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German theologian claims Catholic liturgy promotes ‘clericalism,’ fosters abuse crisis

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

March 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Benedikt Kranemann, a German Catholic theologian from the University of Erfurt, says the role of the priest in the liturgy may have contributed to the sexual abuse crisis raging throughout the Church. The liturgy, he says, has a potentially negative influence upon the priest's own understanding of his office and his role, thus possibly fostering his “phantasies of power” and “clericalism.” Liturgy, he adds, can negatively strengthen the “ecclesial hierarchy.” In his eyes, there might be soon in many German places ecumenical liturgies, where Catholics and Protestants come together on Sundays.

Speaking at a 19 March event in Leipzig, organized by a Protestant institute dedicated to liturgical studies at the University of Leipzig, Professor Kranemann raised the dangers of certain liturgies that can indirectly contribute to today's clerical sex abuse. He therefore wishes to have an intensified discussion of “liturgy and power.” 

For this theologian, it is a question of how much a liturgy forms an understanding of office and of one's specific role – especially among priests – which  possibly could contribute to the danger “that people develop phantasies of power toward other people and then also live them out, even [thereby] to damage the physical and psychological integrity [of someone].” In his view, this thesis “has not yet been sufficiently considered.”

Here, Catholic liturgy comes forward with the claim, not only to represent ecclesial hierarchy, Kranemann explains, but also to strengthen it. “Liturgy presents an image of Church and practices roles which can become problematic,” he told his audience. It is in this sense that “liturgy can produce and increase clericalism. That is then a contribution to the [current] Church crisis.”

In order to come out of this problem, this German professor points to the importance of an “ecumenical orientation of liturgical sciences,” according to a report on the academic event. “Ecumenism in the academic field can help to make clear where self-promotion and self-aggrandizement in liturgical services are opposed to the mission of Christian churches and are detrimental to the Christian witness which would be so important today in society,” Kranemann explained. Thus, ecumenical liturgical sciences “also always have to live out a good portion of Church critique,” he added.

In light of shrinking numbers of the Christian faithful in Germany, “the question poses itself where and when an ecumenical liturgy should be the rule, if one does not want to abandon fully a local Christian community life.”

Professor Kranemann stated that, next to the question of taking the last supper together, there will be additional demands and needs in order to reflect further on ecumenism, as such, in different liturgies.

The general vicar of the Diocese of Regensburg, Michael Fuchs, commented on Twitter on Kranemann's linking liturgy to abuse.  

"Daily celebrated liturgy is fostering abuse? A liturgy that is correctly understood helps us to lead a life according to the Commandments - not against them - and to respect each person in his dignity, that is to say, to serve and not to rule," he said. 

Dr. Taylor Marshall, a Catholic theologian expert on liturgical matters, commented to LifeSiteNews on Professor Kranemann's claim that a Catholic Mass possibly could foster "clericalism." He noted how the Mass traditionally celebrated was crafted to actually increase humility in the priest. 

“The ancient Roman Rite required the priest celebrant to stand at the foot of the altar and confess his sins while bowing. Then and only then could he ascend to the altar of God," he said.

"Both the priest and the people need to see the priest as a sinner before he ascends the altar 'in persona Christi.'”

According to Dr. Marshall, the Church's old custom that the priest turns toward God during Mass – ad orientem– further stressed the priest's own humility.

“Moreover the posture of ad orientem further obscured the personal identity of the priest so that he was hidden in the Liturgy. He was not a celebrity but a celebrant,” he said. 

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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.