A German prelate, the German bishops’ secretary and a German canon lawyer are all refusing to give up on women’s ordination.
Driving the news: women’s ordination, a “sign of the times”
“I do understand that women want to be leaders in the Church and to take on responsibility. Wherever possible, I would therefore like to support that women come to management positions”, Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart Gebhard Fürst told the Stadt Gottes magazine in its February edition.
Fürst recalled that in his own diocese “we have already made considerable progress on this path”.
“One goal in the diocese is to increase the proportion of women in various management positions to 30% by 2020”, the prelate said, defining “management positions” as those “with personnel and budget responsibility”.
“I can also imagine women becoming deacons and have referred to it several times in the past as the ‘signs of the times’.
“With the upcoming synodal path, I would therefore like to advocate the ordination of women deacons”, Fürst continued, alluding with that “synodal path” reference to the German Church’s two-year reform process.
However, the bishop was careful not to build hope too much hope on women deacons, adding that “everyone must know that this is a world Church question” that can only be decided in the Vatican.
Go deeper: “no ban on speaking about women’s ordination”
Also refusing, along with Bishop Fürst, to close the door on the ordination of women was German Bishops’ Conference secretary Hans Langendörfer.
The Jesuit told the Bonn General-Anzeiger January 27 that, contrary to the conservative fake-outs around the question, “there is no ban on speaking about the priesthood of women” in the synodal path.
“The management of expectations is important”, Langendörfer said.
“One should not undertake too much, but also not too little. Too little – that’s why we are pressing for decisions to be binding. Too much – that’s a question of prudence.
“The ‘synodal path’ requires a distinction between the spirits. It always has to start from realities. It must always proceed spiritually and theologically from the pastoral situation”, Langendörfer explained.
The priest added that, on the question of women’s ordination, “if you combine this with the experience in dioceses and communities, there is a wide range of opportunities for discussion”.
Why it matters: synodal path “last chance” for women’s rights
Also joining Fürst and Langendörfer in insisting the Church leave the way open to a discussion on women’s ordination was canon lawyer Thomas Schüller.
The director of the Institute for Canon Law at the University of Münster told the Rheinische Post January 27 that “the synodal path is really the last chance in Germany to think about strengthening women’s rights, and this includes the question of ordination”.
Although the academic admitted that questions around compulsory priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and possible changes to Catholic sexual morality would ultimately be decided in the Vatican, he said that’s precisely “why it is important to collect reasonable arguments, which can then be sent to Rome as a vote and possibly be heard in the world Church”.
Schüller was optimistic that Pope Francis would at least consider the reforms proposed along the German synodal path, just as he is considering the reforms that came out of last October’s Amazon Synod in the Vatican, which by a majority voted to open the priesthood to married men and to establish official Church ministries for women.
For the record: still resistance to women’s ordination
The support of Fürst, Langendörfer and Schüller aside, proponents of women’s ordination in the context of the synodal path face an uphill battle.
Although the German Catholic Women’s Association (KDFB) is looking in the synodal path for the “sacramental ordination [of women as] deacons, which has long been demanded in all regions of the world Church” – and the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) is speaking of a “cautious optimism” – path sceptics such as Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne or Bishop are recalling the need for fidelity to the “faith of the whole Church” and the need to avoid the clericalisation of the laity.
From Thursday to Saturday, the first synodal assembly, consisting of 230 lay and ordained members, will meet in Frankfurt for the start of the discussions on four key areas of Church life: the exercise of power and authority, the place of women, the priestly way of life and sexual morality.