A German parish priest has resigned his post and left the priesthood after decades of fighting from within for a more open Christianity, frustrated with what he called a “power-obsessed, arrogant Church”.

Driving the news

Last Sunday, the parish priest of Fröndenberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, Norbert Wohlgemuth, told his flock he was stepping down.

“I’ve received so much encouragement since then”, said Wohlgemuth.

He added that the positive reaction of his parishioners made him realise “how low the reputation of the Church has sunk when its own people react that way”.


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But what was it that finally broke Wohlgemuth’s resolve?

The priest admitted to his parishioners that he found non-existent or inadequate the Church’s answers to real-world problems.

He said the Church was still clinging to dogmas and doctrines instead of making space for women or keeping up with the pace of the modern world.

Wohlgemuth cited as other reasons for leaving his frustration with Catholic disunity with other Christians or the overriding concern of Church leaders with power.

He also blasted the Church’s discipline of compulsory celibacy for its ministers, saying the practice is “obsolete, power-based, inhumane and pathogenic” and “too deep an intervention in the intimate life of a priest”.

Another factor in Wohlgemuth’s decision to resign was the refusal of the Diocese of Paderborn to allow him time off “to breathe”.

“Employee care looks different”, lamented the priest.

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What’s next

Wohlgemuth said he hoped the “courage” he had shown in taking the dramatic step of resigning would encourage other priests to follow his example.

“I just can’t go on any longer. I want to make my life as a Christian different now – with less futility”, the priest told the media.

He said his next step would be to step back and to go on the pilgrimage of St. James.

After a sabbatical year of “doing nothing”, Wohlgemuth said he hoped to find future work as a freelance speaker.

For its part, the Diocese of Paderborn said it would make an announcement on Wohlgemuth’s case in coming days.

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