CWS member Ruth Fehlker reports and reflects on the recent movements in the Catholic church in Germany.
It all began with a small group of women in the German diocese of Münster, who met to read Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, and one day the conversation turned. They acknowledged how hard they found it to stay in the church – in the face of the abuse cases and their coverups as well as just because they are women. It quickly became clear that silently leaving was not an option, but silently staying wasn’t either. And thus the initiative Maria 2.0 was born.
Despite being widely reported as the ‘women’s strike’, this wasn’t actually the main idea. First and foremost it was about an open letter to Pope Francis, calling others to action and demanding women’s participation, and a no-tolerance-policy for abusers among other things (http://www.mariazweipunktnull.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Maria20HandzettelOffenerBriefEnglisch.pdf).
They write: “Women’s praise is often sung by church men, but they alone determine how women participate in the church. The only woman allowed among them is Mary. We claim her back, as she is one of us.”
They called for women to stay outside the churches for a week (May 12th-May 18th), to not volunteer during this time, to have prayers outside the churches, to wear white as a sign of renewal, to be creative and find ways of showing how important women are to the daily workings in our church.
Lisa Kötter, Andrea Voß-Frick and the others are still completely overwhelmed with the echo their idea had. Groups from all over Germany (and beyond) called to say they were taking part, they were getting together. Many called to share their stories (often decades old) of abuse, belittlement and hurt. Many just to voice their support. The two biggest German catholic women’s association (kfd and kdfb) also declared their support.
And so, on Sunday May 12th, there were events in parishes all over Germany, and they continue all week. On Sunday, around 1000 people (women and men) met in the Cathedral Square in Münster to pray together, to show that we are here, not because we hate the church, but because it is our home, because we love it, because we refuse to stay silent while it fails the most vulnerable and remains an example for injustice.
There has been little response from the hierarchy. A few (the vicar General of Essen, the Bishop of Osnabrück) have expressed understanding and support, others have criticized the initiative for its simplistic demands, for its methods (abuse of the Holy Eucharist and the Virgin Mary), but mainly they have remained silent – a common practice in Germany – ignore things until they go away. Many parish priests on the other hand are in full support.
Asked about this the women of Maria 2.0 are not discouraged: “We do not expect much from the hierarchy” Lisa Kötter says, “But we believe that our way of being church is changing. They will have to adapt. True change never starts from the top.”
Lisa Kötter spoke at the beginning of the prayer:
Dear Sisters and Brothers, dear Marys, it is a serious thing that we are standing out here today. Because we are serious about our church of which each and every one of us is a part. Serious about Jesus of Nazareth. Because he said: “Renew your mind.” He said “Love one another.”He has assured us of God’s unconditional love! He made it visible, but he also gave us the task to make it visible in this world, in this time: Bless, is what we are supposed to do, not condemn.
It is a serious thing, Love. Without it we are hollow and silent. All faith, all wisdom, all community, all longing loses its power. Everything good about the Good News of Jesus freezes without love.
We are serious about the vocation of all who are baptised. And about equal rights for women, who are loved and blessed as God’s children with equal dignity and equal vocations as any man, as any human. Women are not better humans. But only together, at eye level is it that we can strengthen each other, see what we are doing, check each other – only together can our effect on the world be an invigorating one. Whoever does not respect women without condition holds half of the beloved children of God in contempt.
About two weeks ago we received a young woman’s letter, Antonia, who had written to her bishop, asking for advice. She wants to be a priest. She feels called and perplexed at the same time. She obviously knows that the Roman Catholic church does not ordain women (yet). The answer was a polite letter that the bishop didn’t have time to answer himself, that he recommended taking a Christian gap year and that he wishes all the best for her future.
We all know, or might imagine what would have happened if Antonia had been called Anton. There would not only have been an in-depth answer from the bishop but also an invitation for a talk. This valuable vocation would have received every support, every effort coming to meet it, strengthen it, help it.
The amount of vocations, of wisdom, passion and spirituality our church passes on, what she misses out on by this outmoded and unjust treatment of half of its members – we want to finally give it to her. May she, and thus we all, go on in powerful „menschenfreundlichkeit“ (human-friendliness). May the good news open our church to the perpetual change, which is a mystery of our faith.
That is why we are here today. Not to add our self-righteousness to the well known horrors that happen in our church, but to listen to the good news, which our world so sorely needs. And which we want to proclaim today, even in front of our church. We want to be a blessing to each other.
Let us begin: we are standing here with our longing, our faith and our searching: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Lisa Kötter, Münster. Translation: Ruth Fehlker, Coesfeld)
(image credit https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_2.0)