A German bishop has warned that Church refusal to reform is “a betrayal of the Gospel”.

– “The Church has to change”

“The Church has to change”, Bishop of Hildesheim Heiner Wilmer insisted February 22 at a protest organised in the Lower Saxony city by Catholic women’s rights movement ‘Maria 2.0’ and other Church reform groups, as German Bishops’ news agency katholisch.de reports.

“For me personally, ‘that everything stays the same’ would be a betrayal of the Gospel”, Wilmer clamoured.

Wilmer praised the members of the Maria 2.0 group – who have been active for over a year now in agitating for gender equality and other reforms in the Church – and said he was certain that they and women like them would eventually “initiate change”.

– “We won’t let it get us down”

According to a diocesan press release, Wilmer emphasised in his conversation with the Church reform advocates Saturday “the importance of community and courage to change”.

Particularly with regard to the German Church’s two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process, which is looking into possible reforms to problems in the Church brough into high relief in the clergy sex abuse crisis: the exercise of power and authority, celibacy, sexual morality and the role of women in the institution.

Wilmer called on his fellow participants in the synodal path to “reflect and pray together and to not be afraid to think of things that weren’t so in the past, because times, cultures and the very specific inculturation of the Gospel are changing”.

“We’ll keep moving forward, staying upbeat and not letting it get us down”, the bishop promised.

– A promise to make heard the voices for change

Wilmer’s impromptu meeting with Maria 2.0 members and other Church reform protesters came after some 300 protesters marched on the bishop’s residence, carrying signs and banners, delivering speeches and chanting that “it’s time” for women’s equality in the Church.

The Hildesheim bishop listened carefully to the demands for change and promised to take the demonstrators’ voice to the German Bishops’ spring assembly next week, but also to carry it with him through the entire synodal path process.

For their part, the protesters blessed Wilmer before he heads to Mainz for that assembly.

– A history of calls for reform

Wilmer, 58, has long been a defender of the necessity of Church reform, especially since he was appointed Bishop of Hildesheim in 2018.

In early December last year, for example – just as the synodal path was being ceremonially inaugurated before the first assembly in Frankfurt at the end of January – Wilmer said that though the reform process “certainly will not be easy”, the German Church emerge from the path “a different Church” than before, “certainly… more participatory and more feminine”.

Later that December Wilmer then doubled down on his push for reform, saying that doing nothing to remedy the abuse crisis is not an option.

On that occasion, the Hildesheim bishop also defended the synodal path process from Vatican criticism that the Church in the country is going it alone on reform, recalling that “in history, believers in individual countries have repeatedly given impulses for the entire Church”.

On celibacy, too, Wilmer added that he could imagine in the Church of the future “other forms of [priestly] life that we already have today, for example with married Protestant pastors who convert to the Catholic Church”.

In early January, too, Wilmer seconded a brave proposal from a brother Lutheran bishop that Catholics and Protestants work together to form ecumenical congregations in the future.

“I firmly believe that there is much more connecting than separating the two major German churches”, Wilmer said at the time, recalling that “as Christians, we are all called to testify and preach the gospel”.

The bishop also added: “How we can work together in pastoral care is a right and important question for the future. We will certainly continue to deal with this in ecumenism”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.