Women religious are supporting the German bishops who criticised a recent “ridiculous” Vatican instruction on parishes.

– “The Vatican wants to bring the German Church to reason and push the process of the synodal path in a certain direction”

The “Religious Women for Human Dignity”, a group of ten nuns from different communities in the greater Munich area, has organised a petition backing those German prelates who have come out swinging against the Vatican instruction on parishes – “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” – published July 20 by the Congregation for the Clergy.

“We get the impression that although the text is addressed to the entire world Church, it wants to bring the German Church to reason and push the process of the synodal path in a certain direction”, the religious denounced in a statement August 3 presenting the petition.

That reference to the ‘synodal path’ was an allusion to the two-year process of renewal of Church doctrine and practice around power and authority in the institution, Catholic sexual morality, compulsory priestly celibacy and the place of women in Catholicism that the bishops, priests and laypeople of the German Church are presently engaged in with the help of outside experts, but which Vatican authorities have shown themselves critical of.

– Instruction “in no way address the needs of the faithful and the specific situation of local churches”

Many sceptics of the Vatican instruction on parishes have noted that the first part of the text, with its warnings, for example, against parishes “becoming self-referential and fossilised, offering experiences that are devoid of evangelical flavour and missionary drive” (17) or against them “preserving a nostalgia of former times as opposed to looking to the future with courage” (16) contains much to subscribe to.

But those same critics have also noted that the document’s own call for parishes “to read the signs of the times” and “to produce new signs” in the shape of “new forms of accompaniment and closeness” goes unheeded in the text in favour of the ‘business and usual’ model of the priest in charge and laypeople largely obeying.

Indeed, the nuns of the “Religious Women for Human Dignity” group repeated that very criticism of the Vatican instruction on parishes, and said that “with regret we note that after the motivating passages in the first part of the instruction, church law requirements are repeated and repeated again which in no way address the needs of the faithful and the specific situation of local churches”.

That much, the women religious noted, with no word of appreciation for the many laypeople who “toil” for the faith and to win people for the gospel, and with the sketching of an exaggerated and idealised picture of priests which does not do justice to the diversity of charisms in the Church.

“In the face of the lack of priests and the awareness of the dignity of the individual, some instructions seem completely unrealistic, even ridiculous”, the nuns deplored.

Not only has the credibility of Church representatives reached a low ebb thanks to the abuse crisis and the institution’s double standards, but frustration and demotivation are spreading even among committed Catholics, and especially women, the members of the “Religious Women for Human Dignity” group warned.

Believers, moreover, are even more likely to reconsider their involvement in the Church “when Rome continues to close its eyes to reality and degrades the local churches to mere recipients of orders”, the group alerted.

For all of those reasons, the women religious are inviting the faithful to second their group’s statement and to pass it along to those German bishops who have already criticised the Vatican instruction on parishes.

“We therefore ask you to continue to take a courageous stand and stand up for the freedom of the children of God, so that the Catholic Church in Germany can continue to fulfil its mission in the future and be taken seriously by people of good will”, the women religious wrote.

– About the “Religious Women for Human Dignity”

The “Religious Women for Human Dignity” group was founded in Munich in the autumn of 2018, at first with the goals of working with refugees, against all forms of abuse, to encourage the involvement of women in the Church and for the preservation of Creation.

The group made headlines in June when they published a reflection on the coronavirus lockdown and launched an appeal that they should be able to celebrate the Mass by themselves in the absence of a priest, arguing that the fact that ordained men were not permitted to visit their convents during quarantine damaged their lives in community.

More reactions on Novena to the Vatican instruction on parishes:

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

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

Congregation for Clergy member Cardinal Arborelius says “doesn’t know” how Congregation instruction on parish reform was completed

“Doesn’t help a bit”: Yet another German bishop criticises Vatican instruction on parishes as Cardinal Kasper defends it (with nuances)


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