Germany’s embattled Catholic Church elects reformist leader

Catholic bishops in Germany on Tuesday chose a reformist as their new leader, with a challenging agenda ahead for a Church discussing controversial reforms and compensation demands from sexual abuse victims.

Germany's embattled Catholic Church elects reformist leader
Georg Bätzing. Photo: DPA

Georg Bätzing, bishop of Limburg, was nominated in a secret ballot during talks on the future of the Church in the western German city of Mainz.

The 58-year-old is faced with the complex task of modernising German Catholicism over the next six years, steering it through multiple crises.

Speaking about the issue of compensation for those people abused by members of the clergy, Bätzing said: “I hope we will be able to present an amicable solution at this meeting”.

The four-day gathering concludes Thursday.

READ ALSO: 'No reason to wait longer': Germany's under-fire Catholic church seeks new leader

Meanwhile the new chief must play a mediating role as the Church seeks to answer divisive questions on issues such as priestly celibacy and the role of women.

“I bring with me high esteem for other opinions — for the authority and performance of the bishops, and for the views and participation of lay people, women and men,” Bätzing told journalists.

Bätzing, ordained in 1987, has often expressed his support for the current synod and spoken about the need to restore the credibility of a Catholic Church neglected by its faithful and lacking priests.

Bishops in Germany are split between reformists and conservatives.

Reformers are willing to discuss subjects such as abolishing celibacy and women priests, while conservatives around the controversial Archbishop of Cologne Rainer Maria Woelki are opposed to such changes.

The synod is also followed very closely by the Vatican and would need its support for any reforms.

Pope Francis recently disappointed advocates of change by declining a request to allow married men to become priests in the Amazon.

In his response, the pope “perhaps did not take a stance on certain questions”, according to Baetzing.

“That does not mean that we can't,” he added.

Bätzing replaces Cardinal Reinhard Marx, also a liberal, who announced last month that he was retiring at the age of 66.

Elected bishop of Limburg, a town in western Germany, in 2006, he replaced the controversial Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who had resigned after being nicknamed the “bling-bling bishop” for his luxurious lifestyle and mismanagement.

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors