How many Catholic repeals are rejected

Training for priests in the Catholic Church"Too exotic a way of life"

"My name is Maximilian Mihatsch, I'm 22 years old and I've been in the seminary here in Munich since April 2014. I didn't peddle it before I made my decision. In this respect, the family was a bit surprised at first. In the circle of friends, the reactions are very different : from incomprehension to 'What do you want with that?' or something like that. But it is also clear that not everyone can understand this path. We are simply too exotic a way of life for that. "

As a budding Catholic priest, Maximilian Mihatsch belongs to a group that has been shrinking for years. But which has a central task in the church. And which shapes society despite all the secularization. In many places the church fulfills social functions: kindergartens, senior citizens' meetings, Catholic educational institutions. In many families, the pastor still belongs to special moments in life: when someone dies or is sick, at Christmas, at baptisms or at weddings.

"I want to bring the Lord to people, whom I was able to discover in my life. That I am redeemed, that I am not limited in this world, so to speak, but that my path continues," says Maximilian Mihatsch.

Maximilian Mihatsch (22) has been in the seminary in Munich since April 2014 (Burkhard Schäfers)

But what if there are hardly any men left who want to become priests? The system is already in a bad position: In response to the shortage of priests, the church is amalgamating its congregations into ever larger units. On Sundays the pastors rush from one service to the next. At the same time, the number of newly ordained people continues to decline. Ten years ago, the German dioceses registered fewer than 100 new priests for the first time. Most recently, the number fluctuated between 60 and 80 newly ordained annually - and that with 23 million Catholics. In 2017 there were no new priests at all in the dioceses of Mainz and Osnabrück. In the whole of Germany, the number of priests has fallen by more than a quarter in the past 20 years. Can the church afford to be picky about the next generation?

"As far as I can see, there is actually the immediate risk that one does not look more closely to see whether the people in question really meet the requirements that one places on someone who is ordained a priest," says Wunibald Müller, author, theologian and psychotherapist.

"There are cases when it comes to political attitudes where you often don't look very carefully. But there are also clerical attitudes. And I think especially when it comes to personality, the ability to communicate, that this is less important than was the case in previous years. "

"I've seen the person hover an inch above the ground too often"

Wunibald Müller was co-founder and for decades head of the Catholic Recollectio House in Münsterschwarzach, Franconia. There he treated pastors with psychological problems: depression, addiction, narcissism, sexual disorders. When the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church became public in 2010, Müller's prevention work moved more into focus. Meanwhile, the Church has developed various tools to prevent and educate sexual abuse. But does that also apply to other problems - given the shortage of priests? Clergy who harbor racist ideas. Pastors to whom the catechism is closer than people. Pastors who drive away committed believers in droves.

"If someone is a pastor, that is such a stable position, also under canon law. He must have stolen silver spoons to get rid of him," says Wunibald Müller.

"I have seen too often that there is talk of a vocation with a transfigured look, and the person is already floating a centimeter above the ground. And that is so difficult to deal with," says Gerhard Hueck, pastoral advisor in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

The theologian reports on cases in which self-perception and external perception did not match: A pastor, responsible for 6,000 believers and the boss of over 20 employees, did not value his appearance and always avoided direct eye contact, says Gerhard Hueck.

Gerhard Hueck is pastoral consultant in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising (Burkhard Schäfers)

"In that case I made the comparison: Let's leave the church outside, let's talk about the tax office. Would the Mr. Anyway be the head of the authority, department head or normal clerk? And then someone else said he was clerk without public traffic - because : He can't even look you in the eye. "

Strict requirements: "Practically nobody does that"

Being a priest is a demanding task. The formal requirements for future priests are also high.

"I know a few papers there, there is a lot in them, and practically no one does it. I can't decide about the regents either, but sometimes I ask myself, where are they looking?" Says Hueck.

"We work with those who come to us. And then it is crucial to take a look: Is the fundamental question that someone can become a priest? Is it likely that this will go well in the community?" Asks Hartmut Niehues - instructor , Regens of the seminary in the diocese of Münster and chairman of the German Conference of Regents.

He says: "We work with different dimensions in formation. There human maturity is a first and important fundamental and important dimension. Then there is the theological qualification, the spiritual life and finally the pastoral practical qualification an important dimension. What we need, are young men who are ready to get involved with other people, who are able to communicate, who are capable of criticism. The ability to work in a team is a very important keyword nowadays. "

The Vatican and the respective national bishops' conferences determine who can become a priest and how the formation takes place. Is the Catholic Church too generous when it comes to admission because there are no alternatives? Hartmut Niehues doesn't see it that way. Budding pastors would receive intensive psychological support in addition to professional training.

"We already have an evaluation of the psychosocial competencies during the admission process. There is a conversation that the interested party has with us with the chief physician for psychiatry and psychosomatics. And from the result of the conversation I then try to find out - again in a conversation with the seminarist which support measures are there that we have to pay particular attention to as part of the training. And where we can possibly actually provide assistance, "says Hartmut Niehaus.

Example 1: The anti-Semite

The Catholic Church therefore gives itself strict selection criteria. But why do the German bishops time and again consecrate men for whom it seems questionable whether they meet the requirements?

Sign at the entrance to the seminary in Würzburg. (picture alliance / dpa / Daniel Peter)

An example: four and a half years ago, two candidates were kicked out of the seminary in Würzburg. They are said to have told anti-Jewish jokes, imitated Adolf Hitler in the beer cellar and listened to real music. Two years later, one of the two was again accepted into a seminary, this time in the diocese of Eichstätt. In the meantime, the local bishop Gregor Maria Hanke has ordained him as a deacon - and according to the current status he wants to ordain him as a priest this spring. A scandal that damages the reputation of the church and strains the Christian-Jewish relationship. Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews, was angry a few months ago on Deutschlandfunk:

"When questioning their ideas, one should examine to what extent they are suitable for leading other people. For what has been preached from the pulpit for centuries, especially in the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, and what consequences this has led to should be kept in mind when making all such decisions. "

Is the Catholic Church doing everything to prevent people with anti-Semitic ideas from becoming priests? In Eichstätt they find: The young man has proven himself and deserves a second chance. From Josef Schuster's point of view, however, the church has gambled away trust.

He says: "I have the impression that the Catholic Church has a shortage of priests. And I do not know whether it is really right that the end here justifies every means."

Example 2: the narcissist

Another example from a parish association in southern Germany. At first glance, the pastor seems easy to get along with. However, those who deal with him regularly soon notice that this is less about questions that preoccupy the believers. Not about their ideas about the church. Rather, the priest's ideas are the focus. A former pastoral officer reports (due to her current job she would like to remain anonymous):

"He knows where it's going. The people in the community are there to help him. Of course, he also experiences resistance. And then he divides between his supporters and those who do not support him. I have the impression that he is." reduces people to it. "

Apparently the clergyman repeatedly offends people: people who have a concern, committed parishioners, employees. Although the entire preparation of the confirmation was in the hands of the former pastoral officer, this was suddenly no longer required in the festive confirmation service:

"In the end, all I was allowed to do was to ensure calm before moving in. The pastor did the rest. It didn't matter whether I was there or not during the service."

Ordination of the Pius Brotherhood (dpa / Armin Weigel)

Or the dialogue with those who are committed to the church in their free time: When the two parishes in which the pastor works were merged some time ago, the parish councils had to discuss a number of questions: How do we work together in the future? How do the times of worship change? How are the volunteers supported?

The former pastoral officer says: "Of course the pastor has the final decision. But according to the statute he has to hear the parish councils. Just, he has already made his decision, and after hours, days, sometimes months of discussions in the committees, it comes after all the way he wants it. "

The anger finally discharged in a letter from the parish council to the diocese administration. She suggested to the pastor to change the congregation. But this refused, reports the pastoral officer. So everything stayed the same. The succinct reaction of the diocese's head of personnel: "We already know that, we know that this pastor is difficult."

The balance sheet of those affected: "That is what bothers me about the HR manager: How someone treats people does not seem to play a major role. Despite bad experiences in other places, the pastor got a management position again. The shortage of personnel is probably just too great . "

"That touches on the basic structure of our church"

So big that the church ultimately needs everyone - no matter how they behave? Priest trainer Hartmut Niehues, the chairman of the German Conference of Regents, is worried about the falling number of new priests.

The photo from December 5th, 2015 shows eight men being ordained deacons in Teublitz (Bavaria). (dpa / picture-alliance / diocese of Regensburg)

"That gives me sleepless nights," he says. "If we no longer have priests, it means that we have to say goodbye to the sacramental structure of our church - I don't want to say goodbye - but that this basic sacramental structure of our church is at least in question."

Almost two years ago, Niehues caused a sensation when he said that the previous system was at an end. In the end, his seminar in Münster could not even offer a preparatory course because only four interested parties registered, from the four dioceses of Münster, Osnabrück, Aachen and Essen, who are already cooperating on the introductory course.

Do only those who are particularly loyal to the line enter the seminary? "This impression, which is possibly there in public, that there is such a uniform image of candidates for priests, this impression is wrong," says Hartmut Niehus. "The range is really very wide. The age structure alone. In terms of church politics, we have some who are on one side or on the other. Very different people, so I really want to say that there is also diversity in this respect . "

"The priest is not a loner and hermit"

In the Munich seminary, 30 people gathered for evening prayers in the chapel: young men, some theology students, three nuns. For Maximilian Mihatsch, the prospective priest, the prayer times distinguish the seminary from a normal student residence:

"Precisely because we are on this spiritual path, everyday life is a lot different from that of a medical or law student. In our house, of course, the claim is that spiritual life should also be a large part of everyday life occupies. "

The 22-year-old has not given up his hobbies: Going to the stadium as a Bayern fan, reading, and rubbing shoulders. However, there is one thing he has to do without with regard to celibacy: the relationship.

"No sexual relationship - definitely. But not - no relationship," explains Maximilian Mihatsch. "The priest is not a loner and hermit, it is very important that he has rich relationships. But of course renouncing marriage is a very existential renunciation. I believe that one can only honestly and wholeheartedly affirm that if one knows what to do it for. "

The psychotherapist Wunibald Müller criticizes compulsory celibacy: "I've seen too many who rub against it all my life. And the strength that should actually be there for the community is burned up by rubbing it down or through emergency solutions."

"Served soup, cloth napkins: no other student lives like this"

A former seminarian agrees to share an insight into his training as a priest. With regard to his employer, he would like to remain anonymous (the statements are therefore repeated). What does he think about celibacy?

"I'm not sure whether you can even make such a decision in this setting today. Later, outside of the seminar, you are confronted with completely different challenges. This special world certainly protects some from a real confrontation with the consequences of celibacy. "

The former seminarian has even more questions about the training of priests, for example: How much do the prospective pastors seal themselves off? Does the homogeneous environment - male, Catholic, theological-scientific - perhaps consolidate certain positions, a traditional church image, all too quickly?

"That is just a special situation in the seminar. Only men live together, which is not in line with our current lifestyle. In addition, the closed walls, an elitist circle can develop. But at some point you have to get out into the normal world."

Our interlocutor considers it entirely appropriate that the formation of priests differs from other forms of formation. However, he questions the current model - speaks of the "laboratory situation in the seminary". High vaults, long, empty corridors, an almost eerie silence: How does a seminary like this affect outsiders?

He says: "Sitting at the set table with white tablecloths and cloth napkins on Sunday lunchtime, exactly twelve o'clock, being served a menu with soup, main course and dessert, no other student lives like that. The fixed daily structure, the equipment, the attitude towards life, that can deter many. And in return it attracts those who want to live like our grandparents. Or those who are overwhelmed by the complex world and need clear structures. "

"I cannot see this rigid definition," says Michael Maas, Director of the Center for Vocational Pastoral Care of the German Bishops' Conference.

"That is something that should also be a deterrent when it means that they live in a completely different life, in a completely different world. Yes, of course, otherwise you probably don't have a mass every day and have prayer times in this community form. But I actually can't see any particular oddities. "

Less faith, less priest

Michael Maas is something like the bishops' brand ambassador when it comes to recruiting young talent. He mentions other reasons why hardly any men enter the seminaries:

"You can see that there is unfortunately a very broad decline in faith in Germany. And that logically there will be fewer priests in the end."

Empty pews, empty seminaries - these have consequences for training. If there are too few students in a diocese, the bishop must consider how long he can keep the seminary alive. The last recommendation from the Vatican was to close seminars with fewer than 17 to 20 candidates.

"I think it will come down to concentrations in several places," says Michael Maas."But of course that is always a very painful thing for a diocese, because it is not for nothing that the seminary is also the heart of the diocese. And that is not easy to tear out."

The pain is great for those responsible. But where are the specific ideas to stop or reverse the downward trend? Perplexity spreads.

And what about the suspicion that the Church is not paying so much attention to the admission to the priesthood in view of the low number of applicants? Michael Maas assures:

"She can't make any compromises at this point. Because if someone becomes a priest who doesn't fulfill the skills that one needs as a priest, then so much is destroyed that it is much worse than a priest in the end to have more or less. "