What kind of “believers”?

George Weigel

This past June I was in the Munich area for four days, giving a public lecture on Evangelical Catholicism and doing a lot of media interviews. My hosts were exceptionally gracious, but it was also obvious that the Catholic Church in what was once Germany’s most intensely Catholic region is in terrible shape. The numbers tell the tale.

The parish in whose rectory I stayed has some 10,000 parishioners — which is to say, the pastor knows that there are 10,000 people within the parish boundaries who, when paying their federal taxes, tick the box for the Kirchensteuer, the “Church tax.” Having seen years of statistics on Sunday Mass attendance from the German bishops’ conference, I was expecting the pastor to answer my question about his Sunday congregation with a figure somewhere between 700 and 1,000. No, he said; average Sunday Mass attendance among those 10,000 parishioners was 200. And when he asked people politely when he might see them at Mass, he frequently got the answer, “Look, I pay the Church tax; what else do you want?”

So it was with some interest that I read the recent explanation by Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx as to why he and the majority of the German bishops were defying the Vatican and plowing ahead with their “binding Synodal process,” in order to re-examine “issues” such as the Church’s sexual ethic, its teaching on marriage, and its ancient pattern of ordaining only men to the ministerial priesthood. Cardinal Marx claimed that “Countless believers in Germany consider (these issues) in need of discussion.” The not-so-tacit suggestion was that questions once thought settled by the Church were in fact open.

In light of my recent experience in the cardinal’s archdiocese, some questions immediately occurred: Who are these “countless believers”? Do they participate in the Eucharistic community of the Church or do they just pay the Church tax (and get snarky when asked why worship is not on their Sunday agenda)?

And further: How many of these “countless believers,” who seem to think that what is settled is in fact unsettled, have ever had the truths they question explained to them? How many of German Catholicism’s legion of theologians and church workers devote themselves to such teaching? The archdiocese of Munich and Freising has, I was told, some 2,000 employees. Do any of them live the vocation to explain what is challenging in the Gospel and the Catholic Church’s application of it?

Moreover, in what time-warp do these “countless believers” live? The Catholic Church has spent an inordinate amount of time and energy over the past 50 years “discussing” the “issues” that Cardinal Marx suggests are at the top of German Catholics’ concerns. Isn’t the real problem here that, after a lot of discussion and deliberation, the teaching authority of the Church resolved those issues in a way that “countless believers” didn’t like and still don’t like — perhaps because the Church’s settled answers are in severe tension with the libertine public moral culture that prevails across western Europe?

A little honesty here would go a long way.

Much of the Catholic Church in Germany (and in other German-speaking lands) is in a de facto state of schism: many of its leaders and intellectuals do not believe what the Catholic Church believes. And because of that, they do not teach what the Catholic Church teaches. Nor does this de facto schism touch on neuralgic moral questions alone. It involves the bottom of the bottom line: Is Jesus Christ the unique redeemer of humanity, such that all who are saved are saved through him (in one fashion or another)? Are there divinely revealed truths that remain binding over time? Is the Catholic Church speaking the truth when it solemnly declares that it is doing so, irrespective of what the surrounding culture thinks?

Catholicism is dying in the German-speaking world, not because the Gospel has been proclaimed and found incredible or hard, but because it hasn’t been proclaimed with joy, confidence, and zeal. Friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and incorporation into the community of disciples in mission that is the Church, has not been offered. That is why there is two percent Mass attendance in that Munich parish. Recognizing that hard truth is the only path toward a German Catholicism that has something credible to say to the rest of the world Church.

 

COMING UP: St. Scholastica parish in Erie has served community for well over 100 years

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For more than a century, St. Scholastica Catholic Church has served the faithful in the northern community of Erie, Colo. Over time there have been many changes to the structure of the parish, but it still stands on the same foundation that Benedictine pastor Father Cornelius Enders set in place in 1899.

Vibrant, spiritually alive, and welcoming is how St. Scholastica can be described. For years, the church formed part of a circuit assigned to one priest of different parishes and missions, but four years ago, Father Robert Wedow was assigned to St. Scholastica as its first full-time pastor in history.

Since day one, Father Wedow knew there was a lot of work to do for the growing community: “To do what Jesus told us. To go to the ends of earth and baptize all the nation,” said Father Wedow to the Denver Catholic about his mission.

In order to accomplish that mission, he and the pastoral council came up with a parish plan that consists of three goals for the church.

“One of the goals is what we call our spiritual needs, to understand and begin to use our resources to meet the spiritual needs of the people of Erie. The second one is the evangelization of ourselves and others. And the third one is the development of our parish so that we will put ourselves to be able to have a brand-new parish,” he said.

The altar at St. Scholastica was recently renovated and blessed by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. The Erie parish has served the community for over 120 years. (Photos by Brandon Young)

When he first became the pastor of St. Scholastica, Father Wedow noticed things in the church that required maintenance and renovations in order to keep serving the community in Erie. Among those renovations were the floors, the carpet and the altar of the church that was starting to break apart. On Oct. 13, after months of hard work and dedication, parishioners and friends attended a special ceremony in which Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the new altar at St. Scholastica, one of the biggest renovations.

For a parish of approximately 200 families, St. Scholastica offers a wide range of ministries to meet the needs of the whole family. From youth groups, bible study and the Knights of Columbus, the community stays involved and keeps growing bigger and stronger.

To serve the community and continue evangelizing, the church holds a variety of fun events throughout the year where parishioners have the opportunity to help others while having a good time. Among these events is St. Scholastica’s Annual “Cookies and Caroling,” where the community gathers to make delicious cookies, then goes door to door and hands them out to the neighbors while caroling and wishing them a Merry Christmas.

“I personally think what’s unique about my parish is the powerful love of the volunteers and the way in which they show their love for God and for their neighbor,” Father Wedow said.

Although there is still much work to be done in the 120-year-old parish, Father Robert continues to work hard and does everything in his hands to meet the needs of his growing community.

“It’s a great privilege for me to be able to serve the people of Erie and to be a part of this growing community. May the joy of seeing the face of God overwhelm us all, as we celebrate the true gift of Christmas at Christmas night mass,” concluded Father Wedow.