Translated by John Wijngaards
7 March 2002
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger
Prefect of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Piazza del S.Offizio 11
I – 00120 Vatikanstadt
Cologne/Düsseldorf, 07 – 03 – 2002
As Presidents of the two largest Catholic Organisations for women in Germany we approach you in your capacity as the Chairman of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. We are filled with deep anxiety in view of news emanating from the Catholic News Agency that the International Theological Commission in their last general assembly has spoken out against admitting women to the diaconate. Our organisations of women, the Katholischer Deutscher Frauenbund and the Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands, have committed themselves for many years to the diaconate of women. For that reason we want to declare our position with regard to the vote of the International Theological Commission and to highlight some aspects that seem of crucial importance to us:
On the basis of information available to us we regret that in the consultations of the International Theological Commission no woman theologian was involved or even invited as observer. The contribution which competent women make to theology has taken on crucial importance and may not be ignored. We also regret that those women theologians who have specialised in the diaconate of women and who have proved their professional competence in this area through scientifically recognised research, have not found a hearing by the International Theological Commission.
We experience the liberation of women — their emancipation and equal responsibility in shaping today’s world — as a transforming event and as a historical challenge not only for society but also for the Church. Already Pope John XXIII saw in this development a “sign of the times”, through which God influences the history of our era.
Even though we Catholic Christian women appreciate the importance of Tradition in the Church and though we respect in our movements especially also the great women in Church history who are our guides and models, we cannot accept that Tradition is manipulated as a tool to block new developments. Tradition is a living process. The gradual unfolding of the total riches of our Christian faith presents us all the time with new demands. In view of the changed appreciation of women’s role in society, we expect that the Church too opens itself to these developments, that it empowers women to benefit from new forms of equal partnership, so as to draw on women’s gifts and enrich the whole Church through them.
As Catholic women we realise the meaning and the special value of the sacramental dimension of the Church’s operation. Precisely because we realise this, we are totally convinced of the need for the intense and manifold diaconal involment of women to be inserted into the sacramental structure of the Church. It is also at the same time our concern that in this way the diaconal character of the Church be strengthened, as well the Church’s credibility in the face of its needs today. In the unfolding of a Church of service which fulfills itself in socio-charitable as much as in political areas, women as well as men, have acquired a very high professional and human competence. When women, just as men are through the permanent diaconate, will be empowered through ordination, it will constitute an official acknowledgement of their charisms and a recognition of their vocation. It will also highlight the ministry of the Church as diakonia (service).
Your Eminence, the approximately one million women who are members of both our organisations carry to a great extent the burden of many thousands of parish communities of the Church in Germany. They cooperate in the areas of evangelisation and liturgy. They undertake many ministries in catechesis and in charitable work. They give substance to political decisions in the Church and society. These women are not on the perifery. They stand in the middle of our Church which they feel is their home. At the same time not a few of them are hurt by their experience of restrictions imposed on them simply because they are women.
With great urgency we implore you to take our concerns seriously and to subject the vote of the Theological Commission to further tests and to reconsider it.
With friendly greetings,
Prof. Dr. Hanneliese Steichele
Präsidentin des Katholischen Deutschen Frauenbundes
Präsidentin der Katholischen Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands
See the Vatican reply! (n.b. this link goes to a sister website.)