A German priest has urged the Church to shed the “ballast” of those traditions he believes are “hindering” it.

– A call to look again at intercommunion, role of women

“I think we have to shed a lot of the ballast that is called tradition, which has grown historically but which is hindering us more and more”, Nuremberg dean Hubertus Förster told KNA in an August 29 interview.

“Why don’t we take the Holy Scripture and look at what is really in it and what is the intention of Jesus?”, asked the priest, 70, who is retiring after twelve years as what KNA called the “Catholic face” in the second-largest city in the state of Bavaria, after state capital Munich.

As an example of that “ballast” the Church can shed, Förster pointed to the “unfortunate controversy about the Common Supper in mixed-denominational marriages”.

The priest was referring to a 2018 dispute between the German Bishops over the permission the majority of the country’s episcopate granted to the Protestant spouses of Catholics to receive the Eucharist “in individual cases” and in situations of “grave spiritual need”.

The German bishops who were against granting that permission appealed to Rome, as a result of which the tentative opening to Catholic-Protestant Eucharistic sharing was watered down into what Förster called “a catalogue of demands… which couples have to fulfill”.

Those rules on intercommunion “simply had the effect of a prohibition” on Protestants approaching the altar at Catholic Masses, where “the intention of the Lord’s Supper is quite different”, Förster lamented.

Another example of “ballast” that is weighing the Church down, in the priest’s opinion, is that of the marginalisation of women in Catholicism, when “in the time of the early Church, women were responsible for the feast from which the Eucharist developed”.

“We must be with the people instead of wearing ourselves out in such skirmishes”, Förster urged.

– Why not fill Church offices “more democratically”?

What might the Church look like when it finally sheds the “ballast” – in Förster’s expression – of centuries of encumbering tradition, and can finally sail with the wind of the Spirit?

A hint can be found in the way Förster’s successor as Nuremberg dean will be chosen next month – with the votes of an equal number of priests and laypeople.

Commenting on that uncommon if not unique system of election for Church office, Förster asked: “Why not? Why must the pastor be appointed from above?”

The priest recalled that “there is a moment in the liturgy of ordination when the seminary rector is asked whether the ordination candidates have been found worthy”.

“The answer is then that the people and those responsible have been consulted and have found them worthy. But where was that [consultation] done?”, Förster asked.

In any case, the priest pointed out that that reference to consultation in the ordination liturgy “shows that in the past the people were questioned” about the worthiness of candidates for the priesthood.

“So it would be nothing new to fill offices more democratically”, Förster insisted, criticising the “aura” the Church cultivates also in the appointment of bishops, for example.

– Bishops should “ignore” or “rebel” against controversial Vatican parish instruction

Other issues Förster tackled in his interview with KNA included the growing tide of secularisation he said has forced Christians as a whole into minority status in Nuremberg.

In the short term, “the Church will no longer be able to do everything, as it will also be smaller in terms of personnel. We need a vision of the future”, the priest insisted.

Förster made a specific plea that lay volunteers take on the administration of parishes “so that pastors have time for their actual work”, administering Sacraments and the like.

That greater responsibility for laypeople in the parish was something the Vatican ruled out in its July 20 instruction on parish life, for which reason Förster called on the German Bishops to “simply ignore” the controversial text.

“Or rebel?”, the priest asked. “As a (pre-conciliar) child I learned that the Church is led ‘by the Pope and the bishops’. At present they are probably the recipients of orders from a few busybody curial cardinals”, he speculated.

More on Novena on calls for Church reform:

German bishop says need for Catholic renewal not about saving Church but rediscovering gospel

German vicar general calls for equal rights for women in Church leadership, “open debate” on Catholic “fundamental questions”

German bishop alerts: “We can no longer build our Church life on traditions alone”

German priest backs ordination of women, married men; hits out at Vatican parish document “alienated from reality”


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