“According to the biblical ideal, everyone is equal”

How are women treated in the Catholic Church? Women religious recently complained bitterly about working conditions in an article in the Vatican newspaper. Sister Barbara Offermann has a suggestion for possible remedy.

Interviewer: As a religious sister, how do you encounter the church in general and priests in everyday life??

Sister Barbara Offermann OP (Dominican Sister of Bethany from Bergisch Gladbach): I must say at the outset that in the German church I am actually always treated very kindly and respectfully by priests and other members of the congregation. This is an encounter at eye level. Actually, I can only report good things about Germany in this respect. I have had other experiences, but in my current situation there are only positive things to report.
Interviewer: There you can hear out that it looks different in other parts of the world, or?
Sister Barbara: I once lived in the Baltic States for a few years. The image of the religious looks quite different there. The faithful in the Catholic Church have great respect for women religious there, but the priests do not.
Interviewer: The Vatican newspaper "Osservatore Romano" has published the text of various religious sisters who spoke under pseudonyms about being exploited and having to live under poor working conditions. It was called quasi forced labor. Is this something you've already heard of and have to deal with?
Sister Barbara: What is being reported is indeed scandalous. I do not know it like that. I once experienced in Italy that I was treated in a very strange way as a religious woman. I couldn't really place it at the time. I dismissed this as Italian chauvinism. It fits with what the women are reporting. I believe that immediately.
Interviewer: Do you have a concrete example of what you have experienced??
Sister Barbara: One could feel a total disregard for women religious. This attitude was made clear, for example, by the fact that it was thought that women religious were the very worst thing. They put her in the last corner of the church. Women religious simply have no pretensions to have. This was of course very strange to me. I don't know it like that. I have not yet experienced this in Germany. I also know young priests in Germany who think they are better than me, but they would never take such an attitude.
Interviewer: Service plays a big role in the church – for priests and religious. But it's not about a problem with serving, it's about a lack of respect?
Sister Barbara: After all, the ideal of service applies to everyone. The priest should also be a servant. If that were so, and if all in the church understood themselves as servants, then everything would be good. The biblical ideal is that the church is a community of believers in which all are equal. There are no longer men and women, slaves and free, but all are one in Christ. All are different and have different tasks. But all are worth the same. If that were so, everything would be great.

But that is exactly what is not happening in this case. Some feel better than others and exercise power over others. This is, of course, completely opposite to what Jesus would have wanted and what is allowed to be in Christianity.

Interviewer: The Vatican is now organizing a conference on the role of women. There is also an appeal to Pope Francis, who himself has already criticized the role of women in the church. What would you like to see from him and from the Vatican?
Sister Barbara: Such a question is of course also aimed at the ordained ministry. I am not an advocate of women's ordination, but of course nowadays it is no longer possible for one sex to rule over the other. This is also completely unbearable for me. In my eyes, the Church would have to separate the positions of power from the priestly ordained ministry in order to really clarify what are the tasks associated with ordination and what are the positions where decisions are made and power is exercised.

Power must be shared equitably between men and women. But that does not necessarily have anything to do with the priesthood. This is something that I think is going wrong in the Church, that we are linking positions of power to the priesthood. This is not really necessary.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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