A German bishop has launched a tirade against clericalism, insisting that “a priest is not holier or more valuable by virtue of his office”.

– “Priest, you are the messenger, not the message – ultimately it is not about you”

“Jesus is very critical of human power. He knows about the dangers of power when it is no longer about the responsibility that someone takes on, but about self-affirmation and self-exaltation”, Bishop of Mainz Peter Kohlgraf said in a sermon at a priestly ordination October 24.

Indeed, the bishop recalled that dotted throughout the whole New Testament are warnings about power making people “selfish” and trapping them in a kind of “addiction” that leads them to seek greater and greater influence.

For that reason, Kohlgraf urged his priests to always look for inspiration in the example of Jesus, who “washes the feet of his disciples and… repeatedly relinquishes his power in order to put himself at the service of people”.

“Priest, you are the messenger, not the message – ultimately it is not about you” was how Kohlgraf summed up his message to the presbyters of the diocese, as he also reminded them that their credibility is not given automatically but instead must be earned, and urged them never to hide behind the “façade” of their ordination.

– “A priest can only do his job well if he sees himself as part of God’s people”

In his homily Saturday, Kohlgraf took inspiration from some words of Pope Francis’: “The pastor in relation to his flock does not always go ahead; sometimes he must do so to indicate the way to the faithful; sometimes he must stay in the middle to appreciate what is happening, to understand his own; sometimes he must stay at the rear to protect the vulnerable”.

“As ordained people in the service of the people of God, we are on the road with the people of God”, Kohlgraf reminded his priests, insisting that “a priest can only do his job well if he sees himself as part of God’s people”.

A priest “is not holier or more valuable because of his office”, the bishop said, explaining that it is rather the task of the priest “to motivate, encourage and enable the believers to find their own charism, their own path of faith, and to bring it to Church and society”.

“Things go wrong in the Church wherever the different members of the Body of Christ experience each other as competitors or even as threats”, Kohlgraf continued.

“What is needed, therefore, is ‘synodality’, i.e. walking the path together, struggling together to discern the spirits.

“The priest does not per se have a closer relationship with Christ or with the Spirit of God. From the very beginning of the Church it was a matter of living and forming a community of prayer, faith and charity”, the bishop explained with respect to the role of priests.

– Do not “hide” the Gospel in “theological jargon” and “meaningless formulas”

Also in his homily at the ordination, Kohlgraf reminded clerics that “the people in whose midst the priest must live are not only the baptised faithful”.

“We must not develop any fear of contact with the people of our time, with their joys and hopes, fears and worries”, the bishop said, also urging priests not to “hide” the Good News “in a special ecclesiastical world, in theological jargon and in meaningless formulas in such a way that it cannot unfold its power”.

Returning to the Pope’s words, Kohlgraf said that there are times in the life of a priest when he must bring up the rear when accompanying the flock, “to encourage those who feel that things are going too fast, who are running out of air in society and in the Church”, and to tend to “the least, the hangers-on, who have no lobby and no loud voice”.

“Not only in society, but also in the Church, it is often the loud, the fit, the strong, who set the pace and the direction. We must be careful that others have their say”, Kohlgraf insisted in that respect of the priest encouraging the weaker.

The bishop finished his sermon with a piece of advice for his priests from Pope John XXIII: “Do not take yourself too seriously”.

“On many subjects in the Church, I can say from experience that the capacity to relativise one’s own claim to truth is not always strong. There is indeed nothing to relativise in the proclamation of Christ’s love, but one can and must always step back and trust in Christ and place one’s own life in his hands”, Kohlgraf concluded.

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