Vatican Document on Parish Reform Poorly Received in Germany

August 11, 2020
The German Bishops’ Conference.

On July 20, 2020, the congregation of the Clergy published an instruction on “The pastoral conversion of the parish community at the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.” The text was received in Germany by a concert of reproaches.

Many German bishops and theologians have criticized the document, which they believe is retrograde. Among them are Bishops Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz and Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen. Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick said the instruction brought “more harm than good” to the Church and its missionary mandate, and that the Roman document was theologically flawed.

Archbishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart announced that he would stick to the diocesan model for entrusting laity with mandates. Archbishop Stephan Burger said he would stick to the parish reform led by the Archdiocese of Freiburg. Bishop Franz Jung of Würzburg laments the lack of innovative approaches, while Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Treves, regrets that the instruction limits the personal responsibility of bishops and dioceses.

In contrast, the Cardinal of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, praised the instruction, as did the Bishop of Augsburg, Bertram Meier, who positively received the Vatican text.

In the first part, the document multiplies the quotations from Pope Francis declaring the urgency of rethinking the parish to mobilize the People of God in the evangelization project. The text accumulates analyzes on the transformation of the social fabric, its fragmentation, the loss of territorial landmarks, and the need to adapt.

The second part studies the technical apparatus necessary for the overhaul of parishes. That is what is strongly criticized by the German episcopate. It makes the necessary reminders as to the different authorities in the Church and their powers, as to the rules to be observed and the canonical details of their implementation. It does not foresee any innovation for the laity, to whom the new law already entrusts many missions.

There is little to expect from this new instruction from the Vatican, because what has been lacking since Vatican II is a true missionary spirit, forged in a pure and honest faith and animated by a devouring charity, far from sterilizing ecumenical concerns and misguided interreligious dialogue. Ignorant of supernatural faith, the people of God cannot mobilize themselves or achieve any result. One can only give what one has.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx called for greater mutual listening in the Church: “It is a little strange that a document arrives from Rome without ever having been discussed with us. Is this the coexistence of the universal Church with the particular Church that they have desired? Not really!”, he declared on Friday, July 24 in the Munich cathedral.

And he added: “It is not for one person to proclaim something and for others to simply follow, but to listen to each other, to learn together, to absorb the experiences of the local Church—which is missing from the document that has been released these days. As if in Germany we had never thought of missionary parishes!”

Cardinal Marx finally welcomed the impetus given by Pope Francis for a Synodal Church, and recalled that the members of the reform council of the Roman Curia, which Pope Francis established and of which he himself is a part, had said on several occasions, “that the Curia is not simply an organ of control over the bishops, but a help to the whole Church, so that the Church remains together.”

Obviously the congregation of the Clergy lacked the synodal spirit. Rest assured, the German synodal path will continue on its way and show the way to the backwards Romans.