Andreas Sturm acted quickly. In mid-May, the vicar general of Speyer, the bishop’s deputy, left his office and left the Catholic Church. Shortly thereafter, he announced that he would write a book. Now, in mid-June, the book is here. The title sums up the message: “I have to get out of this church. Because I want to stay human.” From the cover, the 47-year-old from the Palatinate looks resolutely ahead through his glasses, gray temples, white shirt, a small silver cross on the black jacket. Next to it it says: “A vicar general speaks plain text”.
For some Roman Catholics, the emergence of the plaintext is too quick, suspiciously quick. Sturm was accused of using his prominent resignation scenario to fan a bestseller. In an interview with the portal catholic.de, the clergyman defends himself and reveals his frustration with the encrusted structures of the Vatican-controlled apparatus, his irritation and despair at dealing with sexualized violence, with same-sex love, and his criticism of celibacy, which he , as he concedes: “There were relationships in my life”. The first time after leaving was an “emotional roller coaster ride” for him.
Sturm’s publication coincides with the announcement of the results of a harrowing study on the diocese of Münster by the university there. According to their findings, the extent of the cases of sexualized violence against minors committed and covered up there is said to be far greater than assumed. The research team, which studied files and conducted interviews for two years, counts 610 victims, most of whom were between ten and 14 years old at the time of the crime. 196 alleged perpetrators are said to have been active in the period between 1945 and 2020 – each a third of the accused more than in the 2018 study by the German Bishops’ Conference. 4.49 percent of all clerics in the diocese of Münster were therefore alleged perpetrators in that period.
With unreported cases, the team assumes 5,000 to 6,000 victims. It took the incumbent, 72-year-old Bishop Felix Genn years to take on more responsibility for intervention and prevention. He himself says that he met the accused “too much as a pastor and not enough as a supervisor”.
The study should only confirm Andreas Sturm’s impression of the church’s immobility. His book, farewell letter, accusation and wake-up call all in one, points to the very problems that the current Münster study has brought to light – as in previous studies, such as that on the Archdiocese of Cologne.
Andreas Sturm explains that over time he has “lost hope and confidence that the Roman Catholic Church can really change”, but does not want to take away the hope of those who participate in the reform-oriented synodal path. As such, Sturm is exactly the type of young person that the Catholic Church urgently needs: cosmopolitan, innovative, committed and courageous. He studied theology in Germany and the USA, received further training in clinical pastoral care in New York, and in 2010 became head of the episcopal youth welfare office. In 2021 he announced in Speyer that he would also bless queer couples in the future. “I have blessed apartments, cars, elevators, countless rosaries and so on,” Sturm had explained, “and shouldn’t I be able to bless two people who love each other? That cannot be God’s will.” Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of Speyer described Sturm’s resignation as a “huge shock”. It was and is another symptom of the crisis in the churches.
As the small cross on his collar shows, Andreas Sturm has lost faith in the institution, but not in the God of the Bible. In the meantime he has joined the Old Catholic Church and will work as a priest in the Lake Constance region. The religious community, which maintains 60 congregations in the Federal Republic, came into being in 1872 in protest against the dogma of the Pope’s infallibility in the First Vatican Council. They called themselves “Old Catholics” because they opposed the change. Paradoxically, they are particularly new and modern in many respects. With them there is no celibacy, no auricular confession and no Sunday commandments. Homosexuals and divorced people are not discriminated against, women are admitted to the sacrament of Holy Orders. In Switzerland they have just decided on “marriage for all”.
Church expert Andreas Püttmann calls Sturm’s change a “bang” for the role of the Catholic Church in a modern, liberal society. With the conversion, Sturm is also making the Old Catholic Church better known, which could now gain more support. When asked by catholic.de about allegations that Sturm wanted to “cash up” with a “PR campaign” for his book, the author reacted calmly. Financial losses due to the forgoing of his pension would “not even be offset by the book sales.” According to Sturm, he simply no longer wanted to live with the contradictions in office: “This inner turmoil was there every day and put an enormous strain on me. He describes his book as a kind of concluding document of a long phase of growing alienation that became clear to him in retrospect.
Above all, he wants to point out the reform backlog, says Sturm. He is not alone in this; protests are revealing a veritable dam of reform. Thousands upon thousands who take part in the debates on the synodal path, for example, hope that this dam will break. They believe that dogma can loosen up, that rigid things can become liquid. Andreas Sturm explains that he wishes the church, to which he is still attached, all the best: “Only without me.”