Quit or protest

These days the Catholic Church in Germany has a hard time.

The public focus is on German Catholic Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst. After weeks of accusations and extended aswell as merciless media coverage the Bishop of Limburg now traveled to Rome to ask for consultations with Pope Francis. The Bishop is under fire for allowing costs of a new bishop’s headquarters and residence, to swell to €31 million (originally estimated: €2.5 million), which is around one third of the bishopric’s total estimated wealth. Diocesan officials have confirmed the costs, which include €15,000 for a bathtub installed in the bishop’s residence and €783,000for the gardens. All this happened after a process of intensive cutbacks, suspension of staff and closedown of a lot of churches in this diocese.

The residence costs are not the only issue surrounding Tebartz-van Elst. Last year the Bishop already created a scandal with a trip to India and the following media reporting, revealing, having flown first-class to India to visit poor children. Now the Bishop faces a fine from a Hamburg court for allegedly providing false testimony when he filed against Der Spiegel magazine, which reported he had flown first class.

Exit, Voice or Loyality

While daily provided with new details on both affairs by the German media I read the book “Exit, Voice and Loyality. Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States” by Albert O. Hirschmann.

This book was written 1969 and couldn’t be more up-to-date. It has a long reception history, since it aroused a big economy-, social- and politic scientific interest.

Hirschmann states that in a situation of loss, decline and decrease of an organization, whether a business, a nation, other forms of human grouping and even Churches, members have three different responses:

  • Exit: they can leave the organization and withdraw from the relationship
  • Voice: they can attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, or express their concerns in an effort to improve the situation
  •  Loyality: they can stick with the organization and nevertheless support it

Both exit and voice can be used to measure a decline in an organization, but voice is by nature more informative, because it also provides reasons for the decline. Exit and voice also interact in unique and sometimes unexpected ways; by providing greater opportunity for feedback and criticism, exit can be reduced. But usually, when both exit and voice options are available to the members, they would probably choose exit over voice: exit only requires them to search for better alternatives.

One main assumption of this book is that it assumes that the complaints voiced by members are always helpful for the organization to find its fault and that the organization tries to adjust, corresponding to the feedback.

Pope of the poor


There have been calls for the German Bishop to resign. Some ask for transparency or expect and apology, but most of the disappointed Catholic Christians, who simply can’t stick on the loyalty level any longer, chose exit, rather than voice.

This tendency approves Hirschmanns hypothesis, but might also reveal a deeper lying levels. In a significant change process for the Catholic Church in general, having a Pope who rejects symbols of wealth like golden robes and red shoes, the Limburg scandal challenges the authenticity and credibility of the Catholic Church in general. Not only because of the dubious system that enables one single man to realize highly questionable construction projects, but even more because of a rotation and perversion of appropriate stewardship, of the financial resources that have been entrusted to us as Christians. This fraud is not only on a financial level, but also even more on an ideological level, that might keep the disappointed members from speaking up.

Catholic ecclesiology might also have something to do with this. German Catholic Theologian Prof. Stephan Häring says: “The scandal around Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is an outgrowth of the ecclesiastic autocracy.” This hierarchy concept, which enables single decisions, rather than broad democratic exercise of influence, might also hinder voice, as a critical reaction, when the dominating feeling of loyalty is lost.

Last week I wrote a (German, sorry English-speaking folks) blog post about the incident, saying that I suffer: As a protestant alongside with my Catholic brothers and sisters in their horrible situation of disappointment and anger, but I also suffer from the Catholic Church. Since the public lost of credibility and honesty in the Christian faith rubs also off on other Christian denominations. The article was one of the most read articles I ever wrote on my blog. It is loving and critical.

I’d call it: “voicing my ecomenical loyalty.”

Following Hirschmanns descriptive approach,
what would be a solution oriented approach
with appropriate steps to develop and improve Christian Churches,
in specific situations like in Limburg,
but also in general?

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