“I consider the reform process in the Church to be essential”, a German bishop has insisted.

– On women’s ordination and abolition of compulsory celibacy, “I am in favour of an open discussion”

Heiner Wilmer, 59 years old and bishop of the Hildesheim diocese since 2018, made the remark in an interview July 20 with the Rheinische Post newspaper in Düsseldorf.

In the conversation, the bishop – a long-outspoken advocate for changes in the Church – renewed his plea for a no holds barred discussion on how to reinvigorate the Catholic institution.

In the unavoidable talks on reforms, nothing must be off the table, Wilmer said, including the ordination of women and the abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy.

“I am in favour of an open discussion and personally trust in the Holy Spirit”, the bishop explained.

– “People, not institutions, must be at the centre of all reforms”

As for the reforms the Church needs to undertake – apart from married male and female priests – Bishop Wilmer signalled three in particular: priestly formation, priestly ministry and Church financing.

Each of those areas, the bishop went on to explain, undergirded by the conviction that “people, not institutions, must be at the centre of all reforms”.

That, and the belief that the Church’s mission is “to be with the people and make sure that the increasing cold in our society is transformed back into warmth”, Wilmer said.

– Wants more true-to-life training for seminarians, non-full-time pastors and worker priests, possible revision of German ‘Church tax’

On the issue of training for future priests – currently a hot topic of debate in the German Church after the country’s Bishops presented June 23 a controversial working document for the reform of seminaries – Wilmer stressed that “the formation of priests must be better anchored in people’s horizons of experience, so that it doesn’t become aloof and closed-off”.

As a way of guaranteeing more true-to-life ministry experiences for seminarians, the bishop suggested, for example, that their training be linked from the outset to contacts with lay parish workers.

On the question of priestly ministry in the future, Wilmer affirmed that it would be an enrichment for the whole Church “if we had priests again in the future who are not full-time pastors”.

Priests, the bishop said – again as an example – like the worker priests of the 1940s and 50s in France, who worked as factory and dock workers and the like and thus showed solidarity with the workforce.

Wilmer, lastly, had an opinion on Germany’s system of Church financing, which showed its utility just this Monday when the German Bishops reported that they received a total 6.76 billion euros from the country’s ‘Church tax’ in 2019, up 112 million euro or 1.8% on the 6.64 billion euros they collected in 2018.

Speaking to those Church tax figures, the Hildesheim bishop said that “the German system with the Church tax is very reliable and enables the Churches in this country to fulfil their mission for the people and society in a good way”.

That praise for the system aside, however, Wilmer also expressed appreciation for the Italian Church financing system: the so-called ‘Eight per thousand’, where tax donations are voluntary – unlike in Germany – and can also be directed to the State for social and humanitarian purposes.

More stories on Novena on Bishop Heiner Wilmer:

German bishop Wilmer blames mass Church desertions on tired old parish-centred pastoral model

German bishop Wilmer urges “spiritual revolution”: “We have to break out of the prison of a perfect Church”

COVID-19: German bishop Wilmer blasts Catholics’ “obsession” with Eucharist

German bishop warns Church refusal to reform “a betrayal of the Gospel”

German Catholic bishop welcomes Protestant proposal of ecumenical congregations


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.