DOMRADIO.DE: Thomas Backsmann, Dominik Grässlin, Rafał Jerzy Liebersbach and Jan Schönthaler are the names of four deacons who were ordained priests. Which of your seminars were the four deacons with you?
prof. Jochen Sautermeister (professor of moral theology and dean of the Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Bonn): They were with me in the moral theology courses they were studying in Bonn. This covers a range of topics in life, medicine, relationships, but also sexual ethics and fundamental questions of theological ethics. What do conscience, guilt, responsibility, norms mean? They learned it from me.
DOMRADIO.DE: What else does priesthood formation involve?
Sauter Master: The formation of priests consists of three pillars. The first is science. On the one hand, there is vocational training in theology. But on the other hand, also the skill you need to be well prepared for the tasks to come later.
The second pillar is personality development. It is about integrity, a mature personality, integrated sexuality, dealing with power, the ability to manage oneself, dealing with one’s own biography, but also with one’s own grievances.
Third, there is spirituality. The point is that faith and reflection are connected with life, they go hand in hand, and are not separate worlds.
DOMRADIO.DE: How would you rate the training of priests currently being held in Cologne, Bonn and other cities? Is it practical and as close to people as many would wish?
Sauter Master: Besides the general order of priestly formation, it varies greatly in dioceses. The German Bishops’ Conference and many dioceses have agreed to concentrate priestly formation in several places.
In the Archdiocese of Cologne, we are implementing a different concept. We want to strengthen regionality at seminars, but also in students’ shared apartments. The new concept with a not-so-new rule also stipulates that the social dimension, social commitment and responsibility will be strengthened in priestly formation.
DOMRADIO.DE: What can be improved?
Sauter Master: I think that this open examination of one’s own personality is very important. Something is happening right now. But overall there is room for improvement in priestly formation. But I’m glad to see the development.
Two things are very important in the area of social involvement. On the one hand, theologically, there is no talk of formulas and empty sentences with heads on the heels, which is not true.
Second, that no naive spirituality of well-being is imparted, but that it is anchored in the middle of life.
When theology has its place here, when priestly formation achieves just that, it also proves credible, competent and responsible to be able to work as a priest in today’s world.
DOMRADIO.DE: How sad is it for you that only four deacons have been ordained priests?
Sauter Master: I am very pleased with all four of them. During my studies, there were 12 to 15 deacons who were ordained priests. I come from a different diocese. Compared to other dioceses, four is still a lot, but of course not enough.
From my point of view, this raises the following questions: what is needed today to make a priestly vocation possible? What is a vocation to the priesthood?
I believe that in the Church we face great challenges. It also shows that being a priest in the 21st century is a great challenge. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what is needed for training. Since more priests would be better, there is no doubt.
DOMRADIO.DE: Why should young men or young women choose this profession?
Sauter Master: The impressive thing about the pastoral or priestly profession is that the question of the meaning of life can be made a ministry and a task. The questions are: What sources do I live from? What am I here for?
It is fascinating to be able to face these questions and walk through life with people in the footsteps of God. I think it is very important to bring this to the fore and create the conditions for it.
The interview was conducted by Martin Mölder.