Volunteer sexton in preparation for worship service © Jorg Loeffke (KNA)
In the view of the Viennese pastoral theologian Paul Michael Zulehner, the future of the Catholic Church will be determined by the commitment of lay volunteers. This could have drastic changes for "full-time officials," according to Zulehner.
In the future, priests, too, could thus "fulfill their ministry in a parish on a voluntary basis and, like lay volunteers, make a living from a profane profession," Zulehner told "miteinander" magazine. Such a church does not necessarily have to be "poor"; rather, it can be "poor and blessed at the same time".
A revaluation of the honorary office is not only a consequence of a shortage of priests, but of a changed theology and a changed image of the church after the Second Vatican Council, according to the pastoral theologian, and further: "There are no uncalled in the church. (…) Each and everyone is good for something, has a vocation for the whole community." Today, he said, there are "more volunteers in the Church than ever before.".
Conversion to a "priestly people's Church of God"
A change in mentality can be seen, for example, in a "conversion from a priestly church to a priestly Church of the People of God". This development will continue. For this transformation is wanted by Pope Francis, said Zulehner with regard to the idea of a "poor church": Thus, the church will probably be "financially poorer" in the future. This will be the hour of honorary office.
According to Zulehner, what is needed is the promotion of a "culture of vocation" in the Church, in order to specifically encourage volunteers and not leave them alone. Volunteer work has changed and is much more characterized by "human motivations": "Those who participate want to work in a team, be able to shape things in the long term and receive recognition from the community." This, he said, must be positively promoted. It is also the pastoral task of priests to no longer see the laity as "co-workers of the clergy" but to value them as "co-workers of God.