Sunday, May 19, 2024

Priest survey reveals structural weaknesses in training

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Catholic parish priests in Germany generally have a dual function: It is their job to proclaim the faith, lead mass and administer the sacraments. 

In addition, they are also expected to fulfil administrative tasks: they sit on church councils and help decide on finances, personnel and the use of the parish's land, which in some places is not in short supply.

This spiritual and administrative dual role requires competences that have obviously been given too little consideration in priest training to date. 

This is at least one of the findings of the study "Who becomes a priest?" presented by the German Bishops' Conference on Friday

The Bochum-based Centre for Applied Pastoral Research (zap) invited 2,515 people to take part in the survey on behalf of the Bishops' Conference, including all 847 priests who were ordained between 2010 and 2021 and all 1,668 men who left the seminary during this period. 

Between October 2021 and February 2022, 153 ordained priests and 18 seminary dropouts took part in the online survey.

Great desire for spirituality

In terms of what the participants wanted from their training, personal development and spirituality were at the top of the list with 71.7 and 63.2 per cent respectively. 

Pastoral care is also perceived as very important with 69.1 per cent. 

Tasks relating to church management, on the other hand, lag far behind: only 39.5 per cent wanted more emphasis on the introduction to church administration, for example. 

The study shows what this ultimately means for the work on site: when asked about the focus of their training, only 6.1 per cent said that it had prepared them very well in practical matters. 

30.4 per cent still rated it as good, 22.3 per cent as poor and 5.4 per cent as very poor. The picture is reversed for theological training: This is perceived as very good by 36.2 per cent and as good by 45 per cent - with only 0.7 per cent describing it as very poor.

The aim of the study was to create an empirical survey of the background and motivation of current priests - and those who have left the seminary - as well as recommendations for the future planning of pastoral care for vocations. 

This revealed "a strong need to change direction in the pastoral care of vocations and the training of priests", said Matthias Sellmann, head of the zap. 

In many cases, the motivation for a vocation obviously does not correspond to the requirements of the local parishes. The theologian warned that young priests in particular run the risk of "running into the open knife" after taking up their position. 

"Many want to be pastors, but they don't want to be bosses and certainly not managers."

Sellmann criticised the fact that so far no efforts have been made to revise the image of priests in training. 

This could have far-reaching consequences for the church in Germany, as the bishops are also recruited from the dwindling pool of ordained priests as the highest decision-makers. 

"They are bound to be overwhelmed when it comes to filling leadership positions."

Consequences for the synodal path

This will have a particular impact on the reform dialogue of the Church in Germany, the Synodal Path, in which Sellmann himself participated. This is also shown by the question of what exactly should be on the reform agenda. 

Although only 4.6 per cent said that reforms were not necessary, the majority focussed on spiritual issues, it was reported. 

Over 80 per cent said that more offers with spiritual depth were needed, while three quarters wanted a stronger focus on communicating the content of faith.

In contrast, only around 30 per cent said that a reform of church authority was needed or that celibacy should be abolished. 

The latter finding in particular is interesting in light of the fact that around 73 per cent consider celibacy and celibacy to be significant obstacles to the decision to become a priest. 

And finally, there is the question of the priesthood of women: only a quarter of the priests surveyed consider this central concern of the Synodal Way in Germany to be a necessary endeavour for church reform. 

The priests are therefore "not co-sponsors of the Synodal Path in Germany".

The deputy chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Michael Gerber, welcomed the stronger desire for greater promotion of personal development and spirituality in training. 

However, it must be clear that this is also central to the role of the leading pastor in the parish structure. 

According to the Bishop of Fulda, it is also necessary to discuss how tasks can be better distributed locally. 

He announced that work on a new framework for priestly training was about to be finalised.