“Realigning the sails”

The spirit of optimism in the 1990s, with the establishment of the dioceses of Erfurt, Gorlitz and Magdeburg, was followed by disillusionment for Catholics in the new federal states. Due to declining Catholic numbers and lower financial allocations from the Association of German Dioceses, the eastern dioceses prepared around the turn of the millennium to manage with fewer resources in the future.

Like the other dioceses, they also had to respond to declining numbers of priests. In recent years, dioceses have therefore adopted austerity plans, merged parishes and restructured administration. The upheaval was particularly strong in the archdiocese of Berlin. Instead of 210 communities as six years ago, there are now 108. More than 440 full-time positions, mostly affecting parish secretaries, sextons, organists and janitors, were eliminated. In order to absorb the cuts in financial allocations, many parishes have founded support associations and are trying to collect donations. In addition, strong voluntary commitment is required: Parishioners help in parish offices, clean churches and parish centers. Foreign chaplains help in Berlin parishes; in addition, some parishes have priests of the neocatechumenate, who are trained in a seminary of the new spiritual movement established in the archdiocese.

Diocese of Magdeburg: One third of parishes reduzie The diocese of Magdeburg is in the process of reducing the number of independent parishes from 150 to 44. There have been no compulsory redundancies so far, but some positions are not filled after employees leave. Here, too, the number of priests is decreasing; due to the mergers of parishes, they now serve considerably larger areas. The situation is similar in the diocese of Erfurt: By 2020, there will be only 32 parishes here instead of 72. The diocese expects that instead of the current 112 active priests, there will only be 32 under the age of 60 in about ten years' time. The remaining parishes are to be strengthened, however, and the diocese is also hoping for a great deal of voluntary commitment from lay Catholics in the branch parishes. To ensure church life there, there should be branch parish councils.

No alternative to reform As in the diocese of Magdeburg, this reform was preceded by an internal church discussion process. Bishop Joachim Wanke is therefore also confident that the reform will be accepted by the faithful. He does not see an alternative: "If the wind blows from another direction, the sails must be reset."In the diocese of Dresden-Meissen, these mergers of parishes have not occurred so far. But they have less financial means at their disposal. As a result, secretaries or janitors, for example, are now responsible for several parishes. The diocese also brought in pastors from neighboring Poland.

Late legacy of GDR secularization Germany's smallest diocese, the Diocese of Gorlitz, is also facing major changes: after minor reforms in recent years, from next year there will be only 24 independent parishes in the three deaneries instead of 35. The diocese carries with it "a massive GDR legacy" of secularization, says diocesan spokesman Markus Kremser. In southern Brandenburg in particular, the situation looks "bleak". Especially there, the diocese has to struggle with migration and aging. In some parishes, there are virtually no children and young people left. In figures, this decline looks like this: If in 1994 there were still 55.000 Catholics, there are currently about 31.200.

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