Cardinal Brandmüller: Oases in the Desert

As was to be expected: the “Synodal Way” has long since become lost in the pathless. The defiant attempts of professional Catholic “officials” to close their eyes to this reality will – like their “Synodal Path” – end in frustration. What remains is the careless waste of millions in church tax money and, what is much worse, discord on central questions of faith and morals, even within the episcopate, and thus serious damage to unity with the entire church. There is already talk of heresy and schism.

Added to this is the mass apostasy – of the Catholics who have been baptized, around 5 percent still take part in the religious, sacramental life of the church. The seminaries are, if not closed at all, only sparsely staffed. But it must also be underlined: the places of formation of some communities (e.g. Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Institute of Christ the King, Community of Saint Martin, Holy Cross), which are characterized by their love for the liturgy and the Church, are enjoying a lively, growing life. They are in active service of true renewal, renewal in truth. Despite everything, the Church lives in those places where faithful, zealous priests work.

And yet the church bureaucracy, often consisting of more than a thousand employees, “functions” in the diocese administration, quite a few of whom have long since stopped taking part in church services and sacraments. And the money still “sounds in the box”, regardless of the millions of people “leaving the church”.

The only question is: how much longer? How long will this self-sufficient apparatus rattle along, silently ignoring the Lord’s command, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel”?

However, this state of the church brings with it a dramatic loss of importance. In the decades after the Second World War, Catholic social teaching was the basis for the reconstruction and development of the Federal Republic of Germany under Konrad Adenauer – in harmony with the important Europeans De Gaulle and De Gasperi, who were joined by Ludwig Erhard as the father of the German economic miracle For some time now, their Christian social ideal has no longer played a role.

Rather, with the success of the German economic miracle, the increasingly dense cloud cover of the materialistic zeitgeist began to block the view of the sky: waves of food, housing and sex flooded the country. The result was – and still is today – a post-Christian, atheistic society in which Christianity, the church, only has a niche existence. Ignored, despised, fought against.


And now the question arises as to how the Church and how Catholics should respond to this situation, which did not arise through no fault of their own.

A sober assessment quickly reveals that anxious, desperate attempts to revive the former partnership between state, society and church have long since become hopeless, even though folk church elements may still have been preserved in Bavaria, as here and there. In most areas of Germany, however, the church has had to swap its former place on the official gallery with the dock.

The most recent legislation has also set standards in the area of ​​marriage, family and health policy that make a mockery of Christian moral and social teachings, and indeed of anthropology that has developed since classical antiquity. Hardly any perversion conceivable in the arc of tension from in-vitro fertilization to “euthanasia” and assisted suicide is excluded. An almost apocalyptic contrast to the dignity of man as God’s image and crown of creation. And now the Christian, the Catholic, has to find and create oases in this human, cultural desert in which he can still breathe freely and survive.

This will have to happen in different ways and to different degrees depending on country and people, but it is an increasingly current model for church survival in a hostile environment. The increasing number of arson attacks, destruction, and desecrations in and of churches, etc. show that this is becoming more and more aggressive.

So now – depending on the given circumstances – the transition from the national church to the community church must be initiated as far as possible without painful disruptions. The young Josef Ratzinger had already spoken about this. Of course, friction and conflicts are almost unavoidable, especially in rural areas. But time will also heal such wounds. Depending on the local circumstances, it will be essential to prepare the community for such an inevitable development in order to prevent disappointment and even protests.

Hand in hand with this should also be a more decisive emphasis in the self-image of priests. In the old rite of ordination, the duties of the priest were listed: he was ordained to offer the (holy) sacrifice, to bless, to lead the congregation, to preach and to baptize. Significantly, there is no mention of parish administration, committees or asset management and management of social institutions or other “works”. Admittedly, this catalog of duties dates back to the Middle Ages, but it contains precisely the work to which the priest is ordained today, as always. It will therefore be easy to distinguish between which areas of activity can still and in the future only be undertaken by the priest and which can also be undertaken by laypeople, parishioners or church employees.

In any case, the priest’s preferred place is not so much the parish office, his job is not so much administration, account management, etc. Also running kindergartens and the like.

Incidentally, the committee and meeting Catholicism that has flourished since Vatican II has already become a discontinued model, and hardly anyone – apart from the “officials” of the Central Committee – will shed a tear after it.

This distinction, which reserves the priest only the “ praeesse ” – the presiding – and the leadership of the congregation, should be made in order to enable the priest the freedom to fulfill his actual mission: proclamation, liturgy, administration of the sacraments and pastoral care.

This is really the hour of the “lay people”. Like priests, they also follow their own calling. Their area of ​​responsibility is not the pulpit and the altar, but, as Vatican II emphasizes, “the world” in which the church has to fulfill its mission.

With this division of labor – assuming wise selection of employees and mutual trust – the priest could also gain the time that is necessary for conscientious preparation for sermons, catechesis, pastoral discussions, etc. – and for the priest’s own spiritual life.

The believers must also understand this. How many ways they can and should contribute to the life of their community then depends on the specific circumstances.

Of course, it should be clear to priests and laypeople alike that the church must never serve as a stage for “self-promoters”.

Likewise, experience teaches that laypeople and priests should not exceed the limits of their competence. The latter should resist the temptation to make a name for themselves as builders, asset managers or in other “worldly” areas, while the laity should not consider the pulpit and altar as their “workplace”.

In order for this “division of labor” to be successful and for the communities to live together harmoniously and for one another, human, Christian maturity is required on both sides. But the problem is not new. The Apostle Paul already experienced this: For example, he wrote to the community in Philippi (4:2): “I admonish Evodia and I admonish Syntyche to be with one mind in the Lord.” The admonition should also be used today in some parish or diocesan councils be heard.


The more the godless zeitgeist blows in the church’s face, the more necessary the close solidarity between believers and priests becomes. Perhaps then, as they once did, “heathens” of today will also say with regard to Christians: “look how they love one another.” And this experience could have its missionary impact again today.

In fact, lively communities like islands in the sea could offer a safe haven to people who are disorientated and floating on the waves of the zeitgeist.

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