For experts, it is a “bang”: A high-ranking clergyman is leaving the Catholic Church – and joining another. What drove Andreas Sturm to take this drastic step?
In the end, Vicar General Andreas Sturm simply lacked hope. The high-ranking clergyman in Speyer said he was no longer confident in the Roman Catholic Church’s ability to reform – and in a drastic step left the church.
A few weeks ago, Sturm’s decision shook the diocese in the Palatinate cathedral city. Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann speaks of a “huge shock”. Whether the sluggish processing of the abuse scandal, the paralyzing inner life of the church as an institution – or the longing for a family: only Sturm knows what drove him in the end. A book now provides information about his motives.
“I have to get out of this church” is the name of the work that is currently being published by Herder Verlag (ISBN: 978-3-451-03398-8). In it, the 47-year-old describes his career from a convinced clergyman to a doubter. “Actually, it’s only now in retrospect that it’s clear to me that it was a long road to alienation,” says Sturm, among other things. The book should also show how much he is still attached to the church and that he wishes her all the best. “Only without me.”
The step illustrates the crisis of the Church. An example: While there were 50,000 permanent participants at the Catholic Day in Münster in 2018, there were 19,000 in Stuttgart recently. The abuse scandals are still shaking the church to its foundations, as are the backlog of reforms, the massive turning away and the loss of importance of the institution. Today only a minority – less than half of the population – belong to one of the two main churches.
“It can’t be God’s will”
Sturm was considered a reformer in the diocese. When the Vatican spoke out against the blessing of homosexual partnerships, the then vicar general publicly opposed it: “I have blessed apartments, cars, elevators, countless rosaries and so on and shouldn’t I be able to bless two people who love each other? That cannot be God’s will.” He also complained about discrimination against women.
But whether the relationship to women or to homosexuals: “These are still not issues in the world church,” criticized Sturm in an interview with the German Press Agency. He does not have the impression that the Vatican really understands the current situation. “As long as Rome believes that everything has to be controlled like a kind of corporate headquarters, I don’t think anything will change.”
Sturm has resigned – and at the same time joined the Old Catholic Church, for which he will work as a priest on Lake Constance in the future. The Old Catholic Church arose after the decisions of the First Vatican Council of 1870 that the Pope exercises supreme legal power in the Catholic Church and is infallible in matters of faith. The diocese of the Old Catholics in Germany comprises around 60 parishes in almost all federal states.
The church expert and author Andreas Püttmann (“How Catholic is Germany… and what does it get from it?”) calls it a “bang” that a high-ranking clergyman not only gives up his office, but also joins another church and to justify it writes a book. “This unprecedented event shows what the hour has come for the Catholic Church in modern, liberal society.” For the Old Catholic Church, the prominent conversion was “a coup,” he says. “Many frustrated Catholics don’t even see them as an alternative.”
From Sturm’s words it can be seen that the decision has been matured for a long time, says Püttmann. “He remains differentiated and also expresses gratitude, even love, for his previous vocation. You’d have to have a heart of stone to just turn up your nose at a so-called apostate.”
“I have to get out of this church where abusers have been able to carry out their crimes and have been covered up for far too long,” Sturm writes in the book. “I have to get out of this church where women are not ordained because we simply negate their vocation and reject ordination as impossible.” Get out of a church where priests are not allowed to marry. Sturm admits a breach of celibacy. “There have been relationships in my life, and unfortunately I know all too well how much I’ve hurt people through secrecy.”
Happier with partner?
As a priest, you often come home with a lot of impressions and then nobody is there, says Sturm. “There’s a lot of loneliness. I didn’t always manage to catch that in prayer alone.” For the future he does not want to rule out anything in the direction of family. “I’m currently not going into active planning. But I think I could be happier with a partner by my side.”
Born in Frankenthal (Palatinate), Sturm was vicar general for more than four years. Again and again, he says, he “banged his head against the wall” during reform efforts. “At some point your head will be too good for you.” His book is not a reckoning with the Catholic Church. “I owe her a lot. What I want: to show the huge reform backlog. » He does not regret the step, but also emphasizes: “I apologize to everyone who disappoints, hurts and upsets me with this step – I just didn’t have the strength anymore.”
Church is not superfluous, says Sturm. “We have a lot to say to the world. The message is great and still needed.” However, the Roman Catholic Church urgently needs to take care of those issues “that should actually be clarified very quickly”. “Then churches can develop radiance again.” In the end, that was no longer possible for him in Speyer. “I thought I was playing a record. But if I’m more of a part of the preaching, I have to go. I want to do this with a hot heart – and no show.”