The Bishop of Osnabrück in Germany is pushing for progress in the Church on the questions of women’s leadership, blessings for gay couples and optional priestly celibacy.

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Bishop Franz-Josef Bode made the appeal in a December 27 interview with the German Evangelical Press Service (EPD), in which he expressed his desire to see women ordained as deacons and for them to take on more positions of authority at both parish and diocesan level.

A way must be found, Bode said, to involve women especially in the preaching ministry.

If the Church could count on a complementarity of men and women in the pulpit, “the culture of men and women will change and we will also discuss theological issues differently”, explained the bishop.

Bode leads one of the four forums of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process, on “Women in the Ministries and Offices of the Church”, and recently made headlines by appointing a female ‘pastor’ to a parish in his diocese with authority over the parish priests.

Though they didn’t go as far as Bode, other bishops in the German and Austrian Churches have also in recent days expressed their understanding of the pain of Catholic women of being excluded from Church office.

Bishop of Innsbruck Hermann Glettler, for example, described the veto on women’s ordination as an “injustice”, a “wound”, and “inequality”, though he urged Catholics to focus instead on the fact that women are being included more and more in high levels of administrative responsibility that don’t require ordination as a prerequisite.

For his part, Bishop of Linz in Austria Manfred Scheuer lamented that the ban on women priests, by the unchangeable vote of tradition, had left a “deep wound” on women whose desire to be included in the Church’s ordained ranks he said he could understand.

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On the subject of pastoral care for gay couples, Bishop Bode was equally clear: the basic principle of love should be the moral-theological yardstick for all human relationships, including partnership and sexuality.

We in the Church “should approach this area [sexuality] more positively, closer to people and closer to life”, insisted the bishop.

Bode thereby hinted at the possibility of establishing official Church blessings for gay couples – in the line, at least, of recent suggestions of German Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

Why it matters

Despite sounding positive notes for women and homosexuals, Bode warned against expecting too much from the two-year synodal path, and of jeopardising the results of the reform discussions by making the good the enemy of the perfect.

The ordination of women and blessings for gay couples shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing affair, the bishop explained, insisting that reforms can only come step-by-step and in synchrony with the world Church and with Rome.

That’s not to say, however, that a particular Church can’t make suggestions to be taken up by the universal one, as the recent Amazon Synod demonstrated, Bode said.

The Amazon Synod vote for the possible ordination to the priesthood of married men and abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy, for example, has given Catholics the world over food for reflection and momentum for change, the bishop insisted.

Next on Novena:

Key German Church figures continue to push for end to compulsory celibacy: “The old days are over”

German Bishops insist homosexuality “normal”, sex after divorce and remarriage not a “serious sin”

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

Two German bishops call Church to more “credibility” in approach to gays and lesbians