Two German dioceses are warning that the traditional model of parishes led solely by priests are soon to be the “exception”.

Driving the news

In the latest December issue of its magazine Moment, the diocese of Magdeburg, in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, issued a call to “more shared responsibility” on the part of laypeople if the Church is to survive into the future.

“In view of the continuing decline in the number of priests in active ministry, the leadership of the parish by a pastor will be the exception in the medium term”, the magazine warned.

Instead of the “obvious solution” of reducing the number of parishes in the diocese – currently at 44 – Moment recommended that “the parishes should, if possible, be preserved in their present form”.

But it said that to avoid parish cuts the diocese needs “dedicated and responsible Christians” to assume more responsibilities and “to actively help shape the Church of tomorrow”, by running for parish council positions, for example.

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For his part, in a pastoral visit to the Bergstrasse-Mitte in Heppenheim December 3, Mainz Bishop Peter Kohlgraf called for an “understanding of leadership that includes shared leadership, where leadership can be given, if necessary, to non-ordained people”.

“The image of the priest as a lone warrior is in my opinion out of date and actually it was never up to date”, Kohlgraf explained.

That model of the priest taking charge of everything in a parish is a particular bugbear of the bishop’s.

Last year, for example, Kohlgraf insisted that “the image of the senior, all-in-one lone warrior at the head of a parish or pastoral unity has long ceased to function”.

On that occasion, the bishop called for “sharing” responsibility in pastoral co-existence instead of focusing on the spiritual power and authority of lone individuals.

Why it matters

On his pastoral visit the bishop praised the members of the Bergstrasse-Mitte deanery for their advances already in team cooperation and collaboration, which he said are key ideas in the context of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process.

In contrast to the Diocese of Magdeburg – which is not presently contemplating a cut in the number of its communities – the Diocese of Mainz is planning to reduce the number of its parishes by half, from 134 to about 60, as part of a 2021-2030 reform process, Kohlgraf said last September.

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