German Catholic women have taken to physical and virtual pulpits around the country to fight against gender injustice and clericalism in the Church.
– A “Day of the Women Preachers” on the commemoration of the apostle Junia
Yesterday, May 17, was the commemoration in the Church of the apostle Junia, a first-cenury Christian that St. Paul calls “my relative who was imprisoned with me” in his New Testament Letter to the Romans (16:7).
Though Paul also calls Junia “prominent among the apostles” and acknowledges that she came to Christianity before he did, for centuries Church authorities tried to hide her feminine identity, deliberately changing her name to Junias – the masculine form – in translations of the Bible.
The Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (kfd) therefore sees Junia as something of a martyr for the cause of women in the Church, barred as they are from positions of leadership and frequently treated as second-class Catholics.
To honour Junia’s memory, then, the kfd organised on her day Sunday an inaugural “Day of the Women Preachers”, in which twelve Catholic women gave sermons in Eucharistic and Liturgy of the Word services in twelve churches around the country, either physically where coronavirus restrictions permitted it or online in videos, sound recordings and text files.
– “The perspective of women is completely missing” in the Church’s preaching today
Ahead of the Junia women’s preaching day, Ulrike Göken-Huismann, the spiritual adviser of the federal kfd and one of Sunday’s homilists, told Cologne archdiocesan news agency Domradio that the kfd initiative was born of the association’s conviction that the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel “will be much richer” when women are fully involved.
Presently, Göken-Huismann explained, “the Word of God is only interpreted by ordained ministers and the perspective of women is completely missing. And that cannot be, we believe. We believe that it is very important that women are also allowed to preach during the Eucharist”.
But the kfd isn’t just fighting so that women can preach in Church services; according to Göken-Huismann, it’s important that lay men have their say too.
“It’s important to us that [the] ban on lay preaching is lifted”, the kfd spiritual adviser explained, adding that the association hopes that the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ renewal process “will bring movement on the matter”.
– “Only in this way will God’s word be accessible to many”
Even though the kfd is pushing for full lay-clerical equality, the Women Preachers’ Day Sunday had a special focus on bringing about full gender justice in the Church, Göken-Huismann said.
The commemoration of the apostle Junia was deliberately chosen for the action “to bring this feast to the forefront again… to bring this apostle forward as an important witness to our demands for a gender-equitable Church”, the kfd member affirmed.
Göken-Huismann said the question guiding the kfd on the issue of women’s equality was: “If there were men and women in the early Church who were allowed to be apostolically active, why is this no longer the case today?”
“Why does the Catholic Church not see itself in a position to admit women to all services and offices, when it was obviously so in the early Church?”, she wondered.
It’s a question more and more Catholic women in Germany and beyond are asking themselves with ever-greater intensity.
In the words of one of the other preachers Sunday, Ute Albrecht:
“I think it is important to set an example of the importance of women’s and also lay preaching. In this way, very different life worlds and experiences can flow into the interpretation of the Gospel. Only in this way will God’s word be accessible to many”.