Following an intervention by the Vatican, Germany’s oldest diocese has put on hold plans to reduce its number of parishes from almost 900 to 35.
The planned reorganisation of the Diocese of Trier, the result of a local synodal process, was scheduled to begin on January 1, 2020.
On November 20, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier published decrees towards dissolving the existing parish structure by enacting a “Law for the Implementation of the Results of the Diocesan Synod 2013-2016”.
The next day, the Vatican stepped in.
The Congregation for Clergy announced it was suspending the implementation “so that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts can carry out a careful review and examination of the Law”.
The Congregation decided to intervene after a priestly community called Unio Apostolica filed a complaint with the Vatican – and several lay people requested that the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts assess whether the planned changes in Trier were compliant with canon law.
While the number of parishes facing closure is alarming – and the decline they betray indicative of the crisis of the Catholic Church in Germany – it is how the bishop is tackling the challenge that has worried many priests and parishioners.
Voicing “concerns for the salvation of souls”, Fr Peter Leick of Unio Apostolica cautioned against a “decoupling of priestly ordination and pastoral ministry” in the proposed 35 “mega parishes”, where “pastoral leadership teams” would take on many of the roles of a parish priest.
In a letter published last Saturday afternoon and read from pulpits on the First Sunday of Advent, Bishop Ackermann expressed his “conviction that the path taken with the synod … is a good path into the future”. He asked “everyone angered and disappointed by the decision from Rome” to “persevere in their motivation … in the spirit of the synod”, while awaiting the outcome of the assessment by the Vatican.