A “synodal path” participant who describes themself as non-binary caused a sensation in the German Church by speaking truth to power at the first synodal assembly in Frankfurt.

Driving the news

Mara Klein, 23, caused a stir at the assembly by taking the floor and calling the German Bishops out on the clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandals that led to the episcopate deciding that the two-year reform process on possible changes to the Church exercise of authority, Catholic sexual morality, celibacy and the sidelining of women was necessary.

A 2014-2018 study by researchers from the universities of Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Gießen – hence the MHG study name by which the investigation is known today – found that 3,677 children and juveniles fell victim to sexual abuse perpetrated by 1,670 clerics between 1946 to 2014.

The study caused shockwaves in the German Church, and led the German Bishops to decide in a September 2018 Plenary Assembly that, in the light of the abuse crisis, “the challenges specific to the Catholic Church, such as the questions of the celibate way of life of priests and various aspects of Catholic sexual morality, will be discussed in a transparent process of dialogue with experts from various disciplines”: hence today’s “synodal path”.

Go deeper

As FocusNews of the reform group Future Church reported, Mara Klein stood up in the first assembly of the synodal path and told the German Bishops that the MHG study proved the prelates “are not the victims” but an “association of perpetrators”.

Klein continued:

Bishop [Rudolf] Voderholzer [of Regensburg] said earlier that he felt uncomfortable. I hope that we do feel uncomfortable. We have every reason to be…

As a young person in our church I feel uncomfortable standing here and knowing all those in the structure has caused the results, which the MHG study only emphasized again, are gathered around me.

I am against a polarization of clergy and laity, but I want to emphasize that we are dealing here with a massive structural sin.

Show us that you can break out of it. I’m still standing here, and it’s hard for me, because I believe that we can break out of it.

Why it matters

Klein was interviewed February 7 about her speech by katholisch.de, an official website of the German Bishops’ Conference.

In a sign that times are changing in the German Church, Klein was recognised by the German Bishops’ website as non-binary (divers), with the German “gender asterisk” (Genderstern) attached to all their personal pronouns.

Klein, one of the just of the 230 synodal assembly participants aged under 30, said that their speech at the assembly had been largely “improvised” but that it was “important” to say what they said.

Among the many people who sought Klein out after their address to thank them for their “courage” – or to say they felt “represented”, “encouraged” or “touched” by Klein’s words – Klein said even a few bishops “shook hands afterwards and thanked me for the contribution”.

“I found the conversations I had with bishops to be enriching”, Klein revealed.

“I was and still am very overwhelmed by the many reactions”, the synodal assembly participant continued.

“I did not expect that. But I am grateful to see that so many people find themselves in my words”.

What’s next

Although Klein said that “there is definitely room for improvement” in the next synodal assembly in Frankfurt in September – for example, “in the implementation of democratic elements” – Klein said the many “impressive” speeches at the first meeting made them “hopeful”.

“I hope that we will be able to show that the will to make the necessary changes within the Church has been there for a long time, that it is strong and that it is justified”, Klein continued.

“It is important not to forget that the synodal path alone has no ecclesiastical power”, Klein recalled, making reference to the fact that it will depend on individual bishops – or the Vatican – to implement the resolutions made on the path.

“That is why I hope that it will become even clearer that we are traveling together; together and – at least on this part of the way – equally.

“I don’t think it will be an easy path, but I hope it can be the right one”, Klein concluded.

Next on Novena:

Cologne cardinal Woelki paying price for allergy to reform? 120,000 left local Churches just in 2019

On doctrine on homosexuality, two German bishops urge “widening, opening, change”

“So far away from reality”: German Catholics blast Cardinal Müller for “synodal path”-Nazi comparison

Women to take over pulpits for a Sunday in Germany in push for Church gender equality

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

(Small) Win for women on German ‘synodal path’: assembly votes to make resolutions dependent on female majority

“Synodal path” begins in Germany: youth, laity dream of Church “democratisation”


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