A German priest has backed the ordination of women and married men and hit out at the new Vatican parish document he said betrays a “great alienation from reality”.
– “Neither theologically nor ecclesiastically is there anything against” married male priests
“I am very much in favour” of the Church considering the ordination of married men to the priesthood, the newly-elected spokesman for the priests of the Osnabrück diocese, Bernhard Stecker, revealed in a July 31 interview with the Weser Kurier newspaper.
“Of course a number of questions need to be answered”, Stecker admitted, citing as an example of those questions exactly how a married cleric could juggle the demands of the priesthood with the exercise of another profession, should he be involved in that, and suggesting the need for setting out “different criteria for the ministry” for men in second jobs.
“But neither theologically nor ecclesiastically is there anything against it”, Stecker insisted in terms of the ordination of married men.
“In some Catholic churches married priests have long been common practice, for example in the Eastern Churches, which follow the Byzantine rite”, the Osnabrück priest recalled.
“But this question must be considered in principle, not against the background of the lack of priests. I would see it as a gain for us clergy as a whole if there were also priests with their own families”, Stecker added.
– “It would help the clergy if women were part of it”
The spokesman of the priest of Osnabrück also revealed himself in the interview to be “open” to the possibility of female priests, but again, he stressed that the question of the ordination of women should be discussed on its merits, and not as a stopgap solution to the problem of declining male vocations.
“In my opinion, it would help the clergy and its social situation if women were part of it. There are great theological objections to it, from strong groups. There are valid objections that cannot be swept aside. But we have to face this question”, Stecker underlined.
Asked whether he might live to work one day with a female priest colleague, the Osnabrück priest admitted that “that is difficult to assess”.
“Many things that were previously thought impossible are suddenly happening. Perhaps one day there will be a regional solution, so that the Church in Germany will be allowed to look different from that in the USA, India or Nigeria. At the moment we see a lot of movement, but I am rather pessimistic about female priests”, Stecker acknowledged.
– Vatican parish document reveals “a very old and strongly priest-centered image of the Church”
On the question of the controversial new Vatican parish document – “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” – that was published by the Congregation for the Clergy July 20 and has given rise to a firestorm of criticism from Germany and beyond since that date, Stecker added his voice to those of the sceptics and described the document as “not only bad”, but representative of a “a very old and strongly priest-centered image of the Church” that betrayss “a great alienation from reality”.
If the instruction were enforced, “it would alienate the local Churches even further from Rome, not only in Germany. That would be fatal”, Stecker warned.
– Swiss Bishop of Basel: Vatican parish document “theologically deficient and clericalistically constricted”
Despite a Vatican offer to hold talks with bishops critical of the new parish instruction to clear up any “doubts and perplexity” on their part over the text, the steady stream of censures of the document is showing no signs of letting up, with Swiss bishop Felix Gmür and priest Stecker’s bishop in Osnabrück, Franz-Josef Bode, the latest bishops to respond to the instruction.
In a letter July 29 to the staff of the diocese, Bishop of Basel Gmür criticised the instruction as “theologically deficient and clericalistically constricted” in its insistence that only priests – and not deacons, religious or laypeople – may have full authority over parishes.
“The fact that the parish is to be so centered on the pastor does not correspond to our reality”, lamented Gmür, who is also the chair of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference.
He added that in the face of “the stale impression” the document leaves “that in the end it is all about the supremacy of the clergy”, the Basel diocese would continue with its model of lay-clerical co-responsibility for parishes.
Bishop Bode, for his part, responded directly August 1 to the Vatican invitation to further talks, but warned the only way forward was “a constructive dialogue with Rome”.
The Osnabrück bishop repeated his conviction that the only answer to the Vatican instruction was the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, which “discusses exactly the topics the paper deals with: the Church of participation, the shortage of priests, priestly forms of life and the involvement of women and men in the Church”.
The outcomes of the synodal path must now be met with at least a partial synod in Rome on the same issues, Bode warned, and not just a letter from the Vatican acknowledging receipt of the German Church’s conclusions in the reform process. “Otherwise I could not go to work with courage” on the discussion of the synodal path themes, Bode admitted.
“The instruction pose a risk of demotivation, but we must now make the most of it”, the Osnabrück bishop concluded.