This interview with Sister Katharina Ganz, General Superior of the Oberzell Franciscan Sister originally appeared in German in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13 September 2019.
Sister Katharina was interviewed by Daniel Deckers.
Sister Katharina, in preparation for the “Synodal Path” proclaimed by the [German] Bishops’ Conference, under the pressure of the Central Committee of German Catholics the fourth preparing Forum had to be established. Topic: Women in ministries and offices of the Church. What was this action about?
We have known the game for decades. It is always said that the women’s issue is a cross-sectional issue. That’s the way it was meant to be also this time. With that the Bishops’ Conference did not get through any more. The cross-sectional argument is not wrong, but the actual problem is thereby excluded.
I will say it using my Franciscan vocabulary: How do we come to a brotherly-sisterly Church in which men and women take responsibility at eye level, proclaim the dawn of the Kingdom of God and let it be experienced in the followers of Jesus?
Who or what does prevent women from living and working in this sense? Communication in the Catholic Church happens asymmetrically from top to bottom. And only ordained men have the sovereignty to interpret what Church is. So, women must ask the question of power.
To this day, the connection between power and ordination bound to the Y-sex determining chromosome is portrayed as indissoluble. Why don’t you accept this argument from a pope like John Paul II?
Why should sexual masculinity be a necessary condition to represent Christ if, conversely, the Church is to be the Bride of Christ the Bridegroom? Then the Church should consist only of women. Those who think they can derive power relations from symbolic language are not well informed.
At the beginning of his pontificate Pope Francis said that much should no longer be decided by Rome, but decentralised. This, however, likely does not apply to the issue of the ordination of women.
No Pope has yet defined the exclusion of women as dogma, i.e. as an unchangeable part of the faith. There is no vote of a Council or a Synod of Bishops on it. And the assertion that there is a consensus in the College of Bischops of the world on this question would be refuted at the moment when a group of bishops, for instance a majority of the members of the German Bishops’ Conference, said that there are good theological reasons for not considering the ordination of women as excluded.
Advocates of women’s ordination are accused of not seeing the “signs of the times”, but of falling in with the Western zeitgeist. Does this reproach catch on in your circles?
The subject has long been a worldwide one. In June, here in Würzburg, the General Chapter of my Community that meets every six years came together. We had very exciting discussions, words like “male alliance” or “male-dominated” were used. The sisters from South Africa surprised me the most. They said they could hardly wait for the position paper of the community because they experienced the patriarchal paternalism daily and with the whole community behind them could have a stronger influence on Church and society.
The rebellion of nuns against a patriarchal, male alliance Church would have social significance?
If the Catholic Church stated that men and women had not only the same dignity but also the same rights – would that not be an unmistakable signal for a fairer world based on partnership with more than one billion Catholics in the world?
When the Pope appointed a commission in 2016 to deal with the history of the deaconate of women in the Church of the first centuries, he did so at the instigation of religious women. Is the pressure already so great also in Rome that one can no longer avoid the question of women’s ministries and ministries?
Yes, but in contrast to what interested parties liked to present, the initiative did not come from German feminists, but from religious superiors from Latin America. These sisters reported on their experiences in the “Macho Church”. That is why they raised this topic.
In view of the “Synodal Path” Pope Francis, who comes from a Macho Church, already weeks ago let it be seen that he fears negative effects on “the world Church”. Meanwhile the Cologne Cardinal Woelki swears by the danger of a Church split. You seem very relaxed. Why?
The reference to “world Church” usually serves as an argument to nip all discussions in the bud. But it can also be very motivating: Who should we have anything against it if the Catholic Church in Germany on behalf of the World Church discusses, with the help of academic theology the pros and cons of offices and ministries of women in the Church?
After their meeting in Rome in December, the religious superiors published an appeal: All women religious who have experienced violence in the area of the Church should confide in their superior or turn to state and ecclesiastical authorities. Could the rebellion against “spiritual” and real power of men also be connected with the removal of taboos from women’s experiences of violence in the environment of the Church?
Ordination has given men a power of which at best we can only guess how much abuse it has been perpetrated in the context of confession or pastoral care alone – not least in women’s monasteries. But it is not only men who have exercised or exercises violence in the environment of the Church. In the past, also women’s communities have also been guilty of violence, especially in home education. What probably makes the difference is the extent and intensity of sexualised violence.
During an audience in May, when you were speaking on behalf of all religious superiors, Pope Francis advised that you could make yourself a “different church” if you did not agree with the conditions for admission to the ordained ministry. What will you do now?
The question is who is working towards a “different church”. In many countries, the current conditions for admission are such that there are hardly any young priests left. This may change the Church much more fundamentally than many things that women think and want. Sacraments can simply no longer be administered. The Church marginalizes itself.
Overnight the Pope could allow the priests to marry. Wouldn’t that be already a great gain?
We would have to wait and see how much would be gained. In the African context, for example, as the bishops tell me, there would then be a new problem: polygamy. I know bishops in Africa who would rather want to open the priesthood for women religious than to abolish celibacy. But nobody has said that publicly yet.
Is more gender justice the solution?
The question about gender justice is for me a question about the diversity in the Church and thus also about other forms of exercise and control of power. But that does not mean that with women everything automatically becomes better. And also not that there must be more and more offices, especially not something specific for women, like a kind of diaconate light. Perhaps one should rather think about a reduction of offices and the decoupling of power and office.