A Vatican official has deplored the Church “patriarchy” and warned that the denigration of women for alleged religious reasons “always has social consequences”.

– Much at stake in how Church treats women

Viennese priest Michael Weninger, a staff member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke to Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress October 13 to denounce that gender injustice in the Church and a “patriarchy for supposedly religious reasons” contribute to the disparagement of women in wider society.

Indeed, Weninger – who before he was ordained to the priesthood served in the Austrian diplomatic service – warned that the marginalisation of women in the Church paves the way for the instrumentalisation of women in phenomena as grave as modern slavery and human trafficking.

– Instead of being “instrumentalised by male-centred Church”, religious sisters especially “should take on leading roles”

In his interview with Kathpress, Weninger highlighted poverty and social exclusion, among other factors, as the causes of modern slavery, but also pinpointed religious influences as the reason why women are trapped in exploitation more than men.

The priest – who described himself not as a feminist but simply as “active in the cause of women” – also criticised the image the Catholic Church has of women, and admitted that in that regard the institution has a lot of catching up to do, particularly in terms of encouraging the potential of religious sisters.

“Religious women are sometimes instrumentalised for the purposes of a male-centered Church”, Weninger decried, citing as evidence for that claim the numerous instances of the sexual and work-related abuse of nuns by priests and bishops that have come to light in recent times.

Canon law, continued the Vatican official, treats religious women “like laypeople”, when in fact through their “pious way of life and excellent education, religious women should actually take on leading roles in the Church”.

“Religious women are currently not sufficiently appreciated and are marginalised”, Weninger underlined, calling on fellow Catholic leaders to raise up “the treasure of women” and use their potential for the Church.

The Austrian priest said he shared the vision of Pope Francis as expressed most recently in his new encyclical Fratelli tutti, which Weninger summarised as a “fraternal Church” and society with full equality between the sexes.

He also revealed that he shares the Pope’s scepticism – as the pontiff reiterated as recently as last Sunday’s Angelus prayer – that the ordination of women is necessary for them to stand on an equal footing with men.

“We must move away from a male-centered clerical Church”, but a “clericalised women’s Church” is also no path to true gender justice, the Vatican official insisted.

– Sexual exploitation of women and children “a shocking offence against human dignity”

Weninger was speaking to Kathpress ahead of his taking part from this Tuesday in the G20 Interfaith Forum from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, which is bringing together virtually from October 13-17 some 1,300 policymakers, religious leaders and experts to debate online on the crucial issues of our day, from poverty and inequality to religion and the environment to refugees, displacement and migration.

During a discussion Tuesday on human trafficking, Weninger recalled that “the International Conference on 21st-century slavery stated that human trafficking constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity, and a grave violation of fundamental human rights, particularly the sexual exploitation of women and children”.

Slavery “must be recognised as an intrinsic violation of human dignity and human rights”, the Vatican diplomat pleaded.

Another highlight from the Interfaith Forum yesterday came from the Reverend Susan Hayward, a Senior Advisor for Religion and Inclusive Societies at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), who in a panel on countering hate speech said:

“It has struck me that a good amount of hate speech targets policy for women especially. Sometimes speech criticises women who are outspoken or step out of what are considered to be acceptable gender norms… The gender dimension of hate speech is significant and it must be addressed in efforts to prevent or to respond to hate speech online and in the real world.

“I would argue for religious actors to recognise and address this gender dimension because religion has something to do with how gender and gender norms are understood”.

More on Novena on the damage done by Church patriarchy:

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

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

Irish nun pleads: “Most urgent” issue for Church “is to correct its gender imbalance”

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


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