An empty church in Germany

German theologians warn lack of lay equality, democracy leading to “phantom Church”

Two German theologians have warned that the lack of lay equality and democracy in Catholicism are leading to a “phantom Church”.

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“Getting involved in the Church to change something is sometimes very frustrating because the Church does not offer any forms and processes that can work” for laypeople, moral theologian Daniel Bogner denounced in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The problem with the Church today, according to the academic, is that laypeople have no real power and can only advise Church leaders, and must therefore “be lucky that someone is listening”.

Bogner described as “cynical” the Church’s demand that laypeople get involved in an institution that doesn’t give them a real say.

He added that what’s missing in Catholicisim are “really binding forms of participation and codecision” on the part of the rank-and-file faithful.

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Theologian Bogner said that he personally finds it “disrespectful” that the Church, an “absolutist monarchy”, remains “unmoved” by the “balancing act” he and other believers have to perform between their personal lives as Christians and the demands of the Church as an institution.

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In that sense, Bogner praised the Church movements, growing in number, that are no longer willing to accept the status quo.

“Being openly disobedient”, making a “calculated violation” of Church rules, “denying the institution’s direction”, even going on strike from the Church… such imaginative steps could be decisive for real change in the Catholic institution, the theologian affirmed.

More so, at any rate, than the capitulation of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who in accepting that the results of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process will not be binding have “made a big mistake”, according to Bogner.

That’s because, in making the path non-binding, “there is no eye level between layperson and clergy”, the theologian lamented.

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For her part, Bochum canon lawyer Judith Hahn warned in an essay for theological website feinschwarz.net that the growing number of Catholics disobeying canon law is leading to a “phantom Church” and growing into a headache for the hierarchy.

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Church bans such as those on women priests or artificial contraception are no longer acceptable to a majority of believers, Hahn observed, who have grown unaccustomed to the kind of top-down legal impositions and absolute hierarchical power without personal legal guarantees foreign to civil society.

The problem, the canon lawyer ventured, is that only clerics are involved in defining Church taboos.

“The extensive exclusion of lay people weakens the chances of recognition of canon law”, Hahn explained, proposing as a solution the “re-institutionalization of canon law as the right of the whole Church, the entire people of God”.

Such a refoundation of canon law would have to involve transparent, legally-secured and participation-oriented procedures “that take into account the fundamental rights and freedoms of modern individuals”, canon lawyer Hahn concluded.

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