A German bishop has recognised that women’s exclusion from ordination is “fundamentally unjust and inappropriate”.

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Bishop of Limburg Georg Bätzing made the observation about the Church’s oppression of women and boycott from ordained office in a New Year’s Eve message.

The prelate admitted that he must “take seriously as a bishop that the exclusion of women from ordination offices is perceived as fundamentally unjust and inappropriate in a social environment that has long equated women and men in their rights”.

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Other German bishops ringing in the New Year with cautious optimism for reform in the Church included Bishop of Essen Franz-Josef Overbeck.

Overbeck said in a New Year sermon in the cathedral that the Church is at a “turning point” in which “a lot of questions are being asked [and] reforms are being called for”, and that “requires a thorough turn away from the institution towards the individual and their needs”.

“Above all, we learn that the Church has to be there for people and serve them again and again. It is not an end in itself”, Overbeck insisted.

As an example of a possible change to discipline that could better the Church’s service to people, Overbeck cited the question of compulsory priestly celibacy, which he acknowledged has become “a heavy burden for quite a few priests and is not a release for a larger service”.

Like Bishop Bätzing, Overbeck also urged the Church not to close itself off to the greater participation of women in ministry, and “not to permanently solidify walls today with which women are denied sharing in responsibility” in ecclesial leadership.

Why it matters

For his part, and also in a message for the New Year, Mainz bishop Peter Kohlgraf warned the Church against pessimism.

Kohlgraf acknowledged in the context of the German Church’s two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process that “the Church is changing and it is not easy to accept that we do not know what the end result will be”.

But the prelate insisted that any Catholic who questions the Church’s adaptation to the signs of the times is “not an opportunist” seeking to adapt the Church only to the modern world as an end in itself.

Like Kohlgraf, Bishop of Osnabrück Franz-Josef Bode urged the Church to go back to where people live, love and suffer, and to meet people on the ground.

That’s a scenario, Bode said, that could well involve a greater participation on the part of women and also the involvement of priests with families.

For the record

German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx, meanwhile, urged Catholics in a sermon in Munich Cathedral to “start the new decade with imagination”, to leave aside “old templates and possessive thinking” and to take up the “completely new tone in society and religion” that Jesus himself brought.

Christ himself was angry with those ” who are stuck in stubborn prejudices, who do not leave the same old ways and patterns and who are indifferent to the suffering of others, who place their own human traditions above the will of God,” said the cardinal, who is close to Pope Francis as Coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy and a member of Francis’ Council of Cardinal advisors.

Marx, who is also the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, urged the Church not to start the New Year “in a defensive position… but in confidence that God opens up new possibilities for us – without fear, without narrowness, but with great courage and with a great desire to think new things”.

The bridges of tradition should not be broken, but instead crossed to the other side, the cardinal added, since God works where bridges are built, where forgiveness happens, where reconciliation takes place and where fraternity arises.

Next on Novena:

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