A young Catholic leader has denounced the “extremely dangerous” Church “premise of entitlement and control”.

– “We cannot trust our bishops and Pope to deal with the horrendous crimes of abuse in the Church”

German theologian, author and activist Doris Wagner Reisinger was speaking October 29 at the 30th Annual Fall Event of Future Church, where she accepted an award for her “outstanding leadership and advocacy on behalf of nuns abused by priests, and their abuse by female enablers within a dysfunctional clerical system”, as the online event heard.

Wagner Reisinger is a former nun who has turned her traumatic experiences of being raped, assaulted and propositioned for sex in the confessional by priests into a powerful advocacy for all victims in the Church, and also into a strong voice for accountability on the part of the hierarchy.

In her talk, Wagner Reisinger spoke of the “completely crazy reality” that is 2020, not only in wider society – with the coronavirus pandemic – but also in the Church.

In that last “we cannot trust our bishops and our Pope to deal with” the “horrendous crimes” of abuse “in a reasonable way”, Wagner Reisinger denounced.

She listed other “truly frightful” phenomena in the Church today, including the fact of the “considerable number of Catholic clergy, including bishops and cardinals, [who] openly defy and attack a sitting Pope”, or that of the numerous bishops, priests and faithful who “openly align themselves with and support some of the worst political leaders of our times”.

In the face of those realities and others like them, Wagner Reisinger offered insights so as “to understand where we are, what has happened to our Church and to find the road we need to take in order to get solid ground under our feet again”.

– Church’s simultaneous emphasis on conscience and obedience a “strange logical contradiction” that fosters abuse

Wagner Reisinger’s key to understanding both her own experience of abuse and the crisis in the Church today consisted of the observation that two fundamental truths of Catholic life are “ultimately incompatible”.

The Church’s twin emphases on the primacy of conscience but also at the same time on the importance of obedience are a “strange logical contradiction” that “is actually the key to decode the crisis we are going through”, the former nun explained.

The tension between the twin demands of conscience and obedience provides cover for some in the Church to “believe honestly and seriously that we are not equal, that God has given to some people more dignity and that they are entitled to dominate and control the rest of us”, Wagner Reisinger deplored.

“There are people who honestly and seriously believe, that faith is not a free choice but an obligation and that some people are entitled by virtue of their office or by virtue of their personal enlightenment to coerce others into it and that whoever opposes himself or herself to them rightly deserves to be punished”, she continued.

The survivor of clerical abuse then hit perhaps the most powerful note of her talk:

“Wherever people are victimized, abused, exploited or killed it is because somebody believed to have the right or even the legal or moral obligation to abuse, exploit and kill them”.

But in the face of that recognition, Wagner Reisinger pleaded: “Nobody has the moral right to put himself or herself above others, not on the grounds of wealth or office or skin color or gender or ideological or religious background, not on any grounds. Not in our Church, not in our families, not in society”.

– Three points of action for laypeople: “Stop pretending”, “challenge”, “fight”

Wagner Reisinger closed her Future Church talk with a warning that “if our Christian faith is to have any logical and ethical substance at all it consists precisely in this message: That we are all equal before God and possess an inviolable dignity from which derive equally inviolable rights, among them the right to follow our own conscience in matters of faith”.

To get to that point of radical equality and dignity in the Church, she proposed three points of action for laypeople:

  • “Stop pretending – and stop our leaders from pretending – there was no theologically and morally illegitimate domination and control in our Church and our societies, because there clearly is”
  • “Challenge our leaders with regard to the logical incoherence of supposed equality and obvious domination. And make sure to let yourself not be gaslighted by them. Because that is what they normally do”
  • “Fight for the change of our Church and our society. Because our constitutions, political and ecclesiastical, still have many rules, that allow for the domination, exploitation and abuse of our fellow human beings”

“I am not sure how far we can get” with Church reform, Wagner Reisinger admitted, adding that “I want to be honest: I am not exactly optimistic that a meaningful reform of our Church is even possible – but at the same time I know that it would be terribly wrong not even to try”.

“Because, if faith is about anything at all, it is about hope that despite all the efforts of self-righteous rulers, darkness will not prevail and that every man and woman and child who to this day are controlled and abused shall be free at last”.

To see the video and read the transcript of Wagner Reisinger’s talk, follow this link to the Future Church website

More on Novena on abuses of power in the Church:

German Church doubles down on fight against abuses of priestly power, clericalism in liturgy

Journalist denounces lack of Vatican will to stamp out sexual and spiritual abuse of nuns by clerics

Catholic journalist excoriates misogynistic Church: “Equality does not mean praising women to the skies. It means doing justice to them on earth”

Vatican official deplores Church “patriarchy”, warns religious denigration of women “always has social consequences”


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