ESSEN, Germany (LifeSiteNews) — A German bishop commissioned 13 more female pastoral ministers to confer the sacrament of baptism.
They were in the second group of lay ministers that Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Diocese of Essen has commissioned to confer baptisms. In March of 2022, the German prelate commissioned 18 lay pastoral ministers, including 17 women, to administer the sacrament of baptism in their respective parishes for a period of three years.
Overbeck commissioned 16 additional lay pastoral ministers, including 13 women, on Sunday, October 23.
The German bishop named a lack of priests and “structural change” as the reasons for his decision to confer the rights to administer baptisms to lay ministers.
“It is a good and very meaningful tradition, deeply connected with the origins of the Church, that the sacraments are governed and administered by those who hold an office [holy orders] in the Church,” Overbeck said in his sermon on Sunday.
“In times of structural change, this is becoming increasingly difficult,” the German prelate continued. “Thus, by recognizing the crisis-ridden times, I use the possibilities offered by canon law (cf. can. 861 §2 CIC), in order to grant you, dear pastoral and parish ministers, permission to administer baptism in exceptional cases […].”
According to canon 861 of the Code of Canon Law, lay people can in fact administer baptism in certain cases: “When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly.”
However, a baptism is invalid if the minister does not have the right intentions, uses the wrong words, or pours a liquid that isn’t water over the person being baptized. Cases of invalid baptisms have multiplied recently, some even involving priests with many years of training. Training for the lay ministers in Essen lasted four days.
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Though Overbeck cited a shortage of priests as a reason to allow lay ministers, predominantly women, to administer the sacrament of baptism, there is likely a progressive agenda behind the move. Overbeck is a well-known proponent of the heterodox Synodal Way in Germany.
Moreover, in his Sunday sermon on October 23, Overbeck said that the goal of commissioning the “extraordinary ministers of baptism” is to “take further steps in the development of the theology of holy orders.”
“Here it is significant that we develop a new spiritual form of catechesis with regard to all the sacraments,” the German prelate stated. “Here we are at the beginning, often still very much bound by traditional forms, which we must also honestly say have less and less existential consequences for those who receive the sacraments.”
Theresa Kohlmeyer, a laywoman who is the Head of the Liturgy and Faith Communication Department in the Diocese of Essen, is responsible for the preparation of the persons commissioned for baptism.
“Some families explicitly want a woman to be the baptismal minister, others want the priest – it’s all possible,” Kohlmeyer stated, according to the diocese’s press release.
And of course, Kohlmeyer added, it must also be considered how the commissioning of lay people changes the image of priests.
The diocese of Essen was the first German diocese to introduce the practice of lay ministers administering baptism. However, it will not remain the only one. Bishop Gebhard Fürst of the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart issued a decree, taking effect on November 1, allowing for lay ministers to confer baptisms. Furthermore, in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, an important Catholic lay organization demanded the possibilities of preaching, baptism, and marriage assistance for lay people.
In 2021, there were 141,929 baptisms in Germany and 12,280 priests. That year, the total number of Catholics in Germany was recorded as 21,645,875.
Interestingly, there were 557 priestly ordinations in Germany in 1962, the first year of the Second Vatican Council, and only 62 in 2021, 59 years later.