The new German Bishops’ chair has said the place of women in the Church is the “most urgent question” for the future of the institution.

– “We can’t wait any longer for women to have equal rights”

“The issue of women in the Church is the most urgent question of the future that we have”, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, elected March 3 as the new President of the German Bishops’ Conference in that body’s spring assembly, declared Wednesday on German radio.

Recognising that the Church has some catching-up to do on the question of gender equality, and that Catholic women are impatient for progress, Bätzing said “we can’t wait any longer for women to have equal rights”.

While he didn’t push on this occasion for the ordination of women, Bätzing did say that the Church “need[s]” women to have equal participation in non-ordained roles, such as in the management of parishes and dioceses.

On the question of priestly celibacy, on the other hand – the new German Bishops’ head came out again, as he has in the past, for making that practice optional.

“I believe that it doesn’t hurt if priests are married because they can bring those experiences to the table”, Bätzing said later Wednesday on television.

The Bishop of Limburg has long believed, he said, that the Church should extend more widely “both forms” of priesthood, both celibate and married.

– “Complete and utter” support for ‘synodal path’ reforms

Bätzing’s new statements in favour of more participation for women in the Church are certain to win him the praise of German Catholic women’s groups, who ahead of his election Tuesday were calling on the successor to former Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx to “lead [the Church] into the modern world, into the equality that is lived in Europe and in many countries around the world”.

The bishop’s openness to more power for women and to optional celibacy is also likely to enthuse supporters of the German Church’s two-year ‘synodal path’ reform process, which Bätzing said Tuesday he stands behind “completely and utterly”, adding: “I am very convinced that this is a way of practicing a new togetherness of laity and bishops in the German Church”.

In his backing of the synodal path, Bätzing will have the support of re-elected Bishops’ Secretary Hans Langendörfer SJ, who, although he said he would be stepping aside, was voted into the role again to serve until the end of 2020 at the latest.

After his election as new Bishops’ chair, Bätzing – a known reformer, too, on the questions of intercommunion with Protestants, contraception, masturbation and homosexuality – wouldn’t even admit that Pope Francis’ glossing over the issues of married priests and women deacons in his post-Amazon Synod apostolic exhortation must necessarily slow down reforms in the German Church.

“On the contrary”, Bätzing said, pointing out that just because the Pope “perhaps did not take a stance on certain questions” in his exhortation, “that does not mean that we [the German Church] can’t”.

That was the general consensus, too, among the German bishops and Church development organisations that spoke to the media Wednesday about the Amazon Synod exhortation, following discussions on that document at the Bishops’ assembly.

Those bishops and organisations continued to insist that by limiting himself, in his exhortation, “to officially present[ing] the Final Document” of the Amazon Synod, the Pope was leaving the door open to that Final Document’s recommendation that married men and women be ordained in the future.

– Yet to win over abuse survivors, despite higher compensations

One important group in the German Church that new Bishops’ president Bätzing has yet to win over, however, are the survivors of clerical sex abuse.

Though the German Bishops announced Thursday that they would be upping the compensation offered to victims from the present 5,000 euros plus therapy fees to 50,000 euros, or even more in especially serious cases, victims’ groups said that new figure was still not sufficient.

The Eckiger Tisch survivors’ foundation, for instance, was pushing the episcopate to pay 300,000 euros per victim.

“At least we have clarity now”, Eckiger Tisch leader Matthias Katsch said, even as he accused the Church of limiting itself to the “minimum of what is legally enforceable”.

“The Church in Germany is not prepared to take responsibility for its crimes”, Katsch denounced.

“It does not want to admit the second crime of disguise, cover-up and concealment committed by the institution”, the survivors’ advocate deplored.

A 2018 study revealed that 1,670 German religious and clergymen abused 3,677 minors between 1946 and 2014.

The shock of those findings was the major impetus to begin the synodal path, which is looking to reform Church structures that facilitate both sex abuse and its cover up, such as compulsory priestly celibacy, restrictive sexual morality, the abuse of power in the Church and the marginalisation of women.

Next on Novena:

German Bishops choose as new president reformer in favour of optional celibacy, more power for women

Women, abuse survivors, a new president and (laywoman?) secretary… German Bishops face multiple challenges at crucial assembly

On doctrine on homosexuality, two German bishops – Hesse and Bätzing – urge “widening, opening, change”

German bishop Bätzing recognises women’s exclusion from ordination “fundamentally unjust and inappropriate”

German bishop Bätzing warns “truths of our faith cannot be rigid and immovable”

‘No’ to clericalism, ‘yes’ to co-responsibility: the keys to the first assembly on the German synodal path


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.