Women commissioned to confer baptisms in German Catholic diocese

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, Germany Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, Germany. | Nicole Cronauge/Bistum Essen.

A German Catholic diocese has commissioned 17 women to administer baptisms, citing a shortfall in the number of priests.

The Diocese of Essen, in Germany’s industrial Ruhr area, is the first diocese in the country to commission a group of women to administer the sacrament, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Theresa Kohlmeyer, head of the department of faith, liturgy, and culture in the diocese, said that the step was necessary because there were “fewer priests than in the past.”

She added there was “a great need on the part of baptismal families for the most individual accompaniment and worship service possible.”

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen explained that the decision to commission lay people — 17 women and one man — for a period of three years was a response to “a pastorally difficult situation.”

More than 2.5 million people live in the Essen diocese, 724,047 of whom are Catholic. It is the smallest diocese in Germany in terms of area.

Canon 861 of the Code of Canon Law says that “the ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon.”

It adds that “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.”

Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart announced in March 2021 that he would look into the possibility of baptism by lay pastoral workers, establishing a working group.

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