In several parishes in Germany and Austria, Catholic women parishioners, who are normally engaged in parish work, have been on a week’s “strike” this week, from 11-18 May, in protest against male dominance in the Church.
The initiative, Maria 2.0, was founded by five women in the Heilig Kreuz (Holy Cross) parish in Münster on 14 February this year. They called on women parishioners to lay down their parish work and to hold Services of the Word in front of churches but not to enter church for the week of 11-18 May. The women also wrote a letter to Pope Francis a week before the 21 to 24 February abuse summit demanding that abuse perpetrators be reported to the state authorities, that women be accepted to all church offices and the priestly celibacy rule abolished.
On Sunday this week (12 May) women gathered in front of churches in several parishes in Germany and Austria. Five hundred gathered in front of Münster Cathedral and celebrated a Service of the Word.
At Freiburg, 400 women activists clad in red gathered in front of the cathedral and cited their demands while Archbishop Stephan Burger ordained six new priests in the cathedral. In his sermon, and on leaflets that were distributed to the congregation, Burger explained that he could understand the women’s disappointment, but his hands were tied by church law. The Vatican had made it clear that women could not be ordained and Pope Francis had only recently emphasised that no decision concerning women deacons would be possible in the near future. “I cannot ease this tension but must withstand it. A Church without women is unthinkable. I will do everything I can to go on promoting women and have understood their message”, Burger said.
Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg, said he saw no possibility of ordaining women. “It won’t get us a millimetre further if we rig up the history of the Church in order to allow ourselves to ordain women,” he said at a symposium at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria on 12 May. Deaconesses in the Early Church had not been ordained, he emphasised. More holiness was called for, not majority votes, he underlined, and warned against the clericalisation of the laity and the laicisation of priests.
Two nationwide groups - the Catholic German Women's League (KDFB) and the Catholic Women's Community of Germany (KfD) – described the strike call as an "important signal" and urged bishops not to ignore it. KDFB president Maria Flachsbarth said abuse cases and cover-ups by priests had slid the church into deep crisis and credibility loss. “Without the women nothing happens,” reflected Thomas Steinberg, president of the Central Council of German Catholics (ZdK), at its lay convention in Mainz on 10 May. “Never before have I experienced a situation in which indignation extended so far into the core of our churches.”
On 10 May in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall, Pope Francis held a 40-minute question and answer session with 850 superiors of female religious orders, who were in Rome for the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General. Among the issues up for discussion was whether women can be ordained as deacons.
Francis has permitted a debate about the women's diaconate to bubble away for the last three years. During a 2016 meeting with the union of superiors general he promised he would set up a commission looking into the matter. That commission’s report has been handed over by the Pope to Sr Carmen Sammut, who leads the religious superiors.
During his 10 May discussion with the nuns, the Pope stressed that any change in this area must be grounded in divine revelation, and dogma, and that the commission could not agree over the role of female deacons in the early Church.
“We need to look back to the beginning of revelation, if there wasn’t such a thing, if the Lord did not want a sacramental ministry for women, it doesn’t go,” Francis said. “We are Catholics, but if any of you want to found another church you are free to go.”
At the same time, the Pope also called for further study on the topic and pointed out that revelation is in “a continual movement to clarify itself.”