German archbishop calls for open debate about women priests in the Catholic Church

America Magazine

August 20, 2020

By Colleen Dulle

The archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hesse, has called for an open debate on the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.

“One has to be permitted to think about and discuss the issues,” the German archbishop said on Aug. 19. He argued that “Ordinatio sacerdotalis,” St. John Paul II’s 1994 letter that stated the church cannot ordain women as priests, was positioned as a response to those who considered women’s ordination “open to debate” and affirmed the male-only priesthood “in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance.”

Archbishop Hesse said new arguments had emerged in the conversation around women’s ordination that needed to be addressed. “The historical perspective is one thing—but it isn’t everything,” he said.

Archbishop Hesse is a member of the forum on “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church” in the “synodal journey” reform project launched by the Catholic Church in Germany. The project places laypeople—represented by German’s prominent lay organization, the Central Committee of German Catholics—in dialogue with that country’s bishops on a range of topics relevant to the church today, including sexuality, priestly celibacy and women’s roles. The lay committee openly supports ordaining women both as deacons and priests.

The archbishop said he hoped the reform talks would examine controversial issues and that the bishops would convey the results to Rome. “But I also hold the realistic view that this will not answer or resolve the issues,” he said.

The reform project, announced in 2019 as a “binding synodal process” in response to a 2018 report on sexual abuse in the German church, has caught the attention of Pope Francis and the Vatican. In June 2019, prior to the group’s first meeting, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the group that has been interpreted as suggesting the church in Germany take a separate, similar “synodal journey” focused on evangelization. This was followed by a Vatican legal review last September, which stated that the synodal journey’s plan to reach binding decisions meant the meeting was actually a “plenary council,” which would require approval from the pope.

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