The Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, has written to the head of the German bishops’ conference to offer “theological and canonical” information regarding the Congregation for Clergy’s recent Instruction on renewal of parish life and to begin arrangements for meetings with the German bishops regarding the proper interpretation and implementation of the document.
The German bishops’ spokesman, Matthias Kopp, issued a statement on Monday in which he confirmed that Cardinal Stella had written in reply to the DBK Chairman, Bishop Georg Bätzing (pictured above, photo copyright Deutsche Bischofskonferenz / Matthias Kopp). “The Prefect’s reply letter contains theological and canonical information on the mission of parishes,” Kopp said, adding that the matter is to be taken up in the DBK and debated in a joint conference between representatives of the DBK and the Central Committee of German Catholics, which is the principal representative body of German Catholic laity.
“In addition,” Mr Kopp explained, “a conversation with the Congregation [for Clergy] will be held in Rome. The Congregation first wishes to have a discussion with representatives of the German bishops.” Kopp went on to specify that Bishop Bätzing “also considers the discussion with the Presidium of the Synodal Way to be appropriate in terms of the matter,” but it remains unclear whether — and if so, to what extent — that view is shared at present in Rome.
The vice-president of the DBK, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, in July described the Instruction as a “powerful drag on the motivation and appreciation of the services of lay people,” but as the Catholic Heraldnoted when the Instruction was published, the issue it addresses is rather one of the limits of bishops’ own authority in the Church, especially over the clerics in their charge. More broadly, the document is an effort to articulate a vision of hierarchical power rightly ordered in the Church, especially at the parish level.
The Catholic News Agency reported lines of Cardinal Stella’s 20 September reply letter, which suggest this is the core issue at stake in the discussions: “Just as the bishops are attentive and jealous of the protection and respect of their prerogatives and rights,” Cardinal Stella wrote, “so it is just as right that they observe and recognize those canonical norms that concern the fields and competencies of the clergy, consecrated people and lay people.”