“Over the past 2,000 years, the church has repeatedly reacted to external circumstances.”

AP broke the news Monday:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Essen has become the first in Germany to allow women to perform baptisms, citing a lack of priests.

The diocese said in a statement Monday that Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck tasked 18 lay ministers —17 of them women — with conferring the sacrament of admission into the Church at a ceremony over the weekend.

The Diocese of Essen has details on its website (roughly translated from German):

In a solemn service on Saturday, March 12, Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck commissioned 18 parish and pastoral officers as extraordinary baptismal ministers.

Because there are fewer and fewer priests and deacons available for baptisms in the Catholic Church, Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck has now commissioned … lay pastoral and parish officers  to take on this important task in their parishes in the future.

In a solemn service in Essen Cathedral on Saturday evening, he presented the relevant documents to the pastors. In his sermon, Overbeck explained that baptism was originally administered only by bishops. In the course of time this passed to the priests and deacons; meanwhile non-ordained sisters and brothers were also commissioned to administer baptism.

“Over the past 2,000 years, the church has repeatedly reacted to external circumstances,” said Theresa Kohlmeyer, Head of the Department of Faith, Liturgy and Culture in the Diocese of Essen. “Today, on the one hand, we have fewer priests than in the past, but on the other hand, there is also a great need on the part of the baptismal families for the most individual accompaniment and worship service possible,” reported the theologian, who prepared the baptismal donors for their new task. “We are reacting to this situation in the diocese of Essen, in which we are now including other [lay ministers] in the baptism practice.”

Canon Law describes who may administer baptism — and the definition is quite broad:


Can. 861 §1. The ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 530, n. 1.

§2. 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. [Emphasis added.] Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

Can. 862 Except in a case of necessity, no one is permitted to confer baptism in the territory of another without the required permission, not even upon his own subjects.

Photo: Diocese of Essen