The German Bishops' Conference is considering a fundamental change in priestly formation. In an interview, the chairwoman of the Association of Catholic Theological Faculties, Professor Johanna Rahner, expresses strong criticism of the deliberations.
CBA: According to plans of a working group of the German Bishops' Conference, a concentration of priest training on a few locations nationwide is planned. What do you think of the restructuring plans??
Prof. Johanna Rahner (professor in Tubingen and chairwoman of the Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultatentag/KThF): Everything seems very ill-considered and is beyond the needs that actually exist in the formation of the priests of tomorrow. From the point of view of scientific strategy, these ideas are characterized by a high degree of naivety and political ignorance.
CBA: What is behind these proposals?
Rahner: The ideal of a priestly education, as it existed in the middle of the 16th century, is not a reality. The Council of Trent formulated at the end of the sixteenth century. Young men are barracked to prepare them separately from the other students supposedly protected, sheltered and exclusive as a caste of priests for their mission. The considerations may be more important for the 16. and 17. This may have been appropriate in the nineteenth century, but already in the eighteenth. and 19. In the nineteenth century, there were ideas to shape priestly education differently.
Today this is completely inappropriate in view of the mission in a pluralistic society. This assessment is shared by many who have decades of experience in priestly formation.
The proposed model also does not do justice to the biographies of the individuals preparing for this service today. The keywords clericalism and abuse require that mistakes of the past are not committed again.
CBA: Where do you suspect the motives?
Rahner: In the unwillingness to break free from old thought structures and develop alternatives. Behind this is the same spirit as in the trend towards ever larger parishes. This is anything but sustainable, unless it is a matter of wanting to preserve a sacred remnant.
CBA: What consequences do you see for the Catholic theological faculties??
Rahner: We are currently in the university business a valued interlocutor. We work in a networked, interdisciplinary and international way. In 2010, the German Council of Science and Humanities stated that theology is important for the self-enlightenment potential of religions, that it is involved in solving society's questions about the future, and that it plays a role in the concert of other faculties in the pursuit of knowledge.
But the current discussion can damage our role and fuel debates about site reductions. It seems as if positions are being vacated without necessity that no one on the state side wants to touch at the moment.
CBA: The paper is intended only as a basis for discussion.
Rahner: On the one hand yes. But on the other hand: If it would be only about the discussion of the bishops among themselves, why then a press release was published? And why were the faculties not consulted in advance?? We were told it was a spiritual trial. In fact, however, it is now communicated in the form of a decision, horse and rider are named.
CBA: If implemented, would it be possible for first- and second-class faculties to emerge because only some would still be responsible for priest training?
Rahner: At worst, yes. But that's not what the faculties want in any case. We have nothing against specialization and scientific focal points. An example: theology students who are especially interested in interreligious dialogue can consciously choose Munster or Tubingen. What we do not want, however, are ideological differentiations. Because prospective priests and other prospective pastors have to be trained together, because they are supposed to work together later on.
All in all, we are once again preoccupied with ourselves, even though we have enough to say about current social ies and ies for the future. Especially in times of pandemic. This debate comes completely out of time.
The interview was conducted by Michael Jacquemain.