The general secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference has urged Catholics to have “less anxiety and more courage and trust” in opening up Church offices to women.

Driving the news

“We are thankful for the charisma and competencies that women bring with them and introduce, for example as department managers in the ordinariates”, Hans Langendörfer told America.

The Jesuit was reflecting on the growing space Catholic women are carving for themselves in the German Church, which now sees them occupy some 23% of the leadership positions not reserved for priests in the institution.

It’s “a good number, which continues to improve”, said Langendörfer, who none the less was sceptical that women’s ordination will arrive soon.

Not even the German Church’s “synodal path” will result in women priests, the Jesuit said, despite some Catholics’ fears to the contrary.

“There will be no lone German path – certainly not on the question of ordaining women. However, discussions about this topic are not forbidden”.

Go deeper

More than “forbidden”, indeed, discussions about how to promote women’s leadership in the German Church are rather encouraged, Langendörfer said.

So much so that in that two-year “synodal path” reform process that gets under way this December, bishops, laypeople and outside experts will devote one of four discussion forums to that very theme, with the title “Women in the Ministries and Offices of the Church”.

“I cannot understand the anxieties”, Langendörfer said of those critics who want to veto discussions of possible reforms to the place of women in the Church.

“The church is unthinkable without women”, Langendörfer underlined, urging Catholics to have “less anxiety and more courage and trust in these questions regarding women”.

Why it matters

In his interview with America, the German Bishops’ secretary was keen to defend the “synodal path” reform process, which he said will emphasise “the community and bonds of all believers”.

“We… want to be a listening Church that courageously and freely grapples with the issues that are unavoidable if the Church wants to reach people further and not dismiss itself from reality”, the Jesuit explained.

The key “reality” the German Church wishes to address with the synodal path, he added, is the deep loss of trust caused by the 2018 leak of an internal Church investigation that revealed that 1,670 priests and religious were involved in 3,700 cases of child sex abuse from 1946 to 2014.

For the record

The German Church has learnt two main lessons from the sex abuse crisis, Langendörfer said.

One, “that influential factors which fostered the abuse were created by the Church itself and, in this sense, are systematic”.

Those factors “concern primarily the exercise of power within the church and the deficit of opportunities for everyone to participate. Concisely put: clericalism”, the Jesuit explained.

The second lesson is that “the attitude of the church toward sexuality could have negative repercussions” on Church life, as could “the obligatory vow of celibacy” and “the restricted opportunities for the participation of women within the services and ministries of the Church”.

“These themes are ones that our bishops want to address… and specifically together with representatives of the laity”, Langendörfer said.

“Believers are demanding the right to debate freely… without Church teachings hastily bringing down a ban on thinking”, the Jesuit added, thus explaining the connection with the synodal path process.

It’s something the German Bishops are with the laity on, added the Bishops’ secretary.

“The great majority of the bishops regard this as an unshirkable demand of their duty as shepherds.

“They want to correspond to the call as Christ has called them to do as bishops”.

What’s next

Discussions for the German Church’s synodal path will begin on the first Sunday of Advent.

Those talks will be broken down into four forums, each headed up by a bishop and a lay leader.

Apart from the group “Women in the Ministries and Offices of the Church”, other forums will tackle “Power, Participation, and Separation of Powers”, “Sexual Morality” and the “Priestly Way of Life”.

Among others, the 660,000 members of the Association of German Catholic Youth (BDKJ), as well as the 180,000 members of the Association of German Catholic Women (KDFB), have expressed their full support for the process.

Next on Novena:

New female Catholic “pastor” making history in Germany urges other women to follow in her footsteps

German lay vice-president warns women’s ordination a question of Church “credibility”