Laymen in charge of parishes without priests, ordinations of married men: the prelate in charge of one of the largest – and richest – dioceses in Germany has revealed his vision for the 21st century German Church.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx is at the head of the archdiocese of Munich, in which live over 2 million baptized Catholics; it is also the richest diocese in Germany: 5.5 billion euros in assets in 2016. The Cardinal is also a member of C9 – the “Council of Cardinals” from eight to nine members – created by Pope Francis to introduce a series of structural reforms into the Church.
But the very existence of this diocese is threatened, as an official document published in 2015 lucidly admits: no new seminarians – or to be precise: one in 2016! – half the churches that are still open and active are bound to close within five years; 48% Catholics, compared to 99% in 1959: “If the downward tendency continues with the same proportions”, concluded the document, “there is no guarantee the diocese will survive for more than another ten years”.
Cardinal Marx recently spoke before 180 lay members of the diocesan synod, and he declared that they must face the decrease in the number of priests, while striving to preserve the present parish network, in order to maintain the Catholic Church’s presence on a local level. In order to accomplish this surprising goal given the circumstances, the prelate brought up the idea of entrusting parishes without priests to laymen well-formed for this mission, in the light of the catch-all notion of a “common priesthood”, popularized at Vatican II: “The Church is living in a time of great change,” he declared, recalling that “the local Church remains the most visible reality. It would be a waste to abandon what gives us territorial roots.” The laws of the Church today would, in his opinion, leave the door open to more involvement from the faithful.
To defend his project’s feasibility, Cardinal Marx reported that “thousands (of faithful) are convinced that it would be worth their while to get involved and fulfill a pastoral mission in their parishes”. Along the same line of thought, the archbishop of Munich wishes the ordination of married men – the “viri probati” the pope himself already alluded to – to be taken into consideration.
According to the cardinal, the main lines of this pilot project – parishes without priests and married priests – are not only the adequate answer to the increasing scarcity of priests, but also the expression of a clear-sighted assessment: “Not all priests are made to lead a parish.”
The fact that a German archbishop insists on the need to “hold on to” the parishes and avoid grouping them together is worthy of attention: in Germany, the State collects a church tax – “Kirchensteuer” – on every person that declares himself a Christian. It is about 8 to 9% of income tax, so generally between 0.2% and 1.5% of a person’s total income. The takings are shared between Catholics, Lutherans, and other Protestant confessions. This tax theoretically becomes obligatory the day a person is baptized. In other words, the more the number of baptized persons decreases, the lower the amount of tax money coming into the Church’s accounts. The German dioceses are numbered – but for how much longer, given the increasing number of people who “leave the Church”? – among the richest dioceses in the world, after the United States: hence the importance of “holding on to” the city and country parishes at all costs, at the risk of reviving the old French-style Sunday Meetings in the Absence of a Priest from the 70’s, that really did nothing to stop the inexorable de-Christianization at work in our country for the past 50 years.
Often described by the media as one of Pope Francis’ “right-hand men”, Cardinal Marx carries in his heart the reformist wish voiced during the general congregations of the last conclave, that he himself summed up in two words: “unity and subsidiarity”. Or how to give a greater independence in all domains to the bishops’ conferences, while maintaining the – tenuous – bond of the unity of the Church. A bond which, must we repeat, can only be realized in the unity of the Faith, the sacraments, and government.
Source : La Croix / FSSPX.News - 04/25/17