German dioceses are accusing the Vatican of harbouring a “fundamental fear of the visibility of the laity” in its new instruction on parish life.

– “Status quo cemented” in document that has lost sight of “reality”

That Roman authorities are afraid of laypeople taking up a more prominent place in the life of the local Church is the sensation chairman of the Berlin Diocesan Council of Catholics, Bernd Streich, admitted to having after reading the text published yesterday by the Congregation for the Clergy: “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church”.

In comments reported by, a news service of the German Bishops’ Conference, Streich said that not only is “the status quo cemented” in the new Congregation for the Clergy document, but that the text “even falls behind the reality of the charism-oriented cooperation between laity and clergy in many parishes and communities”.

Despite the fact that the Vatican has now reinforced the authority of the priest in the parish and put a stop to innovative and situationally-appropriate approaches to the leadership of congregations, in Streich’s opinion, he nonetheless said the lay body he leads is grateful that in many places pastoral care and leadership tasks are shared between laypeople and clerics.

“Laypeople are more than stopgaps or mere advisors… they secure the life of our Church and carry the good news further through their witness”, Streich insisted.

– Speyer diocese vicar general: Lay-clerical co-responsibility “not a threat” but an opportunity

Layman Streich isn’t the only German Church figure to have spoken out against the new Vatican document.

According to, vicar general of the Diocese of Speyer Andreas Sturm also criticised the new text, saying he was disappointed “that the attempts of the dioceses to deal constructively with the lack of priests and to find new ways of pastoral care are receiving such little support from the Congregation for the Clergy”.

Sturm affirmed that for him, joint lay-clerical co-responsibility for parishes – a possibility excluded by the Vatican in the new instruction – is “not a threat but a chance for the parishes and also for the priests”.

Not only does priests sharing duties with deacons, religious and laypeople strengthen unity in a congregation and inject the parish with different points of view, but leaving everything to the priest – as the Vatican is now encouraging – tends to promote feelings of being overwhelmed and of burnout in the ordained, the Speyer vicar general lamented.

– Trier diocese – already put in line by Rome – “encouraged” by new text

Sturm said that after having cut the number of parishes in Speyer some years back the diocese was not looking at undertaking a further restructuring, but he did warn that even with the reduced number of congregations the local Church is still facing a shortage of priests and even of pastoral volunteers.

In those dioceses in which ambitious parish restructurings are already underway, however, the reaction to the Congregation for the Clergy instruction has been just as intense, with the Diocese of Trier, for example, lamenting in a statement that the new indications for bishops and parishes “come as no surprise”.

Trier bishop Stephan Ackermann and his curial co-workers had already had a preview of the instruction on June 5, when they were summoned to Rome to explain their plan – contested by laypeople and clergy in the diocese – to merge 887 parishes in the diocese into 35.

In that June meeting with Trier Church authorities, Vatican officials laid down a series of “red lines” for the local parish restructuring – including the reassertion of the authority of the priest – which the Trier diocese noted in its press release Monday were much the same as those contained in the instruction.

“With the instruction, the framework conditions for parish reforms are clearly marked”, the Trier diocese acknowledged.

However, the bishop and his collaborators said they saw themselves “encouraged” by the new instruction to continue with a 2013-2016 diocesan synod mandate to reform the diocese and give a “missionary and diaconal orientation” to the Church in Trier.

With the ongoing help of ideas brought forward at thay synod that mandated the reduction of parishes, “we want ‘to identify perspectives that allow for the renewal of ‘traditional’ Parish structures in terms of mission’ and we supplement diaconia“, the Trier authorities stated, echoing paragraph 20 of the Congregation for the Clergy instruction.

– Disappointment and irritation now on the ‘synodal path’ reform process?

In its report today on reactions in the German dioceses to the Congregation for the Clergy document, noted that many local Churches are reluctant to comment on the text for the moment, preferring instead to read it in-depth and consider it thoroughly first.

However, the Vatican clampdown in the instruction on lay-clerical co-responsibility for parishes is likely to cause widespread frustration in the German Church, which is presently in the middle of a two-year ‘synodal path’ Church reform process considering possibe changes to Church doctrine and practice precisely on power, participation and the separation of powers in the Church and on the priestly form of life, among other issues.

The fact that the Vatican has now jumped the gun on those questions is only likely to produce disappointment and irritation.

More on Novena on the new Vatican instruction:

Opinion: Vatican instruction on parish life buries dream of lay-clerical co-responsibility

Vatican strengthens role of priests in local church governance, says only they should lead parishes, not laypeople

More on innovations in Germany in lay-clerical co-responsibility:

Pioneering German layman takes on role of parish ‘pastor’: “This is only the beginning of new paths for the Church”

German diocese experiments with non-priest-centred parish models

Vatican accused of “cementing clericalism” with ‘no’ to German Trier diocese’s parish merger plan


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