Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has expressed concern about the lack of faith within Church institutions in Germany.
The retired pope made the comments in a written conversation in the August issue of the German magazine Herder Korrespondenz, marking the 70th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
“In Church institutions — hospitals, schools, Caritas — many people participate in decisive positions who do not share the inner mission of the Church and thus in many cases obscure the witness of this institution,” he said.
In an exchange with Tobias Winstel, the 94-year-old reflected on the concept of the “Amtskirche,” a German term that can be translated as “institutional Church” and is used to refer to the large number of Church-tax funded structures and institutions in Germany.
He wrote: “The word ‘Amtskirche’ was coined to express the contrast between what is officially demanded and what is personally believed. The word ‘Amtskirche’ insinuates an inner contradiction between what the faith actually demands and signifies and its depersonalization.”
He suggested that many texts issued by the German Church were crafted by people for whom faith was largely institutional.
“In this sense, I must admit that for a large part of institutional Church texts in Germany, the word ‘Amtskirche’ does indeed apply,” he commented.
He continued: “As long as in institutional Church texts only the office, but not the heart and the spirit, speak, so long the exodus from the world of faith will continue.”
Pope Benedict, who was prefect of Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before he was elected pope, said: “That’s why it seemed important to me then, as it does now, to take the person out of the cover of office and expect a real personal testimony of faith from the spokesmen of the Church.”
In the conversation, Pope Benedict also discussed an issue that he had highlighted in 2011, during his final trip to Germany before his resignation as pope in 2013.
In an address in Freiburg, a university town in southwest Germany, he implicitly criticized aspects of the German Church, referring to a tendency to give “greater weight to organization and institutionalization” than to the Church’s “vocation to openness towards God.”
Pope Benedict called in the speech for a “Church that is detached from worldliness,” using the German phrase “entweltlichte Kirche.”
The former pope told Herder Korrespondenz that he now felt that the term was inadequate.
“The word ‘Entweltlichung’ [‘detachment from worldliness’] indicates the negative part of the movement I am concerned with,” he wrote. “The positive is not sufficiently expressed by it.”
Rather, he said, it is about stepping out of the constraints of a particular time “into the freedom of faith.”
In the written exchange, Pope Benedict also warned Catholics against the danger of seeking a “flight into pure doctrine.”
Pope Benedict, who was the Vatican’s doctrinal chief from 1982 to 2005, said that attempting such a flight was “completely unrealistic.”
“A doctrine that would exist like a nature preserve separated from the daily world of faith and its needs would be at the same time an abandonment of faith itself,” he said.
In the conversation, Pope Benedict was also asked whether he was a good pastor when he served at Precious Blood church in the Bogenhausen district of Munich after his ordination on June 29, 1951.
“Whether I have been a good priest and pastor, I dare not judge,” he replied, adding that he had tried “to live up to the demands of my ministry and ordination.”