While both Cardinal Meisner of Cologne and the apostolic nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, immediately distanced themselves from Archbishop Zollitsch, several prominent German theologians applauded him. Cardinal Meisner said that Archbishop Zollitsch had only been speaking as the Archbishop of Freiburg and not as the president of the bishops' conference, but it is clear from the interview that this is not so. Archbishop Zollitsch uses the pronoun "we" throughout and is obviously speaking on behalf of the German bishops and indeed of the Church.
The interview is in the new and highly succesful "Faith and Doubt" ("Glauben und Zweifeln") section of the German weekly Die Zeit of 1 September. Archbishop Zollitsch was asked about the German President, Christian Wulff, who is a committed Catholic but who is barred from receiving Communion because he is divorced and remarried. The interviewer enquired whether this was a "problem for the Catholic hierarchy" especially as Pope Benedict was coming to Germany on a state visit at the President's invitation.
Archbishop Zollitsch admitted that this was "naturally" a problem and said, "We are all faced with the problem of how we can help people in whose lives certain things have gone wrong and that includes a wrecked marriage. This is a question of mercy and we will be discussing this problem intensively in the near future." Asked if he thought President Wulff was a good Catholic, Archbishop Zollitsch replied, "For me he is a Catholic who lives his faith and suffers greatly on account of the situation he is in. This is a very serious problem but I really think that we will move forward on the issue of remarried divorcees within my lifetime."
The Pope will also be meeting the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who was openly gay and living in a gay partnership but also a committed Catholic, the interviewer said. The Church teaches that such partnerships are sinful. Is the Church not "mutilating itself" by excluding so many people, Archbishop Zollitsch was asked. Such situations worried him deeply, he said, adding: "We must see how we can find theologically based answers to questions of lifestyles."
The issue of remarried divorcees not being able to receive Communion and the Church's condemnation of active homosexual partnerships are so-called "hot issues" which have hit the headlines in the German-speaking media in recent weeks, as they are among the reforms the Austrian Priests' Initiative intends to put into practice.
When he founded the Austrian Priests' Initiative in 2006, Mgr Helmut Schüller had several applications for membership from priests in neighbouring Germany. He advised them to set up their own initiative there, which they did, but it has not become as active as the Austrian one. The German group are still in close contact with the Austrian initiative.German theologians have drawn attention to the fact that remarried divorcees are rarely refused Communion in Germany nowadays and have recalled the Orthodox Church's practice of allowing remarried divorcees to continue receiving Communion.