Rome hears German bishops parish instruction criticism

The new parish instructions could the the subject of a discussion at the Vatican, if German bishops want to air their views about them, says Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

Stella (pictured), whose congregation issued the new parish instructions last month, says he would be pleased to receive the bishops “in due course” if they wanted to accept his invitation to present their objections to the instruction.

Several German bishops have sharply criticised the new parish instruction, which underlines the canon law relating to the pastoral care of parishes. Only priests can direct the pastoral care of parishes, the instruction says.

Some commentators see the instruction as a response to plans to drastically reduce the number of parishes in German dioceses.

The Vatican has already blocked the Diocese of Trier’s plan to turn 800 parishes into 35. Despite this, the Archdiocese of Freiburg is continuing to press ahead with plans to reduce its 1,000 parishes to 40.

Stella says “care must be taken not to reduce the parish to the rank of ‘branch’ of a ‘company’ – in this case, the diocese – with the consequence that it can be ‘directed’ by anyone, perhaps even by groups of ‘officials’ with different skills.”

In contrast, the new parish instructions encourage parishes to see themselves above all as a “missionary community,” he says.

German bishops’s responses to the instruction vary, with some expressing gratitude for the text, others are less positive.

One bishop sees the instruction as a “strong brake on the motivation and appreciation of the services of lay people.’

He fears the text indicates a “conversion to clericalisation” because it emphasizes the priest’s role in directing parishes.

A theologian is taking another view, defending the Vatican intervention, saying: “The German criticism completely misses the actual concern of the instruction: the pastoral conversion to a missionary footing.”

“But precisely this basic concern of Pope Francis would be highly topical in view of the disturbing recently published numbers of departures from the Church.”

The numbers he refers to are statistics issued last month which show a record number of Catholics left the Church in Germany in 2019.


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