The Vatican has vetoed laypeople from talks it will hold with the German Bishops on Rome’s controversial parish instruction.

– Instruction addressed to bishops, so bishops are Vatican dialogue partners: Cardinal Stella

“In view of the fact that, because of its nature, this instruction is primarily addressed to the bishops (cf. can. 34 § 1 CIC), at this stage I consider them to be the necessary interlocutors of this Congregation”, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, wrote to the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, in an eight-page September 29 letter published by Herder Korrespondenz.

Stella was referring to the instruction published July 20 by the Congregation for the Clergy“The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” – which was met with fierce criticism in Germany and beyond due to its clericalist reinforcement of the leadership of priests at the expense of that of laypeople.

Responding to those criticisms, Cardinal Stella offered the German Bishops a chance to clear up their “doubts and perplexity” over the controversial document.

The German Bishops accepted Stella’s invitation, but suggested that the talks aimed at clarifying the document also involve the laity, as “bishops, priests, deacons and laypeople are equally addressed in the instruction”.

Specifically, the German Bishops’ proposal was that the president and vice-president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg and Karin Kortmann, also take part in the Vatican summit.

It is that possibility of including Sternberg and Kortmann in the talks about the instruction that Stella excluded in his latest letter to Bätzing, in which the cardinal also suggested November as a “favourable time” for the meeting.

Stella also revealed in his missive that he “spoke with the Holy Father on September 7 2020 about an appropriate response” to the German Church’s concerns about the parish instruction.

The cardinal furthermore rejected on his own authority the criticisms that have been levelled at the instruction, and insisted that it is based on nothing more than canon law and also that it must be read in the light of other Vatican documents.

“Just as the bishops are attentive and jealous that their prerogatives and rights are protected and respected, so it is just as right that they observe and recognise those canonical norms which concern the areas and competencies of the clergy, the religious and the laity”, Stella wrote to Bätzing.

– German Bishops still pushing for additional meeting with lay leaders

German Bishops’ spokesman Matthias Kopp acknowledged receipt October 26 of Cardinal Stella’s letter and of the “theological and canonical references to the mission of parishes” contained therein, and said the matter would be discussed in the Bishops’ Conference internally and also in the joint conference the prelates maintain with the leaders of the ZdK.

Stella and the officials of the Congregation for the Clergy “would first like to have a discussion with representatives of the German bishops”, Kopp recognised, adding that negotiations are already underway to fix a date for the talks.

However, the German Bishops’ spokesman also insisted that Bishops’ chair Bätzing also considers “reasonable” another discussion with ZdK president and vice-president Sternberg and Kortmann, who are also, along with Bätzing and his deputy Franz-Josef Bode, on the presidency of the German Church’s “synodal path” reform process.

Bishop Bätzing “will discuss with the Congregation” when that additional meeting with Sternberg and Kortmann can take place, Kopp said.

More on Novena on the Vatican’s controversial parish instruction:

Young German Catholics appeal for gender justice in Church as Bishops accept Vatican dialogue on parish instruction… with a catch

Women religious support German bishops critical of “ridiculous” Vatican instruction on parishes

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

Vatican fires back at German bishops after criticisms of parish reform instruction but offers chance to clear up “doubts and perplexity”


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