Youth nail theses to the door of the Altenberg cathedral in Germany

Things have not settled down in the Catholic Church in Germany, not by a long shot. The Alliance of Catholic Youth (Bund der Katholischen Jugend) in Germany is calling for reform. As Martin Luther is said to have nailed 95 these to the door of the palace church in Wittenberg, the BDKJ nailed its reform wishes to the door of the Altenberg cathedral in Altenberg. They emphasis that they are not planning a schism, but hoping to contribute to the dialogue process which the German Catholic bishops are initiating. The BDKJ wishes to make clear that young Christian think about the future form of the Church out of concern and love for the Church. 100 delegates of the BDKJ met Friday to begin their annual meeting.

Among their theses are calls for more democracy in the Church, more women in leadership positions including ordained ministry, examination of the structures of power in the Church, and respect rather than judgment for those who remarry, live together before marriage, or are in a same-sex relationship. The youth hope for an angst-free discussion with arguments from all sides and, in the best sense of the word, a fight about the future of the Church.

The German bishops have already expressed strong criticism of the BDKJ’s nailing of theses. This is “anything but a dialogue. A catalogue listing ever more new demands are no help to us in the current situation of the Church,” stated spokesperson Matthias Kopp. “Some of the contents of these nailed theses are incompatible with the teaching of the Church. The action of the BDKJ is unhelpful and leads nowhere.”

The BDKJ is the umbrella organization for 17 Catholic youth associations and organizations in Germany and represents the interests of approximately 660,000 youth and young people.


  1. It’s around the year 40AD. Two guys named Paul and Barnabas show up in jerusalem to petition the apostles to recognize the new gentile converts on the same basis as the children of Abraham. They respond by pointing out that the request is totally out of line…not taught here.

  2. This is “anything but a dialogue. A catalogue listing ever more new demands are no help to us in the current situation of the Church,” stated spokesperson Matthias Kopp.

    The people who present it call it a request for dialogue and the institutional response is to re-label it a set of demands and reject it as such. What an interesting way to avoid discussion!

  3. Yawn. This is the same tired, old rhetoric that is the result of poor catechesis the past 40 years. These kids are the products of parents of the 1970’s and 1980’s Europe that grew up singing such meaningful protest songs as “99 Luftballons.”

  4. The Church needs reform, but this isn’t it.

    For another vision, read some sermons of St. Bernardino of Siena. Today is his feast, after all.

  5. Well, it was the words of the Roman Mayor regarding the new statue of JPII, but maybe it has some bearing upon German Catholic youth:

    Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno –
    “There’s an ancient saying: ‘Vox populi, vox dei’ (Latin for voice of the people, voice of God),” Alemanno said. “And from this point of view we cannot help but take into consideration the opinion of the public.”

    The Church is going to have to learn to effectively engage with its own before too many generations have passed: it is no longer sufficient to simply say “NO” and throw down a Catechism on the desk. Its not that one necessarily agrees with the propositions of the youth group, it’s simply that the Council insightfully insisted that it was time for the Church to be in dialog with the world. Indeed, there’s no choice – the hermeneutic of suspicion is too strong, we live in a postmodern world of Michel de Certeau-ian “private meanings.” I would wonder if the youths’ symbolic act of “wanting to be heard” isn’t simply on par with the level deafness to their concerns?

    1. Your phrasing is a sample of a vary basic disagreement – when you write “The Church is going to have to learn to effectively engage with its own”, the implication is that “The Church” is a separate entity from the members of the youth group. Are they not “Church” as much as the hierarchs they seek to engage in dialogue?

    1. It’s not acutally a cathedral – but a parish church.There’s no catholic diocese of Altenberg.

  6. I don’t think it is only the students who are talking too much to hear the Word.

    The echos of Luther must have spooked the hierarchy. But if the Papacy had reacted differently to the first Theses who knows what might have happened.
    If you don’t want to hear want they are saying , just admit that.
    But don’t put down these people.
    Parish ministry becomes a train wreck when that attitude is used. The next Pope should be one with lots and lots of parish experience. How would that make a difference? Hmm.

    1. Proposition:

      The USCCB should pass a resolution that supports limiting ternae for episcopal office to those who have been pastors for at least ten years in at least two different parishes while not holding any other church office.

      1. Counterproposal: bishops should be elected at local level by a combination of non-ordained and ordained faithful.

  7. The problem with the Church is…there is no dialogue. I’m sure the youth are as frustrated as Luther was. The church will NOT come to the table under any circumstances…even if schism looms on the horizon. Look at the case of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson…the church would not dialogue with her either, they just issue their pronouncements and expect the rest of us to say, “Yes, father.” They have no idea at how much the resentment and anger is building. The explosion will surely tear the heart out of the institutional church….however, it may set the Church of Christ free.

    1. The difference is that in Luther’s day people took churchhood awfully seriously, fearing for their salvation. Today frustration and anger lead in one direction — to the door.

  8. Just on a point of information:

    Luther never in fact nailed his theses to the door. It’s a legend. For further information, see Erwin Iserloh’s very well-researched book The Theses Were Not Posted, in which he conclusively proves that the theses were not posted up on the door of the church but were in fact posted (mailed, or sent by courier).

      1. Read his book. The legend began some years later. Wikipedia has this:

        The story of the posting on the door has settled as one of the pillars of history, but its foundations in truth are minimal. For a professor of the Wittenberg University to post theses on doors is unparalleled in history. Even further, Luther is known as strongly law abiding, and to publish his thoughts and direction in such a way would be strongly against his character. Luther has never mentioned anything in this direction in his writings, and the only contemporary account of the publishing of the theses is the account of Luther’s servant Agricola, written in Latin. In this account, Agricola states that Luther presents ‘certain theses in the year of 1517 according to the customs of University of Wittenberg as part of a scientific discussion. The presentation of the theses was done in a modest and respectful way, preventing to mock or insult anybody”. There is no mention of nailing the theses to a door, nor does any other source report this. In reality, Luther presented a hand-written copy, accompanied with honourable comments to the archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdenburg, responsible for the practice of the indulgence sales, and to the bishop of Brandenburg, the superior of Luther. It wasn’t until January 1518 that friends of Luther translated the 95 Theses from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe. Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519.

      2. The answer seems to be that the story was started by Luther’s disciple, Philipp Melancthon, a number of years after the event and writing from his domicile in a different part of Germany altogether. It appears that Melancthon also perpetrated various other stories about Luther that were untrue, for example that Luther visited Rome in 1511 (he didn’t).

        Other contemporary sources indicate that Luther’s “promulgation” of his theses was quite normal, rather than the dramatic gesture that Melancthon invented. One can only think that Melancthon was trying to boost the image of his mentor — a classic example of 15th/16th century spin.

  9. Yawn indeed. I really don’t understand what makes such individuals feel that they MUST BE CATHOLIC. If this is what they believe, there is already a hole for that shaped peg….

    1. “Yawn” I consider this a downright rude way to attempt stifle discussion.
      Why not engage with these young people and listen. Surely no one can claim they have all the answers! Dictact can never replace dialogue.
      “what makes such individuals feel that they MUST BE CATHOLIC” What makes anyone feel they themselves MUST BE CATHOLIC and are in possession of such purity of faith that they can be arbitrators of who is and is not catholic.

    2. “Such individuals” are your brothers and sisters in Christ. When you suggest they leave, you are doing the opposite of evangelization. It sounds as though you’d be more comfortable in a smaller church that would gather only people who are similar to you. But that’s not what Catholicism is about.

      1. Ah, Claire, Jeffery and his senior pin-up boy, Pope Benedict, are all for the “leaner, meaner” Church, and it appears that while the Pope is looking after the “leaner” side, Jeffery is perfecting the “meaner” aspect.

        It’s their Church; let them be.

    3. As noted above, for many people today the idea that the MUST BELONG TO A CHURCH is not very gripping. If we continue to behave obnoxiously or half-heartedly, the door is wide open for young people to sally forth into a churchless world, where they will find many meaningful things to do with their time.

  10. For quite a while now, it has seemed to me that the kind of church which very many reform-minded Catholics want already exists in the USA Episcopal Church. Is there any significant improvement sought in the current Roman church which does not already exist there, in that particular descendant of Canterbury? Democratic governance, decentralized power, elected bishops, great theological open-mindedness, female and gay clergy, dignified liturgical language, no real problems with contraception or divorce. They seem to have it all. Am I missing something?

    1. Do you REALLY think we have to swim the Tiber (in the direction of the Thames) to get “gay clergy?”

    2. For quite a while now, it has seemed to me that the kind of church which very many reform-minded Catholics want already exists in the USA Episcopal Church.
      ==================================== More sensible rubrics,communion under both
      forms all the time, beautiful churches,nice choral music with paid organists and choir directors even in the smallest churches, a glut of clergy being turned away, and no interfering old men from Rome.

      Is this great or what?

    3. Actually, your plug for the Episcopal Church is unanswerable. What keeps us in the RC Church is only the sense that we should bloom where we’re planted, serve those we are linke with by ancient bonds, and live through the difficult destiny of the RCC rather than shifting denomination in function of merely personal needs. In any case, ecumenical friendship allows Roman Catholics to benefit from the riches of Anglican culture.

    4. Fr. O’Leary,

      I’m not entirely sure who the “us” is to whom you refer, but, for the record, I, as a “reform-minded” Catholic, would also want to include belief in the necessity of the Office of Peter for the full catholicity of the Church.

      Of course, I am not a “cradle Catholic” (I prefer to call myself a “credo Catholic), so the “bloom where I was planted” response is not one that I can use.

      1. There’s an L of a difference between a cradle catholic and a credo catholic!

  11. On Luther and the door: I think the standard historical work on this is still Erwin Iserloh’s “The Theses Were Not Posted: Luther between Reform and Reformation,” written in the 1960s. I always say that Luther ‘posted’ the theses on Oct 31, but add that I use “posted” in the old British sense of put them in the mail. We know for certain that he sent the theses to Bp. Albrecht on that day. Regardless of what happened, it has become a standard image.

    1. Michael, did you see my comment above (currently # 16) and ensuing sub-discussion (currently #17 – #20) before you wrote yours?

  12. Did Luther nail theses actually?
    [Information stumbled upon while looking for something else.]

    In 1961, the Catholic Luther researcher Erwin Iserloh realized that in all the works and letters of the Reformer he nowhere explicitly mentioned nailing his 95 theses to the door on October 31, 1517. Philipp Melanchthon was the first to mention it.
    Kurt Aland makes a good case for the historicity of the event: Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.

    In 2006, Martin Treu from the Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt rediscovered a handwritten comment by Luther’s secretary Georg Rörer (1492-1557) At the end of the desk copy for the revision of the New Testament in 1540, Rörer made the following note: „On the evening before All Saints’ Day in the year of our Lord 1517, theses about letters of indulgence were nailed to the doors of the Wittenberg churches by Doctor Martin Luther.” both on the Castle Church door as well as on the doors of the city church: St. Mary’s. Here is the report .

    Now Rörer was also not an eye-witness, but he was one of Luther’s closest staff. The copy of the New Testament, in which he made his note, contains many entries in Luther’s own hand. The note right at the end of the volume leads us to assume that it was made at the conclusion of the revision work in November 1544. Directly beside it is another note, according to which Philipp Melanchthon arrived in Wittenberg on August 20, 1518, at ten o’ clock in the morning. Rörer’s reference to the Wittenberg churches in the plural must be emphasized, as it corresponds to the statutes of the university. According to these, all public announcements had to be nailed to the doors of the churches.
    [both on the Castle Church door as well as on the doors of the city church: St. Mary’s.]

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