About 20 girls and boys are sitting on leather sofas in the basement of St. Josef Catholic Community Center on the outskirts of Berlin. The walls are brightly painted and bags of gummy bears and chocolate are on a table in the center of the room.
Hannah, Jonas and their friends giggle when Harald Tux, a friendly, balding man with glasses, reads a questionnaire from the Vatican out loud. It’s about premarital sex, and the officials in Rome want to know how these young Catholics in Berlin’s Weissensee neighborhood feel about it. “Is contraception an option for you?” the theologian asks. The youths are already whispering, and they can’t help but smile when Tux finally gets to the point: “If you used contraception, would you confess to it?”
“Huh?” a girl asks with a grimace. “It’s not a crime,” exclaims a boy in a hooded sweatshirt. They all snort with laughter.
The debate continues. “For our generation, it’s also a question of responsibility. If you don’t want to become a parent at 16 or 17, you have to use contraception,” says Hannah. The 16-year-old and her fellow adolescents cite many other issues where they believe change is needed. “Homosexuals should also be allowed to marry, so that the church can be open to everyone,” says Jonas. “The church doesn’t have the right to interfere.”
Last week, Germany’s Catholic bishops held a two-day conference in the Bavarian city of WÃ¼rzburg for the purpose of compiling and analyzing the responses given by Hannah, Jonas and other Catholics from all 27 dioceses in Germany. Their conclusions are bound for Rome. The project has likely led to more churchgoers expressing their opinions than ever before in 2,000-year history of the church.
In the past, the church has turned to its bishops to assess the mood in the grassroots, but their reports often contained more pious desires and wishful thinking than facts.
A Wave of Protest
But now the people of God have spoken. Church members around the world were asked for their opinions on the most controversial issues in Catholicism. They expressed how they feel about the strict prohibitions of their faith, on issues ranging from the family to sexual morality. In the coming weeks and months, their responses to the surveys will be processed and analyzed, and in October Pope Francis and bishops from around the world will discuss the results during an extraordinary synod.
SPIEGEL has taken a closer look at the mood in all 27 German dioceses. Some divulged very little information, while many others provided extensive data. Catholic family and youth organizations that were particularly involved in the survey also contributed.
The outcome is devastating for the guardians of pure doctrine. Even the reactions of committed Catholics reflect disinterest, enmity and deep displeasure. Many can no longer relate to the old dogmas and feel left alone by the church. Even in conservative Bavaria, 86 percent of Catholics do not believe it is a sin to use the pill or condoms, both condemned by the church.
A look into the congregations reveals that Rome could soon be facing a wave of protest unlike anything the Vatican has experienced in a long time.
For most Catholics, the deep divide between everyday reality and doctrine is not a recent phenomenon. But popes have shown little interest in this reality. Pope Benedict XVI, in particular, turned his back on modern life and insisted on upholding ancient dogmas.
Now the church is officially confirming its inner conflict, which creates the greatest challenge to Pope Francis in his young papacy. He must demonstrate whether he intends to heed the call of churchgoers and reform Catholicism, or stick to his amiable and extremely well-received, but ultimately ineffective gestures. [more]