A German priest has urged the Church to learn the “basics of modern society” and thereby regain relevance.

– “How is the Church going to stand up for democracy when it is itself monarchical and clerical?”

“The Church suffers from a glaring loss of relevance”, with “many” in society asking “What is the Church still there for anyway?”, priest and author Stefan Jürgens admitted in a guest article in the Münster diocesan publication Kirche + Leben August 4.

Personnel constraints but also a lack of motivation and confidence mean local parishes, dioceses and even the Vatican often avoid the big issues such as peace, justice and preservation of Creation to content themselves “with ensuring the provision of services and celebrating biographical events – baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages [and] funerals”, observed Jürgens, a pastor in the North Rhine-Westphalian village of Ahaus.

But the lack of committed, motivated and confident Catholics isn’t the only thing holding the Church back from making a greater contribution to society, the priest continued: the institution is also suffering from a tremendous lack of credibility as a result of its hypocrisy.

“How is the Church going to stand up for democracy when it is itself monarchical and clerical?”, Jürgens asked.

“How can it concern itself for equal rights as long as it discriminates against half of its members? How can it want to be taken seriously morally after all the evildoers in its own ranks? How can it dare to pray for priestly vocations as long as it equates its tradition with the will of God?”, the priest demanded.

– Church “didn’t do its homework” on societal progress “and thereby lost much of its relevance”

The hypocrisy of the institution aside, Jürgens also wondered in his article whether the Church and its members are really interested in making a difference or whether they are content with mere “declarations of intent” on social issues.

Human rights could be an issue the Church could speak louder on, “but these were initially considered devilish things by the Church and were only appreciated in the Second Vatican Council”, the priest recalled.

Environmental and climate protection could also be an area the Church could make further contributions in, but even after Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ landmark 2015 encylical on care for our Common Home, many Catholics are content to repeat the talking points while making minimal changes to their habits of consumption and pollution, Jürgens lamented.

“We get declarations of intent just fine, but in reality nothing happens”, the priest went on, adding ironically that often it seems the Church and its members are leaders in society only with respect to keeping themselves busy.

The Church and what it has to offer are no longer talking points in society today because the institution “did not do its own homework” on societal progress “and thereby lost much of its relevance”, Jürgens deplored.

The priest added that as long as the Church “does not know the basics of modern society, it will also be mistrusted spiritually”.

– “If the synodal path fails, the Church will become a sect”

How then can the Church win back credibility and relevance?

In the German context at least, Jürgens launched a spirited defence of that national Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, in which German bishops, priests, laypeople and non-Catholic experts are re-evaluating doctrine and practice thought to have contributed to the scandal of priestly pedophilia, including abuses of power and authority, the marginalisation of women, compulsory priestly celibacy and an overly-restrictive Catholic sexual morality.

Priest Jürgens urged German synodal path participants to get “to the heart of the matter” of the Church’s crisis of credibility and to “address the home-grown problems” in the institution “so that we can again credibly stand up for a political Christianity in the midst of the world”.

“Don’t be intimidated by those permanently-insulted rulers and authorities who act like little Sun Kings according to the motto ‘L’Eglise c’est moi’“, Jürgens pleaded with the synodal path delegates, reminding them that “if the synodal path fails, the Church will become a ghetto socially… it will become a sect”.

“Do not be afraid (Lk 2:10), be strong and bold (Deut 31:6), and do not abandon your confidence (Heb 10:35)!”, the priest invited those on the German Church’s renewal path.

More on Novena on the need for reform in the Church:

Young people share hopes for post-lockdown Church not afraid “to be challenged, to learn, to adapt and to grow”

German theologian: Church needs “radical change” to exit “dead end” on vital reforms

German missionary warns democracy in Church “only way out” of “dead end of feudalism, clericalism and traditionalism”

German bishop insists: reform process in the Church is “essential”


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