The former Benedictine Abbot Primate has questioned the hierarchies the Church takes for granted, saying “I find none of it in the Gospels”.

– “Power is actually not a particularly Christian category”

German monk Notker Wolf, who was the worldwide leader of the Order of St. Benedict between 2000 and 2016, has just released a new book – after having written some twenty already in his distinguished ecclesiastical career to date – dealing with power and authority in the Church and entitled There is Another Way.

Speaking with Domradio about the new volume, Wolf was humble enough to admit he doesn’t have all the answers on what is a hot-button issue for the Church worldwide, saying instead “I prefer to question”.

The Benedictine, however, did admit that “power is actually not a particularly Christian category”, and put forward a quote of Christ’s in the Gospels to back up that assertion.

Wolf recalled that Jesus told his followers in Mark’s Gospel (10:42-44): “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all”.

So here in the foundational texts of Christianity “is something quite different”, Wolf pointed out, explaining that even if “of course I need authority to do something”, in the Gospels that authority “looks completely different”.

To clear up any doubt that he was importing into theology secular criticisms of power and leadership, Wolf immediately clarified: “I don’t want to be revolutionary. I want to live according to the gospel. And if it is revolutionary, okay”.

– “Don’t be arrogant” and “don’t oppress”

Living according to the gospel, the Benedictine explained, consists in keeping “within the right framework” humans’ “natural tendencies: towards wealth, possessions, recognition, vanity and everything”.

“I can… rejoice in something beautiful. Why not? But if it becomes vanity? I can rejoice in recognition. But if I want to make a show of it, then I am back to what the Gospel says… If you pray, don’t put it on display… Don’t be arrogant. This is the problem because I am using it to oppress others”, Wolf explained.

Asked whether a “bottom-up” Church would be more in line with gospel values than a top-down one, Wolf was cautious.

Though the Benedictine brought to mind St. Paul’s famous conviction that all Christians are one and equal in Jesus, mentioned that that principle is the ideal which monks strive to put into practice in their life together and also stressed that the Church must always come back to Gospel values – “otherwise we can pack up” – he also admitted that “I am always afraid of structural changes” in the Church.

The reason? Structural changes, for Wolf, “mean[] coming from fixed structures from the past into new, fixed structures – and then you are stuck again”.

Instead of structural changes, then, the Benedictine counselled Catholics to remember always that “we have to keep moving”.

“The Church is a pilgrim people of God, constantly on the move. Of course, [we] also need fixed structures. But they must not become rigid”, he cautioned.

– Praise for the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process

Exactly how to keep the Church on the move with fixed – but not rigid – structures Wolf hinted in a follow-up interview with KNA for his 80th birthday.

The Benedictine gave his backing to the German Church’s ongoing two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process looking with bishops, priests, laypeople and outside experts at possible changes to Church doctrine and practice on compulsory priestly celibacy, the exercise of power and authority in the institution, Catholic sexual morality and the role of women in the Church.

“In my opinion, such a process should run all the time”, Wolf argued.

More stories on Novena on the Church’s problems with abuses of power:

“Total exploitation”: Former Vatican journalist hits out at priests’ treatment of nuns

Irish laypeople denounce bishops’ refusal to publish reports on state of dioceses: “The clericalist culture of secrecy must end”

French Church pedophilia commissioner warns of link between “hierarchical function” and “systemic” abuse

German theologian claims ‘Querida Amazonia’ seeks to end “clerical monopoly”, clear way for women cardinals


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.