Belgian Catholics sign manifesto for lay-led Sunday services

A severe priest shortage and a lack of priestly vocations has seen thousands of Belgian Catholics sign a manifesto urging their bishops to let lay people lead Sunday services.

“It’s time for the Church to open its functions to people who are not only celibate men,”  Mark Deweerdt, a layman among the 12 priests and parishioners who drew up the document, told Reuters.

More than 6,000 people, including in excess of 200 priests signed a manifesto. They are concerned that fewer priests will lead to larger parishes, a loss of their community identity and an ageing, overworked clergy.

“Big parishes are not the solution,” Deweerdt said. “We need people in each local parish to lead it, coordinate activities and be there to speak with people. Parishioners should not have to drive many kilometres to attend Mass.”

The manifesto said religiously trained men or women should be allowed to take over these unstaffed parishes.

“We don’t understand why these fellow believers should not be able to preside over Sunday services,” it said.

Deweerdt said the Belgian group had not asked for lay people to celebrate Mass in place of a priest, a reform proposed by Dutch Dominican theologians in 2007 and promptly rejected by the Vatican.

The Belgian Bishops’ Conference has not yet responded to the manifesto, which Dewaardt said would be officially presented to it in about a week or so.


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