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Cardinal Woelki: The Church cannot be bullied into changing her doctrine

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki (Getty)

All those who push for changes have to answer one question, the cardinal added: Why are Protestant Christians in Germany not flourishing?

“The Church cannot be bullied into changing her doctrine if change contradicts the spirit of the gospel,” Cardinal Woelki has said.

In an article for Die Tagespost, which will likely be seen as a stern rebuttal to those prelates who suggest that dogma ought to be altered to reflect current social mores, the cardinal adds:

“All those inside and outside the Church who so vehemently push for changes (liberalizing celibacy, reconsidering homosexuality, ordaining women, accepting sex outside of marriage) have not answered one question: Why are Protestant Christians in Germany not flourishing? They have implemented all that is being demanded. Yet they are not in a better position—seen by their practice of faith, how few they recruit for pastoral ministry, and the number of people leaving their churches. Does that not indicate that the real problems lie elsewhere, and that the whole of Christianity has to confront a crisis of faith and understanding, rather than adapt to a “new reality of life” that is presented as irresistible?”

Pre-empting those who would accuse him of being a kneejerk reactionary in the face of societal change, Cardinal Woelki writes: “Do not misunderstand me: I am not proposing unreflective traditionalism, or a nostalgia for the allegedly good old days. Neither do I want us to circle the wagons, like a small pious flock entrenching itself. On the contrary, I want growth and revitalization; I want faith here and now.”

Directly recalling the teaching of the Pope Emeritus, Cardinal Woelki suggests that “Pope Benedict XVI recommended desecularization (Entweltlichung) as the way for the Church. This important concept has been too quickly brushed aside, but should be reconsidered more profoundly. It does not mean retreating from the world, I think, but rather remembering the unique character of the Christian message of salvation. Only if the Church points beyond this world and testifies to the fact that God’s Son has redeemed the world, will she continue to win people and lead them to salvation.”

“To put it directly: We face a profound alternative: desecularization of the Church, or de-Christianization of the world—that part of the world, at least, in which we Germans live.”

Cardinal Woelki’s article is almost certain to be interpreted as a challenge not only to the German church but also to the Vatican hierarchy to restate orthodox teaching on sexual and social matters in unambiguous terms.

The cardinal led a group of seven bishops who appealed to the Vatican in April last year after German bishops passed a proposal to allow Protestants who are married to Catholics to receive Communion in certain circumstances. Then, in a speech delivered at Corpus Christi, Cardinal Woelki went further and challenged the reformers openly: “There has been much discussion about the Eucharist in recent weeks. Some people said ‘What is this all about? This is nonsense!’, others even said ‘This is a Punch and Judy show!’. I say – this is about life and death… This is fundamental! And that is why we have to fight and look for the right way. Not just any way, but the Lord’s way.”