The first Opus Dei priest to assume the leadership of a community church in Kreuzweingarten, West Germany, is causing something of a stir. The controversy arises because many German Catholics are suspicious of Opus Dei, a secretive and conservative Roman Catholic society. They regard the order as a southern European kind of Roman Catholicism that is inappropriate for the less personalized and emotional religious expression of Northern Europe.
The secretiveness of Opus Dei that alienates these Germans is manifested primarily on the lay side of the order. Opus Dei priests identify themselves openly as such, but lay adherents do not.
Liberal Roman Catholics here are also wary of the conservatism of Opus Dei. Pope John Paul II's naming of the 56-year-old Spanish-founded order as a personal papal prelature two years ago is widely viewed within the church as a check on the Jesuits, whom the Pope has regarded as too liberal and independent of the Vatican.
Such considerations induced one parish in Cologne to decline the honor of getting the first Opus Dei pastor in West Germany last summer. They figured not at all, however, in the Kreuzweingarteners' specific request for an Opus Dei pastor after the Cologne parish rejected the pastor, Fr. Peter Irrgang.
For these townsfolk, the more important question was whether their church would get a priest at all; the shortage of Catholic clergy in this country meant that the Cologne archbishop had already categorized their small town (pop. 1,200 ) as a marginal parish that would have to make do without a priest of its own when the post became vacant.
A few Kreuzweingarten parishioners noted a difference in the communion ceremony. Some felt their new priest was too ambitious in the number of hours he allotted to confession. But otherwise they had only positive things to say about their priest.