25 April 2023, The Tablet

German dioceses press ahead with lay participation in leadership

German dioceses press ahead with lay participation in leadership

Stephanie Rieth, authorised representative of the vicar general of Mainz, pictured last month with Peter Kohlgraf Bishop of Mainz and Auxiliary Bishop Udo Markus Bentz.
Arne Dedert/dpa/Alamy Live News

German dioceses are pressing ahead with lay participation in church leadership as proposed by the German synodal path initiative for church reform.

The diocese of Osnabrück, which has been vacant since January, when Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, has appointed nine lay members of the diocesan council who, together with the nine priest members of the cathedral chapter, will begin consultations on possible candidates for the office of bishop.

The procedure is based on decisions by the German synodal path initiative, the announcement explained. The 18-member group will exchange views and consider specific names which the chapter will then pass on to the Vatican as possible episcopal candidates. The group will meet for the first time at the beginning of May.

The procedure was in accordance with the concordat regulations, according to the interim diocesan administrator, chapter dean auxiliary Bishop Johannes Wübbe of Osnabrück. He said, “We as cathedral chapter will naturally see to it that the election procedure is in accordance with the regulations and that it is valid.”

Two days before the Osnabrück announcement, the Vatican outlawed lay participation in episcopal elections in the German archdiocese of Paderborn.

Meanwhile the authorised representative of the vicar-general of the diocese of Mainz has urged German dioceses to share church leadership between ordained and non-ordained persons.

Stephanie Rieth has shared the office of vicar-general in Mainz with auxiliary Bishop Udo Bentz for over a year now. Rieth is Bentz’s authorised representative with equal rights.

It was essential for ordained and non-ordained Catholics to share church leadership, she said in a statement published by the Mainz diocese on 19 April. “In order to re-establish our credibility and to break up clerical circles we need both ordained and non-ordained faithful who will assume and share responsibility,” Rieth explained. 

In a previous interview with KNA she described her appointment as a “quantum leap”. It was a first in Germany and up to now there had been no reaction from the Vatican. “We are abiding by canon law but I can feel in my bones that we are doing pioneering work”.

It was a “pure coincidence” in her case that a woman had been chosen for the job, she pointed out. The main thing was that it was a lay person and that the office of vicar-general was now shared by an ordained and a non-ordained person.

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