Is the Catholic Church powerful

Opinion: The Catholic Church on the way to becoming a sect

When Pope Benedict XVI. During his trip to Germany in 2011, he demanded that the Catholic Church must "evade", which many understood as a criticism of the church tax system: the Church should not use state institutions in order not to be corruptible. Since the logic of "sacraments only for money", according to which both major churches in the Federal Republic operate, is not in accordance with the biblical tradition and the canon law of the church, the Pope received support for his advance at that time. Today we know that he meant something completely different.

For Joseph Ratzinger, the true church can no longer be a people's church. Because among the people there are many different attitudes, all of which are affected by the relativistic zeitgeist. But in the church only the truth, as the now emeritus Pope Benedict sees it, has a right to exist: the church would rather become a small bunch than that it should move a bit away from this "truth". "Kleiner Haufen" is a friendly way of describing a sect. The Catholic Church has meanwhile arrived in this sect existence and that now, of all things, under the pontificate of Pope Francis, who is actually at the other end of the church spectrum in terms of church politics and theology.

Vote with your feet towards the exit of the church

But under the pope from Argentina, the hardliners in the Vatican monopolized their sectarian truth and made it the only point of view that the church can take on by the bucketful: women are not allowed to assume ordination offices, the offering of the sacraments by female hands is a horror to God. Remarried people are not allowed to receive communion because it is confusion in the eyes of the Lord. Finally, not only must homosexual couples not be married, but not even be blessed, since God cannot condone sin. In addition, everyone is damned who, with the help of modern medicine, wants to help their desire to have children or who think about a dignified, accompanied death. Rome says to all of them: God does not want that. God doesn't want you!

Alexander Görlach studied Catholic theology in Rome, among other places, and lived in a seminary for two years

And so the once large and powerful Catholic Church is shrinking to the size of a sect. In Latin America it has already lost around half (!) Of its believers to free churches. In large parts of Europe, the church no longer exists - only around ten percent of the faithful come to mass on Sundays, for example, and the trend is steeper downwards. The vote of the believers with their feet in the direction of the church exit only confirms the over-spiritualizing hardliners: Many are called, but only a few are chosen!

This hyper-virtualization in the church is what populism is in politics: a substitute for real action. In the Catholic metropolis of Cologne there are no longer any free appointments to leave the church at the responsible district court - not because the incarnate devil was bypassing the archbishopric, but because the arch-conservative diocese management hushed up cases of abuse and their reappraisal with almost criminal energy. This kind of thing happens not only in Cologne, but in many other places as well. The Catholic Church is in the worst crisis since the Reformation. But this time there will be no more secession, instead the church seals its own end.

No more answers to people's questions

If you ask yourself why nobody believes in ancient Egyptian or Greek deities anymore, then the answer is not that dogmatics, i.e. the doctrine of faith, is fundamentally no longer popular. Believing in a virgin birth or the resurrection of the dead was a matter of faith in the past - as it is today - according to the biblical phrase "He who can grasp it, can grasp it". But people give up a religion when it no longer provides answers to the specific questions people have. And the Catholic Church has nothing more to offer here.

In addition, it is increasingly moving outside the framework granted to religious communities by the Basic Law: Can the free state co-finance an institution that rejects the equality of all people, their dignity and the human rights resulting from it? Certainly not. Because in the Catholic faith men and women are not the same, and there is also discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. Having shrunk to a sect, the Catholic Church is no longer a cue and helper for government agencies in search of good and meaningful answers, but the exact opposite.

Liberals go under a liberal Pope

In this sense, the pontificate of Francis has already failed twice - from the Amazon to the family synod. Everything that the Pope wanted to do in terms of innovations, he did not succeed. Because he lacks the theological depth, the intellect and the staff to channel the indefinite and diffuse directions he is taking and to make them watertight theologically and canonically. The hardcore extremists can demonstrate it in Rome and frustrate and ultimately marginalize the liberal camp in such a way that the liberals' exodus from the church is completed under a liberal pope.

If it is true that God does not bless sin, then neither priests, prelates, nor the church itself are under God's blessing. For the sins of the church are enormous, the self-righteousness of Rome in the face of its offenses is frivolous and obscene. "Écrasez l'infâme - Crush the Infame!" Voltaire exclaimed about the bigoted church of his time. This request remains unchanged today. In 2050 there will be architecturally beautiful concert halls, restaurants and clubs in every village and city in Germany. And the children will ask who the characters depicted are on the stained glass windows are.


Alexander Görlach is Senior Fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge at the Institute for Religion and International Studies. The doctor of linguistics and theologian was also a Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University from 2014-2017.