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Cologne's cardinal warns against inventing 'a new Church'

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (Getty)

Cardinal Woelki said it was a 'very dangerous concept' to try to cast aside Church Tradition

Noting the challenges facing the Church in Germany, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne told EWTN last week that amid dispute over the Church’s “direction”, the bishops are called to preserve the faith.

“The current situation in Germany is indeed difficult. And there does seem to be a dispute about the overall direction [of the Church], which was certainly also triggered by the abuse scandal. There are now those voices who argue it is time to cast aside everything we have hitherto held onto. To abandon old times. I think that is a very dangerous concept,” Woelki told EWTN.TV’s program director, Martin Rothweiler, on February 13.

“We are part of a great Tradition. The Church also stands for truths that transcend time. And it is not our task to now go and invent a new Church by ourselves. The Church is not just leverage that we have been handed to exercise [as we see fit]. Rather, it is our task as bishops to preserve the faith of the Church, as it has come down to us from the apostles, and to say and proclaim it afresh in our times, and also to preserve it for generations to come, and to express it for them in such a way that they too can encounter Christ as their salvation.”

Woelki commented that “one of the fundamental challenges” facing the Church in Germany “is to keep alive the question of God in our society as a whole. More and more people are convinced that they can live their lives rather well without God. Right there is where the Church has a very important task to play in making clear that God does exist, and that God is in fact the very origin of everything. The question of God to me therefore is one of the fundamental challenges we need to tackle.”

Woelki, 62, has been Archbishop of Cologne since 2014. He was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1984, and became its auxiliary bishop in 2003. He was Archbishop of Berlin from 2011 until his return to Cologne, during which time he was made a cardinal.

He was among the seven German bishops who wrote last year to the Vatican asking for clarification on the question of Protestant spouses of Catholics receiving Holy Communion, which possibility had been promoted by the German bishops’ conference.

Woelki told EWTN.TV that Catholics in Germany are deeply concerned by the abuse crisis: “There has been a massive loss of trust both within and outside of the Church. The challenge now is how this trust can be restored.”

Regarding Church reform, Woelki noted that “it must simply be said that the Church has never been renewed by being less, but by being more” than the culture around her. “We must once again realize that as Christians, we must foster something of an alternative culture, which has to align itself solely with the standards of the Gospel and the will of Jesus Christ. And that is not less, but always more.”

This Christian culture, he said, “is not achieved by abolishing celibacy. It is not achieved by now demanding that women be admitted to the ministries. And it is also not achieved by saying that we must have a new sexual morality. No, the Gospel is and continues to be the touchstone. It is the faith of the Church that continues to be the touchstone, just as it was presented to us by John Paul II in his Catechism.”

“The challenge is precisely to witness and proclaim this timeless faith now in such a way that it becomes understandable and comprehensible to the people of today. This is a challenge that we must face up to, rather than retreating from.”

The ground for hope for the Church in Germany “is that Christ exists and remains and continues to be the Lord of the Church and that His Holy Spirit is promised and granted to us,” Woelki reflected.

“I am convinced that He will also lead us through these times. Of course, we must open ourselves to Him so that God’s Spirit can also work within us and guide us. And we mustn’t start playing Holy Spirit ourselves now.”

He said that “as bishops, we are subject to the Word of God and, like all the people and bishops before us, we must give witness to and proclaim this Word of God. In other words, Christ exists, Christ remains, and He is present. He is Lord of the Church. Just as He has led His Church through difficult times in the past, so He will lead us through these present times.”

Woelki’s faith is also “bouyed”, he said, “when I encounter young people who have let themselves be ignited by the faith of the Church. And it is the young people who seek precisely this ‘more’ of the Christian faith, who have a home in the Church, who have a home in the Eucharist, who live though he Eucharist and through adoration, and who live in the knowledge that their lives are touched by Christ.”

“That is something that encourages me, because these young people – as I experience them – live authentically and with conviction. And they simply give me hope in their witness.”