A German priest has denounced the “sexualised violence” that exists in the Church and blamed the phenomenon on “male-paternal patterns of dominance”.

– Too many “dependencies” in Church on “fatherly goodness” of those in charge

“In the Catholic Church, sexualised violence has a theological-spiritual root in male-paternal patterns of dominance”, Ansgar Wucherpfennig, who was until he retired in September the rector of the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, wrote in an article in the November issue of Stimmen der Zeit.

The Jesuit deplored the top-down approach to authority in the Church, which he said leads not only to abuses of power but also to their cover-up.

Wucherpfennig recognised that outside experiences of physical violence the patriarchal church hierarchy is often not experienced as tyranny, and that the structure can even have some benefits, including the concentration of responsibilities in a clear chain of command and the potential, at least, for accountability.

However, the Jesuit recognised that “more often” Church patriarchy appears as “opaque”, because it creates “dependencies” on the “fatherly goodness” of those in charge.

He lamented that best practice principles of collegial rule and good governance in the Church – along with any hint of democratic involvement – “are largely rejected for theological reasons”.

– To defeat abuse, constant patriarchal-critical readings of Bible and theology are needed

To defeat sex abuse and the abuse of power in the Church once and for all, Wucherpfennig backed a constant and consistent patriarchal-critical understanding of the Scriptures and theology.

The Jesuit insisted on the need for the Church to “no longer see itself as the downwardly-extended arm of God’s authority”.

Men in charge in the Church – whether ordained or otherwise – “are not fathers and are not exclusively God’s representatives; all people are, because they are God’s image”, Wucherpfennig explained.

As an example of the patriarchal-critical exegesis he proposed, the academic pointed to the fact that patriarchy in the Church need not be taken as God-given, because earliest Christianity merely “adopted patriarchal structures from Judaism, in which it was rooted”.

On the other hand, and in the New Testament, “Paul shows no insight into the subordinate or even oppressed social position of women; he even legitimises it”, Wucherpfennig recalled.

He added that Paul’s patriarchy even extends into the field of sexuality, since the apostle to the Gentiles characterises the proper relationship between men and women as one of “natural use” (Rom. 1:26-27).

“Women and men who oppose this natural use and being used are at the mercy of God’s wrath” in Paul’s theology and later Church teaching, the Jesuit pointed out.

– Catholic women’s rights movement questions need in Church for “any ordained people at all”

Beyond Wucherpfennig’s article, another vision of how the Church could look beyond patriarchy and the strictures of male privilege came also last week from Andrea Voss-Frick, the co-founder of the Catholic women’s rights movement ‘Maria 2.0’, who in a newspaper interview questioned the need for any kind of hierarchy in the Church at all.

The question for the Church today is not so much whether women should be ordained, but whether there should be “any ordained people at all”, Voss-Frick said.

The “powerful system of male clerical circles” will always lead to evil, the activist warned. For that reason – and because the Church is showing no signs of giving up its structure any time soon – it is important that women also be present in the hierarchy, she explained.

“As long as power in the Church is tied to ordination, and as long as people are ordained in the Church, everyone must have equal access to it”, Voss-Frick insisted.

More on Novena on the plague of Catholic patriarchy:

Theologian warns Church will have future “only if it frees itself from the rule of old white men”

Female theologian denounces: “In the Church we women are still being pushed to the side, hidden, silenced”

Vatican official deplores Church “patriarchy”, warns religious denigration of women “always has social consequences”

Catholic women lament “unfortunate androcentric shadow” over “mostly radical” ‘Fratelli tutti’


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