Vatican halts German diocesan plan to turn 800 parishes into 35
Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier. BISTUM TRIER
By Catholic News Agency
June 11, 2020
GERMANY— The Vatican has intervened to halt a controversial plan to reorganize a German diocese.
Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier met with the heads of the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in Rome June 5 to discuss the diocesan plans to restructure several hundred parishes into 35 “XXL parishes.”
On June 6, the diocese confirmed that the meeting took place between Ackermann and diocesan officials, and Cardinal Beniamino Stella and Archbishop Filippo Iannone, who lead the two curial departments. While the meeting was held in a “positive atmosphere,” CNA Deutsch reported Tuesday that the diocesan plans may not be implemented in their current form.
According to a statement from the diocese, “the Congregation for Clergy, like the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, has concerns about the proposed reform of the parishes, as described in the law on the implementation of the results of the diocesan synod.”
The diocese said that the concerns were “in particular as regards the role of the pastor in the leadership team of the parish, the service of other priests, the conception of the parish bodies, the size of the future parishes and the speed of implementation.”
The restructuring program was formally adopted by the diocese in October last year, following a three-year diocesan synod aimed at addressing declining Mass attendance, a shortage of vocations, and other challenges facing the Church in Germany.
After Bishop Ackermann announced the Law for the Implementation of the Results of the Diocesan Synod (2013-2016), several local Catholics, including some priests, voiced concerns about its provisions, and in November last year the Congregation for Clergy and PCLT asked that the plan be delayed while it was studied in Rome.
The plans included the merger of all of the diocese’s 887 parishes into 35 larger parishes, led by “pastoral teams” of laypeople and priest. Under the plans, a local lay group said, “the specific transmission of the preaching, especially the homily, to volunteers/lay people will lose the specific nature of the priestly office.” Other concerns included the centralization of parishes, meaning Catholics in some parts of the diocese would have to travel up to 50 miles for Mass.
Following the meeting in Rome last week, the diocese released a statement saying that “during the conversation, the bishop made it clear what challenges the diocese of Trier is currently facing.”
“In particular, these include: the reduction in the faithful’s commitment to church life over [several] years, the decline in [local] church involvement and the tremors caused by the discovery of sexual abuse by clerics in the people of God.”
“In addition,” the diocese said, “demographic change, declining financial resources and the lack of priests are limiting pastoral opportunities in the diocese.”
The diocese said that Bishop Ackermann would now work with staff and members of his diocesan curia to form a new plan that respects the “mandate” of the three-year diocesan synod and addresses Rome’s concerns.