“We can no longer build our Christianity and Church life on traditions alone”, a German bishop has alerted.

– “If Christianity is now only an institution, then it is inevitable that people will turn their backs on the Church”

“If Christianity is now only an institution, a reservoir of great theories, then it is inevitable that people will turn their backs on the Church and Christianity, that it will gradually become uninteresting”, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of the Mainz diocese warned at the weekend at a priestly ordination.

According to the Bishop of Mainz, the key change the Church must make to keep piquing the interest of modern men and women is to move from being solely a storehouse of tradition to being a place where people can really feel and experience God.

“People must have experiences of faith; they must experience how beautiful it can be to believe in God, how good it is to belong to a community of faith, then they will be interested in faith, then they will remain Christians”, Kohlgraf emphasised.

– “We have to look for the real reasons for faith more than just habits”

The Mainz bishop took as the starting point for his sermon at the ordination a quote from the great Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984), widely regarded as one of the most important Catholic theologians of the 20th century.

“The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, or he will not be at all. He will be someone who has experienced God, or he will cease to be a Christian”, Rahner once said.

“Today we can clearly feel that Karl Rahner was right”, Kohlgraf claimed, adding that today in the Church “we have to look for the real reasons for faith more than just habits and offer people these reasons convincingly”.

– A warning to priests against “eloquent words” and “clever argumentation”

As well as warning the Church that it must change focus if it wishes to secure a future for itself, Bishop Kohlgraf had words in his homily for the new priest he ordained in the Mainz cathedral – Carmelite Brother Severin Tyburski – and for the rest of Tyburski’s new priest colleagues.

Priests should “remind people of God’s presence, but not with eloquent words or clever argumentation”, the Mainz bishop said.

Whoever receives the sacrament of holy orders should let others in to “his experiences of faith”, into “his questions and his closeness to God”, into “his doubts, so that God does not remain a beautiful theory”, Kohlgraf implored.

Making the Good News relevant today requires first and foremost not a “beautiful new wrapping” for the gospel but above all “witnesses” or “mystics” that have really “experienced something” in their faith and thereby can pass it on, the prelate added.

– A bishop critical of the Vatican instruction on parishes and committed to reform

Bishop Kohlgraf’s appeal to test the spirits on Church tradition isn’t just rhetorical. The Mainz bishop is also following through practically on the need for Church reform, most recently with the critical position he has taken on the recent Vatican instruction on the future of parishes.

“I cannot accept the interference in my episcopal pastoral care so easily”, Kohlgraf denounced soon after the release of the Congregation for the Clergy text, which has been widely criticised for its reinforcement of the superiority of the priest and the inferiority of laypeople.

The Mainz bishop also expressed his concerns about the effects of the Roman instruction on his priests and laypeople.

“Many priests complain about being overburdened with administration and bureaucracy. According to the instruction, however, this is precisely what the priests are supposed to do”, Kohlgraf deplored.

The bishop added that lay men and women committed to the Church and carrying out responsibilities in parishes will soon “have had enough” of the suspicion and judgment from Rome, in the same way that – according to Kohlgraf – potential Catholics are driven away from the Church by such displays of authority from the Vatican.

More on Novena on the controversial recent Vatican instruction on parishes:

German bishops protest en masse over “absurd”, “theologically deficient” Vatican instruction on parish reform

Rome fires back at German bishops after criticisms of Vatican instruction on parishes but offers chance to clear up “doubts and perplexity”

Women religious support German bishops critical of “ridiculous” Vatican instruction on parishes

German priest backs ordination of women, married men; hits out at Vatican parish instruction “alienated from reality”

Vatican faces more pushback on new parish instruction… this time from Church in Malta on fees for sacraments


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