800 people have protested for gender equality in the Catholic Church by forming a human chain around Cologne Cathedral.

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Leadership roles for women and more transparent handling of child abuse complaints were the principal demands at the protest Sunday, organised by German women’s reform group Maria 2.0.

“I stand here today because I can’t justify to my children the inequality of women in the Church”, said the co-organizer of the rally, the theologian Maria Mesian.

“Urgent structural changes” are needed in the Church, otherwise churches “will be even emptier”, Mesian warned.


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“Our action should send out a signal that we should get away from the absolutist tendencies in the Church where only men have something to say”, theologian Mesian continued.

“We are six million Catholics, and we demand a voice”, she continued, reflecting on the involvement of women in the rally.

“We want to embrace the cathedral and symbolically express that we as dedicated Catholic women are Church”, added Rotraut Röver-Barth, Cologne Diocesan Chairwoman of the Catholic German Women’s Federation (KDFB).

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Why it matters

After the human chain Sunday, further action is planned for Monday afternoon, when members and supporters of the Catholic Women’s Association of Germany (KFD) are slated to hold a prayer vigil in front of the cathedral.

It’s all part of a German-wide week of protests for a gender-equal Church.

But it’s also meant as a wake-up call for the German Bishops, who are meeting from Monday to Thursday in the city of Fulda for their Autumn Assembly.

In first place on the agenda for that assembly is the German “binding synodal path”, a process by which, from this December, German bishops, laypeople and outside experts plan to discuss and vote on reforms to Church power structures, obligatory priestly celibacy, sexual morality and women’s visibility.

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For the record

Ahead of the German Bishops’ Assembly, a key partner of theirs in the synodal path – Thomas Sternberg, the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that the Church is in a “deep crisis of confidence”.

It’s not enough to talk about the problems, Sternberg said: action must be taken.

Sternberg also had harsh words for those voices who warn the synodal path could lead to splits in the Church.

“We want a ‘special way’ of the Church in Germany as little as the bishops do. There’s no danger of a split. Anyone who claims that exaggerates excessively and uses a distorted image”,the layman explained.

The president of the ZdK also warned against those voices that want to limit the role of laypeople in the synodal path.

“What’s important is the discussion of the better argument, not whether it comes from laypeople or bishops, women or men”, said Sternberg.

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