Vatican halts German diocesan plan to merge parishes

A German diocesan plan that would merge 800 parishes into 35 mega-parishes has been stopped by the Vatican.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier met with the Cardinal Beniamino Stella and Archbishop Filippo Iannone, who lead the Congregation for Clergy (the Congregation) and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (PCLT).

Diocesan officials also attended the meeting, which took place in Rome last week.

While the meeting was held in a “positive atmosphere,” the diocese says the Congregation and the PCLT have concerns about the proposed parish reform, “as described in the law on the implementation of the results of the diocesan synod.”

The diocese says the concerns were “in particular as regards the role of the pastor in the leadership team of the parish, the service of other priests, the conception of the parish bodies, the size of the future parishes and the speed of implementation.”

A restructuring programme began in the diocese in October last year, following a three-year diocesan synod aimed at addressing declining Mass attendance, a shortage of vocations, and other challenges facing the Church in Germany.

After Ackermann announced the Law for the Implementation of the Results of the Diocesan Synod (2013-2016), several local Catholics, including some priests, voiced concerns about its provision. In November last year the Congregation and PCLT asked for the plan to be delayed while it was studied in Rome.

After merging the diocese’s 887 parishes into 35 larger parishes, the German diocesan plan explain the parishes will led by “pastoral teams” of laypeople and a priest.

Some large parishes would have up to 100,000 members and in some rural areas, the distance to the nearest parish church would be about 80 kilometres or more.

Vatican officials regarded the diocesan plan as questionable in terms of canon law. They also had misgivings about the planned size and structure of parishes.

After last week’s meeting in Rome, the diocese released a statement saying “during the conversation, the bishop made it clear what challenges the diocese of Trier is currently facing.”

He pointed out the weakening ties of Catholics to the church, declining financial possibilities and the lack of priests. He also said the situation required changes to give church life a “reliable framework.”

Other concerns Ackermann clarified in the meeting included demographic change, declining financial resources and the lack of priests.

A local lay group says it is also concerned about the plans. The group is anxious that “the specific transmission of the preaching, especially the homily, to volunteers/lay people will lose the specific nature of the priestly office.”

The centralisation of parishes is also of troubling the lay group, as Catholics in some parts of the diocese would have to travel for about an hour to get to Mass.

Ackermann is planning to work with staff and members of his diocesan curia to form a new plan that respects both the mandate of the three-year diocesan synod and addresses Rome’s concerns.


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