Question: Mr. Schüller, the Catholic congregations of this world received a papal letter last week that provoked resistance from German bishops. What Is the Instruction of the Congregation for the Clergy?

Thomas Schüller: The main question is whether the priest is a servant of the parish or whether it has to serve the priest. The new paper of the Congregation for Clergy stages a restorative image of a priest that was believed to have been overcome under Francis. Now the priest becomes the holy man of God again. The co-determining community is thus passé.

Question: Wasn't that to be expected? In Trier, the bishop developed a model for transferring priestly powers to lay people - for example in administration. The leadership of the parish should be guaranteed by a committee. A few months ago, he was removed from Rome.

Schüller: Nobody expected it. Neither we theologians nor bishops. Incidentally, an instruction cannot set a new standard, but provides information on how applicable standards should be applied. Of course this is also a blow towards Trier. The efforts of this and other German-speaking dioceses to ensure pastoral care despite the lack of priests and believers have been critical of many in the Vatican since 2015 at the latest. At that time the German Bishops' Conference published the paper "Being Church Together". This was the basis for developing new cooperative models in the dioceses. The Vatican letter puts a stop to this.

Question: Could the Reformed Catholics have been too blinded by their own expectations of the Amazon Conference, where there was talk of the abolition of celibacy and the use of lay priests? Pope Francis should definitely be disappointed.

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Schüller: I respect and honor his pontificate. But he constantly sends double messages. First, he encourages the bishops to make the special local conditions the basis for their decisions. There was hope that after the ice ages under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. and whose high degree of centralism the bishops can finally breathe deeply. And now the opposite is happening. He is and remains an announcement pope who rules the curia and lets the old line continue to follow.

Question: Obviously there is fear in Rome that the office of priest will be watered down. Can't there be something true about that?

Schüller: If laypeople are held more responsible, which has long been the case in practice, this worry is unfounded. Through the ordination of priests, the pastor presides over the Eucharist anyway and donates the sacraments. The core of the sacred is not touched. The exaggeration of the priesthood also has another fatal consequence. Bishop Ackermann of Trier has pointed this out.

Question: What episode do you mean?

Schüller: The unfortunate combination of sacred power and authoritative violence in the priestly profession was already seen in the process of dealing with sexual abuse as the cause of the crime against those under protection. A scandal that this connection is not problematized with a word.

Question: What does it mean that the word "woman" does not appear in the paper?

Schüller: The church and pastoral counselors are booted out again. If a rectory remains vacant, it is the deacons' turn first. If there are none left, the religious, consecrated, should be put into service. And if nothing else really works, laypeople may hold lower posts, but only for a limited time and without any title. The sisters and brothers of the order cannot really be allowed to be recruited for pastoral care. They are not subordinate to a bishop, are autonomous and only committed to their order. That's why I always call them the partisans of faith.

Question: What strategies and legal scope do the dioceses now have?

Schüller: Resisting. We are experiencing something very gratifying from a church law perspective. In the meantime (by the editorial deadline, editor's note) fourteen bishops and vicars general have protested in Germany. To demonstrate means to reject a Vatican standard text. The right of remonstration is an unwritten law in canon law. Bishops say: "Sorry, Pope, sorry, Roman Curia, your instruction will not help us!" The Bamberg Bishop Schick, a professor of canon law, has just argued. And he added according to the meaning: We will continue as before. Archbishop Burger in Freiburg also made it clear that he was aware of the paper, but his bishopric was going through with his "Pastoral 2030" program. Now the bishops are finally doing what I would have liked in the 1998 debate on pregnancy conflict counseling. Bishop Kamphaus was the only one who said that I cannot accept this exit request. Now more than 50 percent of the German bishops are opposed to the paper from Rome.