News Analysis

Germany’s ‘church strike’ puts its bishops in an awkward position

A women’s strike led by a dissident Catholic group has sparked actions across Germany. The Maria 2.0 group, which uses an image of the Blessed Virgin silenced by a sticking plaster across her mouth (pictured), called for a week-long boycott of Church activities including Mass. Although participation has been patchy, there has been extensive press coverage.

The group’s open letter to Pope Francis, published on Facebook, links the German hierarchy’s response to the sexual abuse crisis with the Church’s opposition to female ordination. It calls for “the removal from office of those who have harmed others in body or spirit, or who have tolerated or covered up for them”. It goes on to call for the admission of women to all offices in the Church, an end to compulsory priestly celibacy and a revision of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality.

The core activist group behind Maria 2.0 is very small, based around a 15-strong reading group at Holy Cross parish in Münster. It is supported by parish priest Stefan Jürgens, and its open letter was read at Mass in the parish. But it has spread virally through social media and has gained at least guarded support from important lay Catholics such as the Christian Democrat MP Maria Flachsbarth.

Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, though regretting the Mass boycott, said that “one must be very perceptive of the impatience of many women in the Catholic Church. Behind it is a very deep wound – that they in the Church do not feel accepted in relation to their efforts.”

The strike aims at an obvious point of tension in the German Church. In Germany, as in many other Western countries, congregations are heavily female and most lay positions are held by women. Maria 2.0 leader Lisa Kötter describes the Church’s structural problems as männerbündisch, deriving from a “boys’ club” at the top of the Church. This ignores Catholic doctrine on an all-male priesthood and puts forward a political concept of leadership. But the idea of a remote leadership constantly hinting at more radical reforms than it can deliver will resonate with many in the pews.

Meanwhile, Germany’s conservative Catholics have responded by calling for a return to core Church teachings. Bavarian teacher Johanna Stöhr has set up a “Maria 1.0” website, with the motto “Mary doesn’t need an update”.