As we approach the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, we are looking to see what signs of change there might be in the rest of the church. Yesterday, we looked at how some U.S. bishops have not been following Francis’ lead. Today we look at how Francis has made an epsicopal change which is more in line with his apparent new outreach model.
Pope Francis’ welcoming tone has ignited hope for change in the Church, but many observers believe it will be be his episcopal appointments, and not any words or acts, that will leave the most lasting impression. One recent appointment is being celebrated as a sign that bishops more in line with Pope Francis are entering the hierarchy.
Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin is being moved to Germany’s largest and wealthiest archdiocese, Cologne. Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper said of this development:
“Woelki represents the prototype of a new generation of bishops who will set the tone in the coming decades. You are no longer cranky and dogmatic wrongheaded as it was Joachim Meisner in office the Cardinal of Cologne. The new men speak of mercy and mean it that way. Go to people – in moderation even their critics – and have a heart for the socially disadvantaged. Theologically conservative they are anyway. The human part of Turned and Social comes in the public good, the theological conservatives holding things together.This is the line that pretends Francis. Cardinal Woelki fits in Bergoglio’s vacancy.”
Woelki was considered conservative when appointed to Berlin, but surprised many LGBT advocates with his positive statements that the Church must “rethink” its approach to gay couples and find a way to treat them similarly to heterosexual couples. The cardinal has also endorsed civil unions for same-gender couples. For all this, he was offered the Respect Prize by Berlin’s Alliance Against Homophobia, though Woelki declined, saying it should be normative for Christians to be respectful of everyone.
The German Church overall is showing signs of openness. Earlier this year, leading German theologians responded to the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for this fall’s Synod on marriage and family life, calling for a “fundamental, new evaluation” of sexual ethics. German bishops, after evaluating responses from lay Catholics and others to that same questionnaire, said the Church’s sexual teachings were unrealistic and ‘merciless.‘ Most recently, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier reiterated these calls for new ways of thinking about sexuality and said the Church must “respect their decisions of conscience.”
What do you think? Is Cardinal Woelki’s appointment a sign of progress to come or simply an anomaly? Let us know your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry