A 52-year-old woman making history as the new “pastor” of two German Catholic parishes is urging other women to follow in her footsteps.

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From December 1, Christine Hölscher will be in charge of the parishes of Bad Iburg and Glane, in the Diocese of Osnabrück.

Not as a parish office administrator or lay associate, but as the pastor wielding total financial responsibility, presiding over parish council meetings, coordinating the parishes’ activities, and supervising employees, including a non-resident “priest moderator” who will be limited to the celebration of the Sacraments.

It’s a job that both excites Hölscher and grounds her in reality, as she told German Bishops’ website katholisch.de.

“We’re still a long way from having equal access to power for women”, the new pastor admitted.

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Hölscher has a degree in Religious Education and has been working in lay ministry for various years in the Osnabrück diocese.

She is also a graduate of the mentoring program for Women in Leadership that the German Bishops’ Conference established in 2016.

Hölscher explained that sees her new role not so much as priestly, but as management.

“When leadership responsibilities are shared, abuses of power are less likely to occur”, she said.

The laywoman added that although her new position is grounded in the acute shortage of priests, it’s still progress for Catholic women, so many of whom have turned away from the Church in disappointment.

“We need the experience and the charisms of women in leadership positions”, Hölscher highlighted, stressing that she herself sees no reason to continue to deny women access to the ordained ministry.

The new pastor of Bad Iburg and Glane invited other women to follow her example, and not make of her an exception in charge of parishes.

Currently in Germany, three other women are in similar leadership positions: two others in the Osnabrück diocese, on the islands of Juist and Langeoog, and one other in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart.

In years to come, however, female pastors could become a more and more visible reality, as Churches all over the world struggle to cope with the decline in vocations.

Why it matters

Hölscher’s appointment as pastor of the parishes of Bad Iburg and Glane is another step forward by Osnabrück bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who is not only Vice-President of the German Bishops’ Conference but also chair of the Bishops’ Commission for Women.

Bode has pledged on a number of occasions to make sure responsibilities in his diocese are “equally shared between men and women”, and has flagged another 15 to 20 parishes in which women could be named as pastors, just like Hölscher.

Though Bode is sceptical the Church’s ban on the ordination of women will be overturned any time soon, he said that veto “doesn’t excuse us from exhausting as much as possible what is possible for women now and in the near future”.

In recent months, Bode has been shepherding the Diocese of Osnabrück through a process of reflection and renewal on the theme “Church of participation”, designed to find ways to address the shortage of priests.

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