A theologian has warned that the Church will have a future “only if it frees itself from the rule of ‘old white men'”.

– Crisis of the Church “goes hand-in-hand with the crisis of the ‘white man'”

“The crisis of the Church goes hand-in-hand with the crisis of the ‘white man’, also the ‘old white man'”, Protestant theologian and professor of sociology at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen Reimer Gronemeyer told Deutschlandfunk in an interview published online October 26.

Gronemeyer, who himself was born in 1939, acknowledged that the white patriarchal gerontocracy “has achieved great things” in world history, but he added that that same system has been responsible in recent years and decades for “making this planet an uninhabitable place”.

From that premise the theologian and sociologist concluded that the Protestant and Catholic Churches will only survive amid the multiple crises currently gripping Christianity and the world to the extent that they open up to the leadership of non-white, non-male people.

Gronemeyer, who is involved in different development projects in Africa, said that his experience on that continent tells him that “where people are trying to save orphans or fight hunger, is that it is more likely to be women than men” who are taking up those kinds of fights.

That kind of commitment is exactly what is needed in the Churches, the academic went on, thereby shoring up his argument that Christianity only has a future if it embraces that kind of women’s leadership.

Gronemeyer also said he took for granted that, out of that drive to survive, the Catholic Church will eventually allow women deacons, priests and bishops in the future.

– Pope’s moving Urbi et orbi blessing at the height of the pandemic a farewell to the “Church triumphant”

Also in his interview with Deutschlandfunk, Gronemeyer said that the Churches have been suffering from a secularisation crisis that dates back at least fifty years but which has now been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

That same crisis of belonging and credibility has also led to the presence and influence of the Churches in the public square to “melt away like the polar ice caps”, the academic lamented.

The theologian and sociologist referred to the hemorrhage of faithful from both the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Germany – which last year reached record highs of 272,771 and 440,000 departures respectively – and said that those statistics augur “major economic and cultural crises” for both denominations, also due to a drop in giving.

But Gronemeyer was optimistic that the depressing decline in membership in the Churches could be a “great opportunity in which something breaks open that may already seem buried under the rubble”, and which leads to Christianity taking on a “completely different” face.

The twin crises of secularisation and the COVID-19 pandemic are a “moment of change, of new beginnings”, the academic insisted, “when these issues become important: What consoles? Where is the longing for meaning? Where is the longing for spirituality? Where is the longing to also break with the world’s worldliness?”

In that sense of a new beginning for the Churches, Gronemeyer situated Pope Francis’ evocative Urbi et orbi blessing in a desolate St. Peter’s Square March 27 as a turning point.

The image of an old, white, male pontiff praying for a suffering world “touched me very much”, Gronemeyer explained, as a moment that encapsulates what the Churches are going through – the farewell to the Ecclesia triumphans or “Church triumphant”, with all its property, riches and social and political influence.

The Pope’s blessing at the height of the pandemic was “a moment when the switch was turned and something very sad happened, but at the same time the horizon opens up for a new, different way of living the Church, of being a Christian”, the academic reflected.

More on Novena on the plague of privilege in the Church:

Novena book review: The Church managed to backflip on its historical support for slavery. So why does it continue to fetter women by barring them from ordination?

Novena guest article: “A patriarchal ecology of human dominion over nature is no longer sustainable”

German Catholic students criticise patriarchal language for the divine: “God is just as much woman and mother”

Afro-Brazilian priests plead with Pope for more Black bishops, complain of knee of Catholic white supremacy “pressing on our necks”


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