“Without women, the Church wouldn’t work”, the President of the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (KFD) has said.

Driving the news

Mechthild Heil, KFD President and conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician in the German Parliament, spoke to El País about the latest push of German Catholic women for gender equality in the Church.

The KFD protests for gender equality have intensified in recent days, coinciding with the German Bishops’ Autumn Plenary Assembly in Fulda.

Last Monday, the association organised a human chain for gender equality around Cologne Cathedral, in which hundreds of people joined in.

Heil and other KFD women also marched through the streets of Fulda carrying big pink crosses and banners for women’s equality, accompanied by a group of drummers.


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Go deeper

In the Church, “the role of women is extremely important”, German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the protesters in Fulda.

“I know, we need movement. I urge and bring pressure, but sometimes things happen slowly”, Marx added.

Heil was ironic about the encounter with the cardinal.

“We have a lot of experience with slow processes”, the politician laughed.

“Many older women have grown tired of waiting and have moved away from the Church. But now, we’re witnessing a new momentum”.

“There’s a lot of motivation among young and old. Many women call us to sign up. Just today, three parliamentarians have asked us to join. People feel that now something can happen”.

As to exactly what the German women want to happen, Heil was clear.

They want reforms to “women’s access to any position [in the Church], sexual morality, contraception, recognition of divorced persons, homosexuality…”, she explained.

In short, “to have the same rights as men in the Church”.

But above all, Heil also said, German Catholic women want to make sure there can never again be another clerical sex abuse crisis in the Church.

Last year, the German Bishops published a report on priestly pedophilia that revealed 1,670 priests and religious had committed a total of 3,677 sex abuse crimes from 1946 to 2014.

Heil said that report revealed serious “structural problems” in the Church.

“With sexual morality, with the formation of priests in seminaries… if they have no sexual experience or sexual maturation, how are they going to explain [sexuality] to the students?”, Heil asked.

“All this contributes to the abuse; also the fact that there were no women involved”.

“A woman, perhaps, would have said that it could not be managed like this, that a priest can’t simply be moved to another place. The bishops understood that the study had to have consequences”.

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Why it matters

Those “consequences” of the revelations of the depth of the sex abuse crisis have come in the form of the German Church’s “binding synodal path”.

That path amounts to a reform process by which bishops, laypeople and outside experts plan, from this December, to discuss reforms to power structures in the Church, compulsory priestly celibacy, Catholic sexual morality and the place of women in the institution.

Plans for the process have come in for fierce criticism, not least from the Vatican.

But Heil said that just because some in Rome are against the synodal path, that doesn’t mean Pope Francis is.

“The problem isn’t Pope Francis; the problem is the people around him”, Heil denounced.

“The German bishops who are against the process ran to see the Pope”.

“The Vatican is afraid of the German Church separating; they see us as too close to the Protestants. In Austria and Switzerland there are also initiatives similar to ours”, the politician recalled.

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What’s next

Heil categorically rejected the risk of schism if the synodal path goes ahead.

As it looks like it will, after the German Bishops adopted statutes for the path Wednesday in a 51-12 vote with one abstention.

“That’s an argument Rome uses to discipline countries”, she explained.

“Rome wants the bishops and not the laity to have the last word, but we must also be able to say what we want”.

“The challenge now is to influence the bishops, but I think the majority is with us”.

“I think they [the bishops] have realised after the abuse study, things can’t continue as they were. Another thing is to put the changes in motion”, Heil acknowledged.

The politician was clear that one particular change is fundamental.

The bishops “have to give up power”, Heil explained.

“If they don’t, that’s deeply anti-Christian. There’s no theological reason” for them to have so much control, she added.

“I don’t care what happened 2,000 years ago. The Church has always been changing and the situation today is different”.

“The bishops are afraid that if something changes, everything will turn to pieces”.

“We’re not fighting for power, but for responsibility to make decisions”.

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Half a million German Catholic women demand access to priesthood


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