A German bishop has criticised reform-phobic Catholics, reminding them that “Catholicism is not armour, but backbone”.

– “The Church goes through time and its dogmas have to be reconsidered again and again”

Bishop of Erfurt Ulrich Neymeyr was speaking October 5 at a roundtable with Minister President of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow of the left-wing Die Linke party. The event was organised by the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Erfurt and the Thuringian Catholic Forum, and was centred on the topic: “‘Home’ in upheaval”.

Relating that idea of ‘home’ to the Church, Neymeyr censured the view of some Catholics that the faith is “a self-contained, perfectly well-rounded system, timelessly true”, and that that system is the Church’s and the faithful’s guarantee of a smooth passage through the vagaries of history.

Neymeyr observed that understood in that way Catholicism takes on the appearance of a suit of “armour” which may protect but also prevents the wearer from moving freely. “But from my point of view, Catholicism is a backbone, which helps me to stand but which also allows change and flexibility”, the bishop explained.

The bishop challenged the view that everything in the Catholic Church always stays the same, pointing out that throughout history the institution has undergone any number of changes, not least of all in terms of its doctrine.

“The Catholic Church goes through time and its dogmas have to be reconsidered again and again, what they mean for this time with this terminology and this language – there is a constant interpretation of what has been given to the Catholic Church in terms of its religious heritage”, Neymeyr explained.

The bishop acknowledged that he “can understand that when there are changes, some people fear that their home of faith will be stolen from them”. However, he encouraged those fearful Catholics to take a closer look at opportunities for reform.

While Neymeyr insisted that the essence of faith is “naturally unshakeable”, he added that believers must see that the Church has always changed over time, because it lives in changing times.

“If you want to preserve a religious and spiritual home, you have to change it. Otherwise it will… eventually fall apart”, the bishop emphasised.

– A warning against nationalistic “obsession”: “We Christians have a different view of home. Our home is in heaven”

As well as the idea of “home” in a religious sense, Bishop Neymeyr also spoke Monday night to that concept in a political sense, and warned against love of one’s country turning into an exaggerated “obsession”.

Pointing out that pride in one’s own homeland is often expressed above all by people “who have not contributed much to their homeland – except that they come from there”, Neymeyr encouraged his listeners to be wary of even that term – “homeland” – since it carries within itself delimiting and exclusionary connotations, not to mention of fellow citizens who put too much emphasis on the idea.

The bishop encouraged Catholics, specifically, to be especially careful of easy ideas of “home” and “homeland”, since Christians should have an understanding of those terms that trascends the political and nationalistic.

“If we follow the apostle Paul, we Christians have a different view of home. Our home is in heaven”, Neymeyr reminded believers.

More on the debates over reform in the Church, on Novena:

Theologian asks: “Why are bishops, cardinals and popes afraid of women in the ministry?”

German Catholic women demand bishops address Church power imbalance: “We are still a long way from being where we belong”

German Catholic historian: “Everything rigid and immovable goes against the essence of the Church”

Frankfurt dean calls for “separation of powers” in Church to reverse “landslide loss of reputation and trust”


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