Is the Priest Shortage in Germany Intentional?

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Alexander Kissler – the well-respected, often subtly ironic, conservative German journalist and editor of the culture section of the German journal Cicero who recently wrote a piercing critique of Pope Francis – has now written another important article on Catholic matters. This time, he reports on the fact that, last year, “in 2015, only 58 men have been ordained as priests in the whole of Germany [with 23,8 million Catholics].” Kissler makes the strong claim that this standing shortage of priests is actually wanted by the guiding progressives of the German Church. “The priests,” says the German journalist, “are in the way of the New Church of Participation.” He explains:

There has been no vote [in this matter], no order from Rome that the Catholic Church in Germany should go this path and no other. The Germans just do it, and as good Germans, they do it well.

As an example, Kissler mentions the Diocese of Limburg where its leadership is working to establish “Parishes of the New Type [“Pfarreien Neuen Typs” – PNT].” He continues:

There are, after all, already 30 of such “PNT’s” between Frankfurt, Taunus and Westerwald [places within the Diocese of Limburg]. In the relevant documents, the priests do not any more appear or, if so, then only as a stranger, as a stubborn relic by the side of the road. The full-time employees – together with the volunteers – shall participate together in partnership, under the guidance of parish counsellors and facilitators. The Spiritual Controlling rules.

Alexander Kissler convincingly demonstrates, by quoting from these current diocesan booklets, just how these new “participatory parishes” are implemented from above – and “initiated top-down” – in order to “make [the Church]  step-by-step more compatible with the life realities of the people.” In this new “system,” the priest appears to be a stumbling block, according to Kissler. “The stubborn priest slows down the annexation [Anschluss] to the Wonder-world of Participation.” Thus there can be found in the diocesan documents a call to urge “more insistently and more consequently” the ordained priests “not to stand in the way of the changes.” Priests, according to the documents, “should not block whole parishes.” The aim of the reform is “to search” and even, if seen to be fitting, to find “new bosses, new forms of leadership” (in Kissler’s words). Kissler rightly then asks whether or not there is any place left for “Canon Law and Catechism.” In one of the recent  documents of the Diocese of Limburg, called “Kirche der Zukunft” (“Church of the Future”), “there is not even a single mention anymore of the very word ‘priest,’” as Kissler emphatically notes. The clear goal here is to form a “common priesthood” and a “general priesthood.” Kissler trenchantly asks: “Shall Luther be re-catholicized, or shall the Church be lutherized?”

As this German author points out, Limburg is not the only diocese which goes this new path.

The shrinking Church in Germany shall become an engaged community of participation based on grassroots principles. The work of the Pastoral Institute Buka ng Tipan [in the Philippines, see here a link]  – to which by now nearly every diocese sends its emissaries [even Cardinal Schönborn’s Diocese of Vienna, Austria]  – serves as a model here.

According to Kissler, the intention is to create “not a priestless, but a priest-reduced humanitarian action group, ‘journeying with people towards a participatory church’ [the English language is in the original German text].”

Indeed, one strongly feels reminded here of the Gramscian methods of cultural change, once more. Important to note in this context is also the connection of this Pastoral Institute in Manila, Philippines, with the papal advisor and papabile, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. He has asked Buka ng Tipan to help him in his own diocese. It says on the Institute’s website for 2016:

The Archdiocese of Manila thru the instructions of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle sought the assistance of Bukal ng Tipan in creating a unified formation program for the archdiocese focusing of what is endemic and unique in their context.

To return to our German author’s own observations. Kissler concludes that these new parish reforms will not make the Church grow, but, rather, they will cause her to diminish. This problem, in his eyes, touches “the roots of the Church.” The Church “is centered around the Holy Eucharist whose kernel is the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ – which only the [sacrificing]  priest can initiate.” Kissler continues: “That is what dogmatic theology says. In this function, the priest is unique and irreplaceable. Where he is missing, there is – theologically speaking – never more, but only less Church.” There is a fiction underlying this new reform, namely that “everybody can do everything.” For Kissler, this development is only a dubious sign of the desire of many dioceses “at any cost not to offend anybody” – a desire which represents “their greatest, finally ecumenical super dogma.” Thus such Churches have changed “from a sign that will be contradicted, to social agencies to which one absolutely has to be able to agree.” The German journalist concludes this poignant essay with the words: “Thus they [these “social agencies”]  quickly shrink away, with mild poetic songs on their lips.”

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