Vatican parish instruction divides German prelates

German prelates have reacted strongly to the new Vatican parish instruction.

Released last week by the Congregation for the Clergy, the instruction has seen many bishops react with anger and contempt.

Only Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne is defending the instruction, while Cardinal Walter Kasper is steering a middle way. The German Bishops’ Conference has remained silent.

The instruction emphasises the joint responsibility of the whole People of God and of the parish community for missionary pastoral work. It also stresses the parish priest is responsible for the whole parish.

The instruction has arrived amid an ongoing debate about the role of lay people in the German Church and followed the Vatican’s decision in June to refuse the German Diocese of Trier’s plan to reduce the number of its parishes from 800 to 35.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne says he is “grateful” for the Vatican instruction and has thanked Pope Francis for the “many suggestions for a missionary awakening of the Church.”

“At the same time it [the document] reminds us of the fundamental truths of our faith, which especially in Germany we may sometimes lose sight of when we are too preoccupied with ourselves.”

“It is not we who ‘make’ the Church, and it is also not ‘our’ Church, but the Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord himself founded it and with it the sacraments and the ministerial priesthood.”

“Pope Francis puts things right here, but not as a reprimand or disciplinary measure, but as an encouragement to rely entirely on Christ to become a missionary Church again.”

Of all the German prelates Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich is one of its most outspoken critics, saying it is “not a fruitful way forward”.

“You cannot have one authority announcing something, which all the others have to obey. We must listen to one another, learn together and take up the experiences of the local Church – all of which I miss in the Vatican document.”

“A synodal Church is something quite different to what we have just experienced [in the Vatican instruction].”

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, sees the instruction as a “strong brake on the motivation and appreciation of the services of lay people ” and the text indicates a “conversion to clericalisation.”

He says the instruction has taken the bishops “completely by surprise,” and he is sorry Rome had not made “prior contact with the realities on the ground” or shown more consideration of the “much-invoked” concept of synodality.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier says the instruction had not been quite such a surprise for his diocese as for other dioceses, as he had recently been summoned to the Vatican to discuss his parish clustering plans which Rome had rejected.

Ackermann says it is “particularly irritating” that while especially highlighting the role of the parish priest, the instruction is silent on clerical sexual abuse.

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz said he could not “simply accept this Vatican intervention” in his diocese.


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