The chair of Austria’s Catholic women’s movement has denounced the “structural sin” of Church misogyny.

– Church shuns New Testament message of radical equality

On gender justice, the Church is “trapped in… structural sin” and supports a symbolic order in which it is legitimate to discriminate against women, Angelika Ritter-Grepl, the chairwoman of the Catholic Women’s Movement of Austria (KFBÖ), denounced in a talk in Vienna October 28 on the subject: “Women. Churches. Crisis”.

The Austrian Catholic women’s rights activist accused the Church hierarchy of not taking into account the New Testament message that ethnic, social-economic and gender differences do not matter in terms of salvation.

The Church prefers instead to push scientifically-disproven gender stereotypes, thereby supporting both Catholic and broader social discrimination against women, Ritter-Grepl deplored.

– “The most important feminist texts are in the Bible”, but Church persists with sex “complementarity”

In her lecture Wednesday, Ritter-Grepl – a University of Innsbruck graduate in critical gender and social studies and a self-described “devout Catholic feminist” – insisted that “the most important feminist texts are in the Bible”.

As evidence for that claim, the KFBÖ chairwoman pointed to St. Paul’s famous teaching in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

Whereas that radical equality was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, the Church has not yet implemented full gender justice, Ritter-Grepl deplored.

As for the reasons why not, the Austrian Catholic feminist pointed to the misogynistic doctrines of Church luminaries such as Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, who paved the way for the magisterium to embrace male-female “complementarity”: the idea that men and women are ontologically equal but functionally different.

That Catholic idea of sexual complementarity – which also has roots in now-discredited 19th-century scientific theories – opened the door to official theology regarding women as weak, intellectually deficient and incapable of participating in public and Church life, for example in ordained ministries, Ritter-Grepl deplored.

Women are regarded by the Church as fit only as mothers confined to the home and family, and that much “under the allegedly necessary leadership of men”, the women’s rights campaigner denounced, adding that Catholic pigeonholing of women overlooks history’s many strong female saints who refused to be put in boxes and even – in the case of some abbesses, for example – even exercised authority over men.

– A call for the “conversion of the whole Church”

Ritter-Grepl warned that increasing numbers of women are walking away from the Church because of its inherent gender inequality.

Far from dismantling the injustice, the Church is instead shoring it up, the women’s movement leader decried, citing the fact that Pope Francis calls for gender equality in his new encyclical Fratelli tutti but “shrinks from changes in the Church in this respect”.

To right the wrong of Catholic sexism, Ritter-Grepl called for the Church to lift the ban on even debating the ordination of women, to enshrine equal rights for the laity and to incorporate the latest conclusions of gender studies into its theology and pastoral work.

Such necessary changes for gender justice would go beyond mere reforms of canon law, the KFBÖ chairwoman warned, calling for a “conversion of the whole Church” towards radical gender equality.

– Sankt-Pölten diocese establishes women’s commission to further feminine leadership

Though they might be few and far between, there are signs that the Church “conversion” towards gender justice that Ritter-Grepl appealed for is slowly becoming a reality in the Austrian Church.

On the same day as the KFBÖ chairwoman’s talk in Vienna, the diocese of Sankt-Pölten became the latest Austrian diocese – after those of Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Graz-Seckau – to establish a “women’s commission”.

Such diocesan commissions – which count on the support of their respective bishops – are tasked with representing the interests of women in the Church and of further strengthening their participation in the institution.

The Sankt-Pölten women’s commission will also have the right of sending representatives to such bodies as the diocesan pastoral council and liturgical commission, of entering into regular discussions with the bishop and of making concrete proposals for more opportunities for women in Church leadership, according to its statutes.

Welcoming the founding of the new commission, Sankt-Pölten bishop Alois Schwarz acknowledged the need for men in the Church to change their “self-image” in relation to women, and told the first women members of the body of his wish “that together we can realise what you dream of” in terms of gender equality.

Schwarz encouraged the pioneer women commissioners to follow in the example of Mary Magdalene and “tell us men: I have seen the Lord. I know the Risen One”.

More on Novena on Catholic women’s struggles for gender equality:

Female theologian issues ultimatum: “Women must not continue to be silenced, made invisible and marginalised in the Church”

French Catholic feminist ‘apostles’ express “perplexity and immense disappointment” with new Archbishop of Lyon

German Catholic women push for inclusion in calendar of saints of forgotten New Testament female apostle

Catholic journalist excoriates misogynistic Church: “Equality does not mean praising women to the skies. It means doing justice to them on earth”

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.