Meeting Catholic Women on Strike: Maria 2.0

September 30 - October 1, 2019

Nieder-Olm, Germany is a peaceful place where the gentle hills are covered with vineyards and wine flows gracefully from the land.

But right in the middle of that peaceful scene is a gale force wind -- swirling and moving, but also dancing and laughing, as the women who have organized the Maria 2.0 movement give witness to what must change in the Catholic Church.

Regina Adams, one of the local organizers picked me up from the train station and delivered me to a coffee shop where I met Andrea Kerber, part of the parish team; Annette Pospesch, a local journalist and secretary for the parish, Carina Adams, a theologian and the youngest of the group, Angelika Fromm, a well known theologian called to ordained ministry who started the "Purple Stole" campaign decades ago, the parish priest, Pastor Hubert Hilsbos, and Wolfgang Kerber, who with a twinkle in his eye, called himself a "Joseph" next to his "Maria."

They told me their stories of frustration and courageous action, and smiled with joy as they shared their many Maria 2.0 witnesses.

The Beginning

In case you do not know, the Catholic women in Germany have gone on strike.

From May 12 - 18, 2019, they left en masse and did not enter their churches to make a point.

They wanted change.

They wanted women's equality; an end to clericalism the corruption of clergy sex abuse the the coverup; an end to the exclusion of LGBT+ Catholics; and end to excluding divorced and remarried Catholics, etc. And after decades of efforts to bring these changes forward, they decided that they could no longer accept the fact that they carry out most of the work of the church but still have no equality when it comes to ministry, governance, and decision making.

It all started in Muenster. It all started in a reading circle. It all started with Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis's first Apostolic Exhortation.

As they discussed the document, paragraph by paragraph, as well as the current situation in the church, they struggled with their own growing feelings of dissatisfaction, and with how to explain to people who had left the church why they were still there after the clergy sex abuse crisis and the cover up.

They decided that they could not just complain or withdraw, but they had to act -- for themselves, but even more so for their children and grandchildren.

Thus, Maria 2.0 was born.

Their iconic image is that of Mary with tape over her mouth (see below). It evokes a reality women feel. The patriarchal version of Mary -- the submissive, silent, obeying Mary -- who is supposed to be a model for all women, must be reclaimed for women today.

Maria 2.0 is the new Mary for women and men who love their church too much to let it die at the hands of a few who seek to sacralize cultural norms that treat women as inferior rather undergoing Gospel transformation so that women become true and equal partners in the work of the church.

They first wrote an open letter to Pope Francis with their demands for full equality and an end to clericalism, clerical sex abuse, and corruption.

They wrote:

“Women’s praise is often sung by church men, but they alone determine how women participate in the church. The only woman allowed among them is Mary. We claim her back, as she is one of us.”

Then they called for a strike. They encouraged women to leave behind all their parish duties and activities from May 12th-May18th. That included all work and volunteering that was normally carried out by women. They wore white as a sign of renewal.

The idea caught on.

The women who organized, Lisa Kötter and Andrea Voß-Frick of Muenster, did not know how deep a nerve they touched. They were surprised by the overwhelming response they received.

Many Catholic women called saying they were taking part in the actions, including the two biggest German catholic women’s association with over a half million members (kfd and kdfb).

On Sunday, May 12, 2019 over 1000 people (women and men) met in the Cathedral Square in Münster wearing white, carrying signs, chanting, singing and praying together outside the Cathedral. They wanted to show their love the church by refusing to be silent in the face of so much injustice and corruption.

Since that first week, they have engaged in many actions, some of them described later in this blog.

Photo: Frankfurtur Allgemeine

The Nieder-Olm Maria 2.0 Revolution

In Nieder-Olm, Andrea Kerber, Regina Adams, Annette Pospesch and others belonging to the same parish heard about the Maria 2.0 strike that was to happen in Muenster so they gathered to discuss whether they should join. And, as Andrea Kerber described it to me, with a fist of solidarity raised in the air, the parish team, both women, men and the pastor, affirmed the decision with a resounding "yes."

Because they had a very supportive priest, they took a slightly different approach for their first action.

Instead of striking outside the parish, they had a woman-led service inside the parish that would culminate in a week of strikes.

Wearing white and carrying signs, they listened to the Gospel, reflected on its meaning, spoke of their pain and their hopes, and prayed sang.

Regina Adams, a parish council member, shared a touching detail. They had planned to go into the church early to decorate for the event. But when they arrived, the church had already been decorated in white, the color of the Maria 2.0 movement, by the pastor and supportive parishioners. What a gift!

During the week of May 11 -18, they joined striking women across Germany. They did not offer any sacramental preparations. They did not go to Mass. They did not participate in any meetings or any of the regular work of the parish.

Regina explained that it was a difficult decision because they knew the ones who would suffer were the children. Yet, they also felt it was important for the children to learn what it meant to stand up to an injustice.

The Pentecost Winds

The next action was at Pentecost. They traveled to the Cathedral in nearby Mainz. The bishop had been talking about merging parishes, but the Maria 2.0 women wanted to him to talk about a more vibrant strategy for renewing Church life such as implementing equality for women, LGBT people, divorced and remarried Catholics, opening the priesthood to married men, etc.

Before the mass, they wore their white scarves, their buttons and banners. Women who felt called to the priesthood stood with their signs. As people entered the cathedral they saw their witness, but it was clear that the bishop did not like the Maria 2.0 women standing outside.

Not wanting to disappoint the bishop:), they went inside for Mass. There is a section behind the altar that is elevated above the floor where the altar is positioned. So the Maria women gathered there, physically and symbolically standing above the bishop as they celebrated the Eucharist.

After the Mass, the bishop came in full regalia to talk to them. It was clear that he was displeased with their witness. He told them their measures to strike were not helpful.

The women listened. The women disagreed.

A Maria 2.0 Witness Every Month

The women and men of Maria 2.0 decided that they would meet every month to offer a witness in Nieder Olm and Mainz.

In September, using boxes and words, they dismantled the patriarchal clericalist church made of misogyny, homophobia, elitism, etc. and rebuilt it with equality, inclusion, and compassion.

The Bishops' Meeting in Fulda, A Binding Synodal Path, and the Pressure from German Women to Keep it Real

In December, German Catholics, Bishops, priests and lay people, will embark on a "binding synodal path," just the kind of discernment that Pope Francis has been encouraging, but with lay people also at the center. That, along with some of the topics, makes it suspicious and controversial. Focusing on four key areas: the exercise of power in the Church, sexual morality, mandatory celibacy, and the role of women in the Church have two very conservative prelates, Cardinal of Cologne, Rainer Maria Woelki, and the Bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, kicking up a storm.

Pressure came, too, from Pope Francis who wrote a 19 page letter encouraging them, but also warning the German bishops to protect unity. Prior to Pope Francis' letter, Cardinal Marc Oulett, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops sent a letter to Marx, screaming "foul." Accusing the German bishops of stepping outside of canon law clearly irked Marx and during his quarterly visit to Rome for the Council of Cardinals meeting, he spoke with Pope Francis about the plans for the synod. The Cardinal has assured his people that process will continue as planned.

But this kind of backbone wouldn't have been possible with the full blown actions of Maria 2.0 and German women's groups. When the German bishops met for their plenary in Fulda at the end of September, Maria 2.0 and the largest Catholic Women's group with a membership of 450,000 called for a witness. Some carried signs, some brought drums, and some banged on pots and pans and others carried balloons. (See the photograph of the women speaking to Cardinal Marx here.)

Maria 2.0 and German women 800 strong form chain around the Cathedral in Cologne on September 22.

In Cologne, where conservative Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has vigorously resisted at any attempt for reform, 800 women dressed in white made a human chain around the Cathedral with the rallying cry, “Stand up, don’t stay silent!”.

In an effort to overcome the inertia of the prelates, they demanded change.

“I stand here today because I can’t justify to my children the inequality of women in the Church,” said the co-organizer of the rally, the theologian Maria Mesian. "Our action should send out a signal that we should get away from the absolutist tendencies in the Church where only men have something to say.”

As the Amazon Synod begins

Maria 2.0 and other German women have been engaging in a number of protests from October 2 - 8, just as the synod begins.

October is traditionally a month devoted in the Church to the Virgin Mary, but they also wanted to coincide their witness with the workings of the Amazon synod.

These demonstrations emphasize the need for women to access all ranks of ordained ministry. During the month of October they will not only boycott, but they will focus on talks, prayer vigils and other events under the slogan, "Let’s light the Maria 2.0 fire!”

The Nieder Olm women of Maria 2.0 also met yesterday (October 5) in Mainz to offer another witness. On the white boxes are their demands for women's ordination, optional celibacy, synodality, and an end to clericalism and patriarchy.

Envisioning Maria 2.0 as a worldwide movement

To see the Maria 2.0 women in action is to believe in its power to break down the patriarchal walls of the Church.

Maria 2.0 has already begun to spread to Austria and Switzerland.

I think those of us who have worked together for reform and equality in the Catholic Church for so many years have wanted to carry out a widespread action like this.

What if women around the world, in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia, Rome and other regions simply walked out together for one week on the one year anniversary of the founding of Maria 2.0?

What if we began to carry out smaller actions until that time under the Maria 2.0 banner?

Could we organize across regions to walk out in May 2020 in order to let the prelates of the world experience what it is like to have a church without women -- so that women can finally become full and equal partners in governance and ministry?

Are you ready to spread the strong, wise, and persistent spirit of Maria 2.0 in your region?

I know I am.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Report from Germany