Laity must be included in Rome – Germany parish document talks

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The German bishops, planning to talk with the Vatican about parish reform want laity included in the discussion.

News of the move came after a meeting of the bishops’ conference 27 member Permanent Council, reports the German Catholic news agency KNA.

The Conference’s permanent council says Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg (pictured), would “accept the offer of conversation made by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella” to discuss the new instruction about parishes.

The Conference says Bätzing “will suggest to the Congregation that the conversation be conducted with the Presidium of the Synodal Way, since bishops, priests, deacons and laity are equally addressed in the instruction.”

This means Bätzing will be accompanied by laity representing the “Synodal Process” underway in Germany.

After several German bishops criticized the instruction, which stresses the canon law that only priests can direct the pastoral care of parishes, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, said he would be happy to receive them to “remove doubts and perplexity.”

At that time he said the meeting could take place “in due course” if the bishops wished to present their objections to the new instruction about parishes, which the Congregation issued on 20 July.

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

The Vatican recently blocked a plan by the German Diocese of Trier to turn 800 parishes into 35. 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.”

The instruction encourages parishes to see themselves above all as a “missionary community,” he says.

There has been a mixed reaction from the German prelates about the new instruction.

While several bishops have concerns about it, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt expressed their gratitude for the text.

Cardinal Walter Kasper is 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.”

Kasper was referring to statistics issued last month which showed that a record number of Catholics left the Church in Germany in 2019.

A date for the meeting between the Vatican and the German bishops and their party has not yet been made.


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