Cardinal Reinhard Marx is planning to introduce a way of managing parishes in his Archdiocese of München und Freising which is, out of necessity, already being practiced elsewhere in Europe, La Croix reports.
Whil it is standard that a parish is led by a parish priest, who is ultimately responsible for what happens in his parish (or parishes, federation or parish cluster), Cardinal Marx wants to see if that responsibility could not also be held by lay faithful. This decision stems from the dwindling numbers of priests. While some dioceses, for example in parts of Germany and the Netherlands, cluster and merge parishes to make sure that there is still at least one priest per parish, Cardinal Marx does not believe that is the way forward.
An enlarged parish, created out of a cluster of smaller parishes, would require its sole priest to travel greater distances, and possibly, as financial means are stretched, churches to be closed and active parish communities to be similarly merged. A weekly Sunday Mass in every church in the new parish would no longer be a matter of course. Cardinal Marx believes that this withdrawal of the Church from her territorial roots will lead to increasing local invisibility.
By appointing lay faithful to take on the responsibility for parishes where there is no priest, at least not frequently or regularly, the local church could continue its activities and remain visible. And there is no real reason to not invest lay faithful with such responsibility. It is not as if one needs to be ordained in order to wield it. Some ordained priests, the cardinal says, are not particularly suited to lead parishes, but do wonderful things in other areas, such as pastoral care and liturgy.
There is an element of responsibility that comes with ordination, and that is the responsibility of the shepherd. Priests remain indispensible in the life of the Church, but they are also people, with their limitations. None can be in two places at the same time (barring those holy priests given the grace of bilocation) and there are practical limits to the size of a parish that one man can be responsible for in the way expected of a parish priest. Cardinal Marx’s plan includes an active role for his three auxiliary bishops and himself in selecting teams of lay leaders and reflecting on parish structures and organisation.
Cardinal Marx’ proposal is a response to a problem that many bishops in Northwestern Europe face: dwindling numbers of faithful, and subsequently diminishing financial means to allow for the upkeep of (sometimes ancient and monumental) buildings and pastoral networks. If it is the right response is for the future to reveal.