The German Bishops have advertised in a national newspaper for a new – possibly layperson – secretary in a move Catholic women have hailed as a positive step.

– Wanted: a man – or woman – who can contribute “to the positioning and public perception of the Church”

“As secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference you will make an important contribution to the positioning and public perception of the Catholic Church in Germany”, reads the advertisement placed August 13 in the newspaper Die Zeit and due to be placed also on the Conference’s website.

With the ad the German Bishops are looking for a replacement for Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer (68), who announced this past spring that he would continue in the role he has occupied since 1996 until the end of this year “at the latest” before handing the position over “into younger hands”.

According to the statutes of the German Bishops’ Conference Langendörfer’s successor will be elected by the prelates in a general assembly and confirmed in the role by the Bishops’ chairman.

Until now in the Conference’s 172-year history the position of secretary has always been filled by a priest, but with their Thursday announcement the German Bishops are signalling a change in direction and welcoming applications from laypeople.

– Prerequisites: “empathy”, “diplomatic skills” and “leadership”

As for the qualities the German Bishops are looking for in their new secretary, the ad in Die Zeit specified “empathy, a high level of diplomatic skills and an appearance that is as authentic as it is representative”.

The German prelates also stipulated that candidates should be able to “move confidently in the most diverse ecclesiastical, political and social circles”, should have experience in administration either at diocesan level or in a Catholic organisation and should possess the leadership qualities necessary to lead an organisation with 180 employees.

A further prerequisite is a theological degree “ideally with a doctorate”, the German Bishops’ ad indicated.

– “Now the Bishops can show that they are serious about leadership positions for women”

That emphasis in the German Bishops’ ad on the need in a new secretary for diplomatic skills, experience, leadership and theological knowledge motivated the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (kfd) to encourage women especially to apply for the position.

“Now the Bishops can show that they are serious about leadership positions for women. I can only hope that they are vigorously looking for a female appointment”, said kfd national chairwoman Mechthild Heil in a statement.

“If the ad is not a ruse, then the bishops can only be congratulated on this step”, added Heil’s kfd colleague theologian Agnes Wuckelt, who added that the call for lay male and female candidates “strengthens us as women within the Church and hopefully… also strengthens those who have taken the path of reform [in the Church] together with us”.

“Women, apply!”, Wuckelt urged her Catholic sisters.

– Women’s chance in role strengthened by precedent in Nordic countries

As for the timeline of the appointment of a new German Bishops’ Conference secretary, though the Die Zeit ad didn’t specify an application deadline or appointment date, a successor to Langendörfer could be in the role as early as this September, when the German prelates meet for their next plenary in Fulda.

Should a woman come to occupy a role, it would be a first for Germany but a step not without precedent in the worldwide Church.

Since 2009, a Missionary Sister of the Most Precious Blood, Anna Mirijam Kaschner, has served as general secretary of the Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference, which is made up of prelates from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

More news on Novena on the German Bishops:

Bishop of Mainz alerts: “We can no longer build our Church life on traditions alone”

Archbishop of Paderborn renews “urgent” plea for more women in Church hierarchy: “Female leadership is important and enriching”

Cardinal Marx rips new Vatican document on parish life: “No fruit is borne like this”

Bishop of Hildesheim insists: reform process in the Church is “essential”


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.