The German Bishops’ Conference vice-president has insisted that the debate over women priests is “not over”, and has signalled his wish to take the issue both to a “European Synod” and to the Pope himself.
– “If we want to achieve something we have to maintain the relationship with Rome”
“I think that the debate on whether women should also be allowed to be priests is not over”, Bishop of Osnabrück Franz-Josef Bode told the magazine Frau und Mutter, a publication of the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (kfd), in comments published June 18.
Though Bode had days back expressed his reservations about the ordination of women, on this new occasion with Frau und Mutter he showed himself open to reform on the subject, and argued that Church dogmas have always “evolved” in dialogue with the times.
Bode is the co-chairman of the “Women in ministries and offices in the Church” forum in German Catholicism’s present ‘synodal path’ reform process, a grassroots regeneration project that is also looking into possible changes to Church doctrine and practice around compulsory priestly celibacy, sexual morality and the exercise of power and authority.
The Osnabrück bishop revealed to Frau und Mutter that he and other members of the forum on women in the Church “intend to travel to Rome with the synodal path executive committee to speak with the Pope and some men of the Curia”.
Explaining that the goal of those talks would be to inform Francis and curial officials about the reform process “directly”, Bode insisted that “if we want to achieve something overall [in the synodal path], we have to maintain the relationship with Rome”.
He added that on reform issues “I would be for a kind of European regional synod, like the Amazon synod”, making reference to the summit of bishops from that South American region that took place last October in the Vatican.
– “It simply changes something when women are involved in accountability”
Ahead of that possible future European Synod of bishops, Bode had two clear and immediate demands of the Church.
On the one hand, that it increase further the number of women in Church leadership positions for which ordination is not a prerequisite, and on the other, that the German Bishops specifically consider a woman as their next secretary.
“First of all, the strengthening of women in leadership positions must continue”, Bode said, calling on his fellow bishops to identify more “positions and possibilities” in the Church for female leaders and to lift even higher the quota of 30% of women in senior roles that the German Bishops have committed to implementing by 2023.
Having more women in Church leadership is necessary for more honest debates in the institution, the bishop stressed.
“We have had a woman as head of the pastoral office in the Diocese of Osnabrück for 18 years”, Bode explained.
“It simply changes something when women are involved in accountability. That goes right up to the abuse debates”, he highlighted, stressing that women discuss abuse issues differently, “as mothers, as concerned parties”, and as such it is vital that females contribute to anti-abuse solutions in the Church.
On the question of the replacement for current German Bishops’ secretary Father Hans Langendörfer – who has flagged his intention to stand aside by the end of the year at the latest – Bode recalled that “the Bishops’ Conference has agreed in principle that the office can be filled by laypeople. Therefore, it can also be a woman”.
– Cardinal Marx: Women in Church leadership “contribute towards breaking up closed male clerical circles”
Along with Bode, another figure in the German Bishops’ Conference who has also spoken out recently in favour of more power for women in the Church is Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich and Freising and one of Pope Francis’ closest cardinal advisers.
“Women in leading positions in the Church – and this is precisely not a matter of women’s ordination – contribute towards breaking up closed male clerical circles and associations in the Church”, Marx wrote in a text published last week on the German Bishops’ Conference website.
Like Bishop Bode, Cardinal Marx also suggested that the perspective of women was particularly valuable in terms of cutting through the clericalism and Church structures that favour sex abuse and cover-ups.
But Marx also insisted that more female involvement in the institution was just as much a matter of treating women “as equals” and allowing them to participate.
“Particularly as far as public relations and press work are concerned, we have not yet succeeded in making women more visible. We must appoint press spokeswomen, for example, to make it clear that women, too, give the Church a face and can speak for it”, Marx wrote.
“For the sake of our credibility as a Church and our credibility as bishops, we must do everything we possibly can to get women to take up leading positions in the Church”, the cardinal pleaded.