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The Legitimation of Parish Leadership

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The article examines the sources of legitimacy of local church leadership against the background of the modernization of Western society. The empirical question as to the extent to which the forms of legitimation offered by the Catholic Church are endorsed by parish members at the grass-roots level, forms the point of departure for a discussion based on an empirical study carried out in Germany and the Netherlands. The assumption that modern and ecclesial thinking are interwoven in the consciousness of Catholics suggests that modern forms of legitimation will be more readily accepted than the traditional forms. The empirical results, however, clearly show that it is no longer possible to speak of a single source of legitimacy of church authority. While the Catholics surveyed expressed a preference for a church leadership that meets the criteria of modern society, they did not reject the traditional and even the charismatic foundation of local church authority. These results give cause to reflect on how the legitimation of parish leadership might be reconstructed so as to provide a firm foundation for the credibility and acceptance of the Church in a modem society.

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