Remember the ‘Bishop of Bling?’)
We can all therefore confidently expect that the German spin machine will purr like a brand-new Beamer on the autobahn. But when the exhaust clears, what will become of the Sacrament of Christian marriage?
PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia article on Cardinal Reinhard Marx
Beverly De Soto is the Editor of Regina Magazine. A 25-year veteran of Wall Street, she has an MBA from Dartmouth College and also teaches Finance and Marketing on the university level. She lives near Wiesbaden, Germany.