The Vatican instruction on the reform of Catholic parishes continues to stir debate in Germany, where some bishops say the current parish model with a priest in charge is no longer sustainable because of a lack of vocations.
Former Cardinal Walter Kasper defended the paper following widespread criticism, such as by Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, who said: “In no manner does the instruction take note of the fact that we in Germany – but also in many other countries of the universal Church – can no longer shape Church life according to the model of the people’s Church we have known up till now.” Critics especially cited the lack of priests.
The German Catholic news agency KNA reported that, in a guest commentary for the Church website domradio.de in Cologne, Cardinal Kasper wrote: ‘The German criticism completely misses the actual point of the instruction, the pastoral conversion to missionary pastoral work.’
Cardinal Kasper, who was responsible for ecumenical relations at the Vatican for many years, said the first chapters of the document and the summary made extensive reference to the common responsibility of the whole congregation. Emphasising the responsibility of the parish priest was theologically legitimate, he said.
He added that the ‘perennial debate’ over celibacy, the ordination of women priests and management teams was causing uncertainty, which was to blame for the shortage of priests, alongside other factors. The cardinal said the document tied bishops to enforceable criteria if they want to restructure parishes.
Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki also praised the instruction and thanked Pope Francis for the guidance it provided.
The 22-page document, titled The pastoral conversion of the parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church, was released by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy on 20th July.
While it does not introduce new legislation on pastoral care, the Vatican press office said it was developed by the congregation as a guide related “to the various projects of reform of parish communities and diocesan restructuring, already underway or in the planning process”. It also clarifies the role of the deacons, consecrated men and women, as well as the laity, in dioceses where there is a shortage or lack of priests.
Picture: The towers of St Peter’s Cathedral in Regensburg, Germany, are in view in this 2016 photo. The Vatican instruction on the reform of Catholic parishes continues to stir debate in Germany, where some bishops say the current parish model with a priest in charge is no longer sustainable because of a lack of vocations. (CNS photo/Maria Irl, KNA).