Lay theologians empowered to perform baptisms in German diocese

Lay theologians

The Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart in Germany has given the green light for twenty-six lay theologians, both male and female, to administer the sacrament of baptism during church liturgies.

This decision follows in the footsteps of the Diocese of Essen, which in March allowed non-ordained theologians to conduct baptisms.

Bishop Gebhard Fuerst officially commissioned these theologians at a ceremony held at Rottenburg Cathedral on Wednesday evening. The event marked a historic step toward contemporary pastoral care.

Regina Seneca, one of the theologians, emphasised the significance of this move. She stated that it aligns with the evolving needs of pastoral care in the present day.

Bishop Fürst says the diocese complies with canon law and is also following an instruction the Vatican issued in 2020 on the pastoral conversion of parishes. That document states that a lack of priests is a justification for authorising lay people to preside at baptisms.

The diocese also refers to the recommendations from Germany’s Synodal Path, a body that is mapping out Church reforms and the search for “gender justice”.

“The bishop’s motivation is to do everything to promote gender justice in the Church” said Fürst’s auxiliary, Bishop Matthäus Karrer.

Karrer said this reform would certainly not have happened without “pressure from the base” and a women’s forum formed within the diocesan council.

Other dioceses, including Aachen, are considering similar moves towards laypeople filling traditional church roles.

Priests will rarely baptise

Nonetheless, these advances are creating debate among theologians.

For example, Austrian priest Joachim Heimerl, who is very critical of Germany’s Synodal Path, said such reforms are part of “a politicisation and secularisation of the Church”, not a way “to ensure the administration of the sacraments.

“This means that priests and deacons will hardly ever baptise again” Heimerl claimed.

“Baptism by a lay person – previously allowed only in emergencies – will become the norm. The laity will seize it and defend it against the clergy” he predicted.

Approximately 10,000 children are baptised each year in the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese. The initiative reflects a broader one within the German Synodal Path.

The inclusion of Catholic lay theologians in liturgical functions is a response to the call to address clericalism, perceived by some as a contributing factor to instances of sexual abuse within the Church.


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