The World

Peter Hahne: "They take a bankrupt model: Protestantism."

Peter Hahne, a Protestant journalist and an expert on the German Evangelical Church, stresses that the model used by the Synodal Way in Germany is obsolete and, at present, there are in fact more dropouts in the Protestant Church than in the Catholic Church.

José M. García Pelegrín-February 10, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes
Peter Hahne_synodal pathway

Photo: Peter Hahne ©ZDF

Peter Hahne, a Protestant, has been in charge of political programs on German public television ZDF for almost 30 years. He was also a member of the Council of the German Evangelical Church EKD for 18 years.

In your obituary of Benedict XVI you wrote: "For him, the greatest pain was that German Catholicism took the suicidal path of the German Evangelical Church (EKD)."What does this mean?

-To put it in marketing terms: if the objective is to reform the Church, to bring it closer to the people, to win new faithful, that is, to make the Church attractive again, then we must take as an example those who practice it successfully; any company would do so. 

Catholicism, however, takes as an example a company in danger of bankruptcy, Protestantism. Everything that is claimed in the Synodal Way is a Protestant take on the Catholic Church: the abolition of celibacy, the ordination of women, etc., all this already exists in the Protestant Church. However, despite the scandal of abuse, there are still more Protestant Christians leaving the Church than Catholics. Pope Francis has said it: we already have a Protestant Church, we do not need a second one. 

However, the Church is not a company....

-For me, as a Christian, the most important thing is the spiritual dimension. The Synodal Way seems to develop without prayer, without the Holy Spirit and also without evangelization. If I want to renew the Church, the first thing I have to do is to pray and let the Holy Spirit act; then set priorities at the spiritual level. And what is the center of the Church? Worship, in the Catholic Church the Eucharist. As far as I can see, in the Synodal Way this dimension does not seem to play any role; and if it does, it is rather to make up, to give a superstructure to its socio-political structures, following the motto: everything is evangelization.

What should the Synodal Way do so that authentic evangelization plays a decisive role in it?

-For me, evangelizing does not mean bringing people closer to an institution, but to God. And in bringing them back to God, I naturally bring them back to the Church, because there is no Christianity without community, without the Church. And I say this also as an evangelical Christian. 

I recommend reading carefully, for example, the obituary of Benedict XVI written by the President of the Episcopal Conference. If the obituary is born from the heart, saying that Benedict was one of the greatest teachers of the Church and at the same time a theological guide and in spiritual thought, then I would have to stop and say: "If he is so good, it is best to adopt his recipe for reforming the Church". Then you can bury the Synodal Path.

What do you think this Synodal Way would be like according to Pope Benedict?

-During his visit to Bavaria, Pope Benedict delivered a homily to priests in Freising Cathedral. All Catholics should read this speech. It dealt with the question of what our task is as priests, but also in general as Christians, in this world. He put aside the prepared speech with the wonderful remark that it could be read in print. For 14 minutes, he delivered a free speech from the heart without speaking anything about politics or the climate, but was centered on Jesus. If one were to make this speech the standard for reform in the Church today, one would be guaranteed success, although spiritually there is no guarantee. For me, this is the right way. 

In Fribourg, Benedict spoke of de-worldliness; however, the Synodal Way represents a worldliness. It is always suspicious that "the world" applauds the Church, and today one has the impression that the bishops are looking for applause; to be loved, to be acclaimed. And they do not realize the trap they are falling into. The Bavarian Lutheran bishop Hermann Bezzel once said, "The Church is perishing because of servants who have no vocation." For me, that is the key. Today we have too many frustrated politicians in the pulpits.

The Synodal Way was created in the wake of the abuse scandal. But does it really have anything to do with combating abuse?

-Here some abuses are used as a pretext to make a revolution in the Church. What is being discussed in the Synodal Way has nothing to do with the abuse scandal. If that were so, it would mean that such scandals would not have been committed in the Evangelical Church, because there the pastors are married. However, in the Protestant Church exactly the same thing happens, although not on such a scale. A man who is a pedophile can marry a thousand times, but he will continue to abuse children.

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