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Feminism in the Catholic Church. Equality – a question of power?

Maria 2.0 and global networking through the Catholic Women’s Council

In May 2019 Catholic women in Münster called a week of strikes and action and thousands followed their call. The starting point was the horror about sexualised violence and the cover-up of the same in the Roman Catholic Church. The MHG study, published in 2018, which examined the causes of abuse, named the handling of power, the sexual morals of the church and the priestly way of life as neuralgic factors that encourage abuse. It soon became clear that clerical male associations promoted the cover-up of the acts and the protection of the perpetrators. The motivation to rise up against these power and abuse structures stems from the fact that women can no longer and do not want to be involved in a church where the laws are made exclusively by men.

The Question of Power – A Taboo in the Catholic Church

In her book “Weiberaufstand – Warum Frauen in der katholischen Kirche brauchen mehr Macht” (“Women’s Uprising – Why Women in the Catholic Church Need More Power”), published in 2017, Christiane Florin asks about power in the church and initially reaps incomprehension from churchmen. There is no power in the church, only service. Or as Joseph Ratzinger remarks: The Church acts with authority. The handling of power is the central issue at stake in the struggle for gender equality. With a delay of almost one hundred years feminism is now reaching the last globally active institution whose unique selling point even in the 21st century is still to deny women access to power and thus to discriminate against them. Women must ask the question of power if they really want to bring about a new orientation and change.

In the Catholic Church, power is tied to consecration. Only consecrated men can occupy decisive, influential positions. Women are denied ordination, ergo they have no power. However, reducing Maria 2.0 to the demand for the ordination of women shortens the horizon in which the movement is set up. The equal access of women to all offices and ministries of the Church is one of the central demands, but it can only be thought of with a comprehensive reorientation in all core areas of the Catholic Church. This includes the understanding of ministry, church and sacraments. These areas must be thought in new categories, which must above all be oriented to the question of justice. Connected with a new orientation is an analysis of the conception of power with which the church acts. In all its executions power plays an elementary role. Therefore it must be examined how power is exercised through the concepts of ministry, church and sacraments. In all these areas power plays an elementary role, but is completely taboo. There are no theological-scientific treatises on how the dogmatic return of the ministry to God makes those who exercise the ministry omnipotent rulers over body and soul. The reason is simple: If, for example, there were an open discussion about power in understanding as well as in the exercise of the office, the question of the control of this power would be inevitable. A Institution, which has 1.2 billion members worldwide and acts as an employer, must address the social category of power. It cannot hide behind absolutist-monarchical forms of rule if it sincerely wants to prevent the abuse of power.

The same applies to the concept of the church: “No salvation outside the church” postulates a concept of the church that defines its territory with all its might and to which only “consecrated persons” have access. Although the same dignity is accorded to all baptized persons, only consecrated men decide on their membership. Communication according to their rules or excommunication. If the baptized ignore the rules, they are denied membership. It does not matter whether these rules are discriminatory or inhuman, as can be seen in the example of the excommunicated priestesses around Ida Raming.

Sacraments are also used as means of power and thus emptied of their meaning as a sign of salvation. If, for example, the institution refuses to allow divorced people who have remarried to take part in the Eucharist, it uses the sacraments as a means of power, which decide whether the person is part of the community or not. Also in the Corona Crisis it could be observed that many priests were fixated on the celebration of the Eucharist under all circumstances and despite many justified health objections. Also criticized was the self- referentiality of celebrating Mass, in which priests saw themselves as representatives of Christ and at the same time of the community. On the other hand, far too little importance was attached to suggestions for forms of worship that can be celebrated by all baptized persons in house communities.

If, in the absence of public services, the baptized believers saw themselves as authorized to ask Jesus for His presence in bread and wine, the central unique selling point of the clergy as exclusively authorized guardians of the cult would be taken ad absurdum. If the criteria for those who are allowed to celebrate the Eucharist “validly” are “man, cleric, celibate” – then only this ever smaller caste has the power to celebrate the communitarian meal as a representation of Jesus. But the adherence to this power encounters more and more the refusal to be patronized in this way also by committed religious women (link feinschwarz “Fülle in der verordneten Leere”). New paths are confidently taken, and by no longer asking for permission women leave the churchmen powerless. It is not without reason that Maria 2.0 also aligns the concept of the sacraments with charism and mission, as the Junia Initiative (Link) from Switzerland aptly puts it.

The power of words: Is there a just discourse in the Catholic Church?

Discourse is authoritarian in the Catholic Church. This becomes particularly clear in the question of the ordination of women. The representatives of the official church never tire of declaring this question to be decided, referring to the letter “Ordinatio sacerdotalis” written by Pope John Paul II in 1994. In the last paragraph, he states apodictically: “Therefore, in order to remove all doubt about the important matter concerning the divine constitution of the Church herself, I declare by virtue of my ministry of strengthening the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) that the Church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women priests and that all the faithful of the Church must definitively abide by this decision”. He thus wanted to strengthen the episcopal “brothers” against women in whom one no longer recognises “sisters”.
With this theologically highly questionable assertion every discourse has been nipped in the bud for years. That is the exercise of power in its purest form. To forbid discourses and to issue speech prohibitions are instruments of authoritarian regimes and not characteristics of an institution in the footsteps of Jesus. Ultimately, it is a matter of regaining the sovereignty of interpretation over the concepts. There is no justice in the Catholic Church as long as it is not realized in the equality of women and men. The Church uses the terms of the Enlightenment without realizing them in its structures. This is dishonest. Even if it denies it, its structures are discriminatory. The statement that women are equal in dignity, but not

equal in character, that they have different tasks than men is discriminatory because men define the role of women. Starting with Augustine “Woman is an inferior being, not created in God’s image and likeness. It is the natural order that women serve men.” to Pope Francis: “Woman is the noblest flesh in the world.” such hitherto unchallenged statements define the Catholic image of woman. Women must evade this interpretative sovereignty and demand a just discourse that does not always argue with the will of God. No man should presume to know about the will of God. The decisive question is: Does something serve the proclamation of the Gospel or does it not serve it?

Effective power worldwide: Mary 2.0 and the Catholic Women’s Council

The grassroots initiative Maria 2.0 quickly developed into a brand that is synonymous with resistance in the Catholic Church. Supported by the decades of work of the large German women’s associations KdFB and kfd, the momentum had come in May 2019 to give the women’s movement within the Catholic Church a new impetus. The loud protest came from the innermost part of the church, from the women who are still there and who are the main supporters of the congregations. There is hardly a community that would be able to survive without the voluntary commitment of women.

Self-confident and self-determined, women now take their fate into their own hands. Why should they throw their basic rights overboard in the church and refrain from having equal rights? May Article 3 of the German Basic Law, “No one may be discriminated against (…) because of his or her sex, descent, (…) be disregarded by the Church?

The Catholic Women’s Council (CWC) was founded in November 2019 on the initiative of the Rome based organisation Voices of Faith. The founding members include Maria 2.0, the major German-speaking women’s associations from Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and various individual initiatives. Already in January, at a meeting in Rome, globally active organizations, theologians and initiatives joined in. The CWC sees itself as a network of women that promotes equal rights for women within the framework of a comprehensive renewal of the church. Within the organization there is a range of convictions, but all of them can be reduced to the denominator “Equal Dignity, Equal Rights”. The argument that the “women’s question” was only virulent in the northern hemisphere and not a topic for the world church is thereby refuted. It is interesting that the church teaching authority thinks it has to define what exactly the women’s question is, instead of taking seriously the questions of mature Catholics. If the church as global player internalized the standards of gender justice, it would have a decisive influence on countries where women are still socially discriminated against. In this respect, the work of the CWC means solidarity with women around the world. Together, women are now embarking on a path with the goal of convening a separate synod, probably in 2021, in which women will set the themes and formulate their ideas of a just church. This means that it is not men who set the agenda and talk about women, but women who take their fate into their own hands. They will not avoid to ask the “question of power”. However, they will not aim at keeping others small in a clerical way, but will do everything in their power to support people in their self- development and their search for God.

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