An Austrian female theologian has demanded a “women’s quota” in Church leadership positions.

Driving the news

Salzburg moral theologian Angelika Walser made the call to step up women’s participation in responsibility roles in the Church in an article February 11 in the online theological journal

Walser, one of the editors of the blog bleiben.erheben.wandeln for women’s equality in the Church, said on that she receives “hundreds” of messages from “women and men” Catholics, “hard core” believers even, who express to her “their displeasure with the situation in the Catholic Church”.

From an elderly woman, for example, who said her 85-year-old husband had gone to his death with his trust in the Church “shaken to its foundations” and with “serious doubts” even about the faith he had relied on all his life because of the clerical sex abuse scandals.

Or from a young nun in the Netherlands, forced to go without the company of fellow religious sisters – for lack of vocations – and exposed to the ridicule of her priest superiors.

Or from “several young women” from Austria and Switzerland who left the Church to become civil celebrants for the same-sex couples the Church refuses to bless.

Or from another young woman from Austria who denounced her priest for refusing to assist dying people if they have children who have left the Church, since they must have failed as parents.

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Theologian Walser’s point in quoting all this sad correspondence was to denounce that “endless crisis meetings” have taken the place of “necessary action” in the Church to stop the hemorrhaging of faithful.

Receiving “hundreds” of like letters, “my concern about the condition of my Catholic Church grows to infinity”, Walser lamented.

“Women and men have been leaving my Church for decades, voting with their feet”, while “adequate reactions” from a hierarchy “still lacking in commitment and intellect” have not yet been forthcoming, the theologian denounced.

“Little or nothing” of the structural reforms called for even at the Second Vatican Council in the 60s has been implemented yet today, Walser deplored.

Doubling down on compulsory priestly celibacy, the continuing veto of women’s ordination… “Instead of finally tackling the reforms that have been pending for decades and risking new steps, a large part of the full-time management of the Catholic Church in Austria refuses to draw consequences from reality.”, the Salzburg theologian decried.

Accusing the Austrian bishops of “silent lethargy, paralysing and debilitating depression and fear of any movement in any direction”, Walser warned the prelates that if the inaction continues, “the Catholic Church in Austria will disappear from the public square”.

Without change, “the Catholic Church will soon be just as relevant to society as my weekly yoga group – that is, not at all”, the theologian cautioned.

Why it matters

Recalling that “moral norms… have often changed in the course of time within the Church” – and that “God’s promise and support apply unconditionally to everyone” – Walser insisted that “Jesus did not preach catechism. He touched and healed and accepted people in need. The way they are”.

Walser implored her bishops to take serious this very “responsibility for the faith and for all people”, as “uncomfortable and embarrassed” as she said she was to have to remind the prelates of these basics of Church teaching, but conscious of it being her “duty as a theologian and as a devout Catholic”.

“I don’t want to be blamed one day for just keeping silent about all of this”, Walser admitted, referring to the Church’s failure to live up to the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner.

What’s next

Out of her concern for the future of the Church, Walser made five “demands” of her bishops, including the “women’s quota” in leadership roles:

  • “A public, structured and transparent dialogue… ‘at eye level’ with us women of the Catholic Church, similar to the German synodal way”
  • A promise not to neglect the expertise of theologians considered “too liberal” in their thinking, since the neglect of their expertise “is one of the root causes of the current crisis in the Catholic Church
  • “An introduction and implementation of a women’s quota in leadership positions in dioceses and congregations, as well as the immediate admission of women to deacons”. “No further discussions are required here”, Walser insisted, also calling for the ordination of married men to the priesthood
  • The transfer of formation for the priesthood in Austria “out of the…. ivory towers of the seminaries” so that young seminarians can serve in the world, “following Jesus, like all Christian baptised people”
  • A “commitment to an urgently-needed revision and reformulation of the Catholic sexual morality and gender order in Rome on the basis of scientific knowledge”

Urging all Catholics “to act courageously” in bringing about change in the Church – even if bishops don’t, “if need be on your own initiative and based on your own conscience” – Walser said the time for talking is over: “there has been a long enough discussion”.

“Let’s do something now”, the theologian urged. “So that the change finally takes shape”.

Next on Novena:

Spanish women theologians shout “Enough!” with “deep discrimination” in Church, call on Catholic women to “revolt”

Austrian Catholic women join sisters in Germany, Switzerland and Italy in demanding equal access to ordained ministry

New Austrian bishop: optional celibacy would solve “problems”, create vocations, ease “loneliness” in priests

Primacy of conscience, equality, freedom of expression… Austrian Catholics draw up “charter of fundamental rights in the Church”

Austrian theologian takes heart from German “synodal path”, suggests similar Church reform process for own country

Austrian Church faces mass exodus: 68,000 Catholics left in 2019


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