Pictured: Lisa Kotter of Maria 2.0 in Germany speaks at protest
All Eyes are on the German Experiment in Frankfurt
Catholics around the world and in Rome are watching the great experiment that is underway in the German Catholic Church where laity and bishops are working in tandem to bring reform to the German Church. The Synodal Way was conceived after a 2018 mass exodus of Catholics from the church in response to new and shocking revelations of clerical rape and abuse of children and vulnerable adults and the coverup. The process was lauched in Advent and will last for 2 years.
You might think this "Synodal Way" is just what Pope Francis ordered given his constant exhortations for creating a less centralized institution, but even Francis has appeared to be a bit nervous about where all this could go.
After recieving a 19 page letter from the pope, the president of the German Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx stated,
There are no stop signals from Rome for the synodal way and we will proceed with it. That was the result of conversations in Rome and the unanimous opinion of our plenary conference here in Fulda following a long debate. We will continually inform Rome about the synodal way.
It is little wonder that nerves are starting to fray inside the Vatican walls. The German bishops are innovating in ways that many prelates are still resisting. These bishops appear to be taking the voices, concerns, experiences, and direction of Catholic women and men who are not ordained and building true consensus on proposals that will affect the German Church, thus, remaking the way decisions are reached.
That is serious change.
How it will work
The synod will have about 230 delegates in the assembly. A balance between women and men, between East and West Germans and participation of younger people was sought.
They will have four working groups of 35 members with each group being led by one representative of the German Bishops' Conference and one representative of the Central Committee of German Catholics (lay Catholics called ZdK). The four working groups will carry out the preparatory work for what will be final resolutions agreed upon by the 230 delegates.
Four topics will be discussed: women, sexuality, priestly life, and power.
This discussion process is something of a last chance, reform groups warned beforehand. “If nothing happens, the church will implode in the next ten years,” predicted Monika Humpert, spokeswoman for the Frankfurt group of Maria 2.0. This union wants to reform the Catholic Church from the inside, among other things, it advocates women in the priesthood, the abolition of mandatory celibacy, and the unrestricted investigation of allegations of abuse.
New Symbols of Equality
In the plenary assembly, the alphabet decided on the seating arrangement, not the rank.
Refreshingly new, the executive committee must be gender equal.
Throughout the assembly, women are seated alongside the bishops.
Further, a decision of the assembly will only be accepted if a majority of the participating women have approved it.
Other symbols indicated the kind of equality wanted by all parties. When entering the opening service in the Cathedral in Frankfurt, it was not the bishops in splendid dress that preceded the laity, but they went together with everyone else, including women with posters demanding “equal rights, equal dignity” following.
The men wore black suits with white shirts or priest’s collars which made the bishops visually indistinguishable from the normal pastors.
Women Speak Truth to Power at the Synod Assembly
Journalist Christiane Florin reported on one prominent voice heard by the delegates yesterday, one she describes as "excited, trembling, and strong at the same time."
Mara Klein, a young Catholic woman, spoke boldly about clergy sex abuse and the cover up. Reminding bishops that they "are not the victims" she called them an "association of perpetrators." Here is some of what she said:
Bishop [Rudolf] Voderholzer [of Regensburg] said earlier that he felt uncomfortable. I hope that we do feel uncomfortable. We have every reason to be...As a young person in our church I feel uncomfortable standing here and knowing all those in the structure has caused the results, which the MHG study [German bishops study on clergy sex abuse] only emphasized again, are gathered around me.
I am against a polarization of clergy and laity, but I want to emphasize that we are dealing here with a massive structural sin. Show us that you can break out of it. I'm still standing here, and it's hard for me, because I believe that we can break out of it.
Another women, Benedictine Philippa Rath made it clear, “My vocation is currently being tested. I love my church, but I also suffer from it. And I’m ashamed of them.“
Seat to Seat, Who's complaining?
Incorporating women and laity into the decision making structures of the Church makes conservative bishops squirm.
Cologne's bishop Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki doesn't like what he sees when he looks out on an assembly where lay and ordained are seated in a way that symbolizes co-partnership. He fears that the hierarchical constitution of the church being questioned. "The organic coexistence of the consecrated and the non-consecrated and the diversity of the tasks that are expressed in it are indeed questioned and relativized by the seating arrangement and by many other small signs," complains Woelki. He thinks this is "extremely questionable".
Interestingly, the assembly rejected a proposal by conservative bishops to introduce a blocking minority in the forums.
If there ever was a sign of hope, it is that people like Woelki and Voderholzer are being given the opportunity to move away from the hierarchal/clericalist model of church that has led to its degradation and downfall, to true partnership where the gifts and faith of all the People of God are being raised up for the mission of the Gospel and the future life of the Church.
As the Synod Begins, Maria 2.0 and German Women Stand for Equality and Dignity
On January 31, 2020, as the first of four meetings of the synod got underway and as the German bishops and laity gathered in Frankfurt to formulate the rules that will guide their work, Catholic women witnessed, prayed and called for full equality and dignity for every woman in the Catholic Church.
Women, they emphasized, have up until now stayed, "in spite of everything”, but they are clear. They are no longer going to stay in an institution where they are not fully equal. "Now we've had enough. Patience is at an end."
“You don’t have much time left,” said one participant to the bishops.
Another representative assured: “The young women are no longer willing to endure these things."
Commenting that young women will stay away, it was clear that the dissatisfaction about the lack of gender equality in the church and the determination not to put up with it was also on full display at the service of the Maria 2.0 in the Frankfurt Cathedral.
“Yes, we are asking the question of power,” said one of the women who led the service.
Words of Encouragement at the Frankfurt Cathedral on January 31, 2020
By Burkhard Hose, KHG pastor and author, Würzburg
That was an impressive and encouraging evening in the Frankfurt Cathedral!
Here is an extract from my statement in the service:
"In Galatians 3:27-28 Paul writes to his church: 'For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 'I am fascinated by this thought: as Christians we have the same dignity with baptism. In ancient times, Paul understood this in such a way that all social differences that put people in a position of superiority or subordination fell with it. No more slaves, no more people who were to be considered strangers, no more division according to gender roles. Equal dignity means equal rights. What was to come into being was a dignified society - an imposition for many at the time, because the non-Christian environment was miles away from the dignified society. And today? In the human rights and in our Basic Law, all people are accorded the same human dignity and thus the same rights.
In some countries we are already quite close to the actual realization, and in the Church, of all places, there is still a society of estates which subordinates more than half of its members, granting them fewer rights on the basis of their gender.
I am a priest in this church. I want to remain a priest in a community of equals, in which there are ministries that do not elevate me above others, and which are accessible to all, regardless of their biological sex. I want us to be a shining example of the Church as a society of dignity, and not the final lantern in the respect for human dignity. This is what I dream of and this is what I pray for with you!"
By Maria 2.0 Co-Founder, Lisa Kotter
On request: My "testimony" in the service on 31st January, yesterday evening, in the cathedral of Frankfurt.
Thanks to all who were there! In "real time" or in thoughts! It was inspiring.
Sometimes, when I think about the actions and reactions in my church, I think: This reminds me of something. It reminds me of the puberty of children. I raised four. I can judge that. In times of adolescence, there are phases of overestimation of self and self-hatred, arrogance and insecurity, there is a tendency to form packs with brain shut-off and those with world-weariness. In this phase, however, adolescents generally consider themselves to be absolute, eternal and the navel of the world.
Holding up the mirror to them plunges them into deep crises. That's why they usually refuse this form of reflection.
But if they allow conversation, our beloved adolescents, then we should show them how rich they are, how loved, how open and bright the future is.
Then we should encourage them. Therefore, to all of us who are Church, an attempt to
Leave the glossy brochures behind
And all the securities turned to stone.
Take off the leather shoes once and touch the holy ground.
From which we are taken,
we earthlings of stardust,
Touch the humus with tender feet, our mother earth,
Who binds our spirit in humanity, humanitas
Who thus teaches us the humility to be humilitas
that provides us with the moisture of humor,
who teaches us compassion for others and for ourselves.
A reappearance of God's infinite mercy on us.
And then open the doors-- any way you can.
or just a crack,
but it needs it,
so that the light comes in,
the wind blows in,
the darkness flees.
You don't have to take your freedom,
it is a gift to you.
Always has been.
Be as free as God intended.
from the beginning!
Then you may lose power and control,
but it creates effectiveness.
I show a seedpod I found on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It looks like a shuttle- you want to put it in the hand of a child to play with. On the Sea of Galilee there are sudden storms - we all know the story:
Of fear and trust. With Jesus in the storm. Lord, save us, we are perishing! He said to them: "Why are you so afraid, O ye of little faith?
I have put earth in it. And a seed that carries the DNA of this "boat seed tree". (Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find out the name of this tree) I hope that someone will take this earth-filled boat and bring it to the synodal wanderers.
With this encouragement. And with the message:
Don't be frightened. Let the storm come.
The growing and changing will not stop.
Lisa Kötter, on 31.01.2020 in Frankfurt Cathedral
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
The crowds gather
Some of the women spoke about the new international effort, the Catholic Women's Council, that will be leading a global pilgrimage toward a great gathering in Rome in 2020 and 2021.
Speaking to the crowd gathered, co-founder of Maria 2.0 Lisa Kotter called not only the women of Germany, but women across the world to claim their equality and dignity in the Catholic Church.
We now network in solidarity with the women of the world. The Catholic Women's Council is the umbrella of this worldwide women's movement. Let us go on pilgrimage, let us gather the voices of our sisters in a walking and virtual way, at the kitchen table and at meetings and events: what does dignity and equality mean to you in our Church?
Let us gather in our movement, in our associations, with daughters and mothers and aunts and grandmothers and friends. We will bring all these answers to Rome.
So gather! And share - there will soon be a platform for this. We women have been trained for thousands of years in weaving and working. And in our nets and cloths we bring all the voices together. Not only the sounds, but also the quiet ones...
Our dignity is sacrosanct. Let's make this visible!