A German bishop is urging a “spiritual revolution”, saying that “we have to break out of the prison of a perfect Church”.
– Criticisms of “ecclesiastical professionalism”
Bishop of Hildesheim Heiner Wilmer, 59, issued the call in an opinion piece June 3 in the Die Zeit newspaper in which he asked about the relevance of the Church in the time of the coronavirus and whether Christians were really needed at all in society.
In his text, Wilmer suggested that the uncertainty that has emerged with COVID-19 is a chance to reconnect, both on a social and ecclesial level, with “the primal wisdom of Christianity” – the realisation that “the perfect life, even the perfect religious life, does not exist”.
“Success and doubt always belong together – this was already the case with Jesus”, Wilmer recalled, adding that “there is no biography without cracks [and] no life without hard decisions”.
But because perfection is always an unobtainable goal, the Church must give up its pretensions to faultlessness and focus instead on constant conversion, the authentically Christian way of life, Wilmer wrote.
“We have to break out of the prison of a perfect Church”, the bishop insisted, lamenting that “sometimes our ecclesiastical professionalism is like a prison that keeps us from following the path we have set out on”.
– “Perfectionism must not blind us to real needs”
As an example of the perfectionism hobbling the Church today, Wilmer put forward the controversial remarks he made mid-pandemic criticising those Catholics who were campaigning for a hasty return to public Masses but whom the bishop said were “fixated” on the Eucharist to the exclusion of everything else.
Wilmer clarified that he made those comments “not because I do not care about the Eucharist and public worship services, but because… perfectionism must not blind us to real needs”.
While some Catholics were thinking only about receiving Communion, Wilmer explained that he was attending to real COVID-19 victims like the elderly man who rang him distraught because he could not say goodye after fifty years of marriage to his wife, who was dying in hospital.
“There are very different victims of the pandemic. We will meet many more”, Wilmer lamented.
Recalling that when Christians and the Church pretend to be perfect “we forget the grace of God”, the reform-minded bishop defended himself against critics and said that “I don’t want to abolish the institutional form of the Church in any way, but I believe that it alone is not overly important”.
What is more important, Wilmer wrote, is that Catholics constantly ask themselves – “Why are we doing all this? Why Church, why faith?” – and that “we… become seekers”.
“Only when we admit to ourselves how radically the world has changed will we dare to radically change our Church”, the bishop reflected.
In the bishop’s opinion, the Church must also learn from the crises of secularisation and clerical sex abuse – as well as now that of the coronavirus – that the lack of trust, legitimacy and contact with reality that it suffers from can only be remedied by honestly acknowledging the problems.
“By admitting the depth of our crisis to ourselves, we can use it as an opportunity: to go our way again and to be there for others”, Wilmer wrote.
– “Forget your perfect offering…”
Wilmer closed his newspaper opinion piece insisting that the ultimate goal of the conversion and renewal the Church is called to in every age is not the creation of a perfect group, but instead the formation of a polyphonic community that preserves the Gospel intact but also manages to stay dynamic.
Explaining that faith is like a counter-project to perfectionism, Wilmer concluded with a quote, in English, from Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen in his song Anthem:
“Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”.