“30 Percent women's quota is too little”

Gender justice must become a central leadership task in the Catholic Church, says Viennese pastoral theologian Judith Klaiber. She would like the bishops to give women real access to church offices.

Interviewer: To many of the faithful, women priests in the Catholic Church seem pretty far from reality. Nevertheless, the diaconate for women is still being discussed. The fact is that many positions are reserved for ordained ministry and are therefore not accessible to women. How attractive is the church as an employer actually for women?? Can women make any decisions at all in the Catholic Church? Mrs. Dr. Klaiber, you demand that women be allowed to decide much more and that the obligatory celibacy come to an end. What else is involved?

Dr. Judith Klaiber (pastoral theologian from Vienna): It is a crystallization point of the church that we are experiencing at the moment, with the handling of the unspeakable sexualized experiences of violence that happened there. One of the main demands that burns extremely theologically is the perception of gender justice. In non-church language, this is called "diversity" and "equality". To actually perceive this as a leadership task and to take the other sex seriously are the central questions under which everything else can be discussed.

Interviewer: So where would it make sense to appoint women? Where do you see women in the Catholic Church in the near future??

Klaiber: What is being discussed is the question of women's diaconate, among other things, also in the synodal path that the German bishops now want to go down. At the same time, however, there is still a perception that few women are actually in proferen, especially in teaching and theology. There are more and more and the quota of women there is also well perceived. I studied from 2007 to 2014 and only had a woman professor in the last two semesters.

This means that I am very influenced by men in their professorial role and also in their thinking. It became clear to me late in life that this is a very one-sided approach and that, especially in the theological field, the women's perspective, or gender justice, simply has to be perceived much more strongly and taken seriously. This can be seen, for example, in the marginal reception of the so-called gender studies, which are often defamed in the Catholic field as "gender gaga" or gender ideology. I think this is a very arrogant attitude towards the studies and findings of the field.

Interviewer: How quickly do you estimate anything will happen in the Catholic Church in this regard?

Klaiber: There are two hearts beating in my chest: The resigned side says that nothing is happening. And the hope side says that precisely in this crystallization point, in the current perception of the situation, something can happen very quickly. For example, women could be more involved through the cardinalate and women as cardinals could have a say in where the decision-making power or authority is in these systems. After all, the cardinalate is not an ordained office.

At the same time, I know that these positions are very male-dominated. Positions and roles in this system have been created by men for men. In the words of historian Mary Beard, it is not enough to put women in such positions. A lot more needs to happen, structural reforms need to precede that, and most importantly, a complete radical change in attitudes and culture of taking the other gender seriously as relevant to salvation. Gender justice is relevant to salvation and we as women and as persons of the third sex have a role in this kingdom of God that is relevant to salvation and necessary for salvation.

Interviewer: You yourself studied theology, although it doesn't look as if you will be able to exhaust all the possibilities of the subject professionally in the Catholic Church. As a woman, why did you nevertheless decide to study theology??

Klaiber: Not all opportunities can be exploited by women. At the same time, however, there are many opportunities for women, especially in the academic theological field. At the same time, I have meanwhile discovered a revolutionary side in me, which finds people like Jacqueline Straub inspiring and important, who stands up for it: Yes, I feel this vocation – which women are not even allowed to pursue – and I would like to become an ordained person, a priestess. I think an active enabling of progress and change should also be supported by bishops.

Interviewer: Do you think a 30 percent quota for women by 2023 is enough? The German Bishops' Conference has taken this up at the spring plenary meeting. Is this goal realistic?

Klaiber: Frankly, I can no longer take quotas below half seriously. The 30 percent quota is only there to reare, to show: Please, hold still, we are moving. But that is too slow and too little.

Interviewer: What do you think about justifications like the biblical one that the priesthood is reserved for men??

Klaiber: I would like to counter that there is the image of the historical Jesus, who had an incredible number of women in his circle. Women were the first to perceive and carry the good news of the resurrection. I would like to quote Hosea 11:9: "I am God and not man or woman."Here again clearly in the direction of the bishops: "Diversity" and "Equality" should be the top priority as a leadership task.

Interviewer: Cardinal Marx says: "We would be crazy as a church if we did without the talents of women". Are there even enough women who want to take this position, who want to hold the appropriate offices in the Catholic Church?

Klaiber: There are an incredible number of women and we wouldn't have a problem with that at all. The ones who have more of a problem are the men. They fear, as we see especially in business organizations, that they might not get a chance and lose out because of a better qualified woman. I experience that bishops in particular try to maintain traditional power relations.

An example: In the last few days, a picture has often been liked and retweeted in the social media. The picture shows a kneeling woman receiving the Eucharist. The sentence is written about this, "I like women who open their mouths in the church."I think it is absolutely outrageous and unbelievable audacity, the image of a supposedly submissive, subservient woman who is supposed to keep her mouth shut in the church community. This is received there and is also supported by official writings. But these are outdated patriarchal structures in a religiously catholic garb, which are no longer tenable.

I would want to suggest to all bishops that they engage in feminist discourse. We have an incredibly long tradition of feminist theology, which is simply not received and hushed up. I would like to suggest here again, especially in relation to the bishops, who have a decision-making power, a certain reflection.

The interview was conducted by Katharina Geiger.

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