The reason why Stephanie Rieth's new task in the diocese of Mainz is remarkable can be summed up with a grammatically clumsy statement that is redundant in terms of content for the Roman Catholic Church: She is not a priest.

On April 15, Rieth took over a newly created office, that of the representative of the vicar general and the head of department for the central department.

The job description, which the Bishop of Mainz Peter Kohlgraf laid down in a decree for the new office, is remarkable.

The 47-year-old representative represents the Vicar General, Auxiliary Bishop Udo Bentz, not only in all matters externally and internally.

She also performs some of his tasks independently in his place.

Bernhard Biener

Editor in the Rhein-Main-Zeitung

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It is up to him which tasks the Vicar General delegates.

"Of course it's also about power," says Rieth.

But that's not the priority for her.

She keeps talking about sharing responsibility.

“We consistently implement the four-eyes principle.” The Vicar General and she had already decided together on the distribution of responsibilities.

That developed from the collaboration over the past two years, during which Rieth was the personal assistant to the auxiliary bishop.

If she now takes part in committee meetings, then in a new role.

She no longer sits there as a consultant, but "with authority and managerial competence".

Responsible for information technology, media and law firm

As head of department for the central department, Rieth is responsible, among other things, for information technology, media, chancellery, ecumenism, environment, the archive and the institute for church history in Mainz.

In the circle of heads of department, she meets her colleagues - and one female colleague - who are responsible for education, charity, pastoral care, finance, construction and art, and human resources.

In her function as authorized representative, however, she is one level above.

One focus of her work will be the staff unit for intervention, processing and prevention of sexual abuse.

She is also responsible for contacts with the Independent Commission for Recognition Services.

Rieth had already dealt with this topic before.

And she makes it clear again: "It's not about handing over responsibility to me in this case." Bishop Kohlgraf declared the processing of sexual abuse in 2017 to be a top priority.

"She stays with me through my office." But it was important to Auxiliary Bishop Bentz to include someone here who was not a cleric.

The review commission is also made up of external experts.

There Rieth is again the interface to the diocese.

Compensation issues are one thing, says the representative, "that's our day-to-day business." But it's not just about numbers.

She moves the question: "What do those affected need in order to really be able to make peace?"

According to a survey by the Bishops' Conference in 2018, male laypeople now form the largest group at the upper management level in German dioceses at 42 percent, followed by clerics.

Almost 19 percent of department heads were women.

However, Rieth plays a special role as representative of the vicar general.

Just like the head of the Munich diocese, Stephanie Herrmann, has been since the beginning of 2020.

The position has been newly created in Munich and Mainz.

Unlike the lawyer Herrmann, Rieth studied theology and worked as a pastoral officer and religion teacher before the married mother of three children became a training officer.

"I'm convinced that management shouldn't be seen in purely administrative terms," ​​says the representative.

"It serves the pastoral, and from this point of view we have to discuss strategies." Incidentally, this also applies to the pastoral path, with which the 143 parishes in the diocese are combined into 46 large communities, so-called pastoral areas.

"In the beginning there was not the question of the structures, but of what we want to strengthen in community life."

New office as pioneering work

Rieth's role as representative of the Vicar General reaches its limits when it comes to sacramental and liturgical tasks.

The confirmation permit for priests or the power to confess must be left to Auxiliary Bishop Bentz.

The draft of the canon lawyers, with which a marriage is annulled, however, could be signed by the authorized representative.

In the event of a vacancy in the see, i.e. in the meantime when there is a change of bishop, she is in a certain sense ahead of the vicar general: she remains in office while the term of office of the vicar general automatically ends with that of the bishop.

But it must be confirmed by the diocesan administrator and the new bishop.

It is also entirely up to the bishop who he appoints to this post.

"We stay within the system, and that's hierarchical," says Rieth.

"But we use and shape it." The new office is pioneering work, it will continue to develop.

And it is independent of the person - the episcopal decree says "plenipotentiary of the vicar general".

The fact that she became it has nothing to do with a quota for women.

Then Rieth says a sentence that sounds remarkable within the Catholic Church: "A man could also take over the office."