A group of German nuns has denounced that their “dependence” on priests as female religious “takes away our dignity”.

– “A big question mark” alongside the idea that only ordained men should celebrate the Mass

Sister Susanne Schneider was one of the ten nuns of the group “Religious Women for Human Dignity” who penned a stimulating reflection in June on the challenges for women religious during the coronavirus lockdowns.

One big difficulty the religious said they were forced to confront was the impossibility of having a priest visit to celebrate Mass with them during confinement.

In an interview July 6 with katholisch.de, Schneider said that lack of priests and Masses prompted the sisters to rethink both commonplaces in the Church – priests and the Mass – and to realise, in the first place, that in a usual Eucharist “we often had the impression that the idea of the priest as the representative of Christ is more central and the idea of communion is almost forgotten”.

“Moreover, the extremely short notice of cancellations of services on Holy Week and Easter days made us even more aware of how dependent we women are on an ordained minister who may or may not come”, Schneider continued, lamenting that “this dependence takes away our dignity”.

One of the main lessons of the coronavirus for the nuns, then? “We are now putting a big question mark” alongside the idea that only ordained men should celebrate the Mass, Schneider said.

– “It does not make sense to us that the presidency of a Eucharistic celebration is tied to male clerics”

The office of the ordained minister “needs to be reformed”, Schneider continued, adding that “it does not make sense to us that the important ministry – the presidency of a Eucharistic celebration – is tied to male clerics, not only in our country but also, for example, in the Amazon”.

“We think that a Eucharistic celebration is a joint meal celebration of the assembly with a priest and not an exclusive event” of that cleric, the sister went on to explain.

Schneider affirmed that she and the nuns in her group – from various convents – advocate for “the ordination of women priests in general, not just religious women”, though she said it would certainly help communities of female religious were there priests of their own in their midst, not least of all in terms of celebrating the Mass “with more community”.

That community is something that took a hit in Schneider’s convent during the lockdown, as although some of her quarantined sisters got a great deal out of livestreamed Masses, others in the community were looking for something more.

“Those responsible should have said more often: ‘Try it out. Do a Liturgy of the Word’. It would have been a great chance to motivate the believers to become active themselves in small house groups, to read the Bible, sing and pray. Instead, there was a great fixation on Holy Mass”, Schneider lamented.

But still, the nun celebrated that her community was able to organise “deep, touching, spiritual and beneficial” liturgies during confinement. And now she said they’re pushing ahead – above all on the strength of the feedback they’ve received – with their drive to change the Church’s rules for celebrating the Eucharist.

– “We want to change the Church from within”

“We are Roman Catholic and want to remain so. We want – if that is at all possible – to change the Church from within”, Schneider insisted on the nuns’ push for changes.

Explaining that the “Religious Women for Human Dignity” group is “well-networked” with other laywomen-led Church renewal projects in the German Church, such as ‘Maria 2.0’, Schneider said her group wants now “to contribute our experiences to the many reform proposals”.

“So far, religious women have been relatively humble and silent on many issues. That time is now over”, Schneider stressed.

“There is no turning back for us, behind the experiences of these corona weeks 2020”, the nuns wrote in their original reflection. And although Schneider admitted that for the moment the nuns’ circumstances have temporarily reverted to their situation before the pandemic, she said they’re determined to press ahead with their demand that women be allowed to lead Eucharistic services: a demand, she recalled, that “has been around for a long time”.

“Now we are considering what our next steps will be”, Schneider revealed. “This is new territory for everyone and therefore we need a lot of courage, responsibility and steady nerves. We are not letting up, but raising our voice”.

Next on Novena:

The experience of the “Religious Women for Human Dignity”: German nuns describe search for sacrament during COVID-19 beyond “dependence” on ordained men

More stories on Novena on female religious life:

Nun takes charge of German bishop’s office: “The Church as a whole would benefit if there were more women in leadership positions”

Vatican event honours selfless humanitarian efforts of women religious around the world

“Total exploitation”: Former Vatican journalist hits out at priests’ treatment of nuns


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