Austrian bishops invite women to discuss equality issues, decision making

The Austrian Bishops Conference (ÖBK) broke with tradition and invited women to attend the first day of its plenary assembly last week.

They would be listening carefully to their views, as the conference wants to find ways to include more women in Church decision-making, says Archbishop Franz Lackner, the ÖBK president.
The 14 women invited to the assembly hold positions of responsibility in various dioceses of the country.

They joined discussions about the gender criterion for holding positions of authority in the Church and the access of women to leadership posts in various ecclesial structures.

Those attending the session said the discussions were fruitful.

“This is the first time in Austria that bishops have invited women to discuss equality issues in the Church,” says Angelika Ritter-Grepl, president of the Catholic Women’s Movement of Austria.

“They, like us, agreed on the need to engage in a structured dialogue on this issue. The next step will be to establish a roadmap.”

This meeting was “the main theme” of the plenary assembly, with most discussions revolving around the need to approach parity in leadership positions within the Church.

We all – women and bishops – agreed it was necessary “to reach a consensus on the need for dialogue, without noisy demonstrations,” Ritter-Grepl says.

Not all Austrian dioceses are making progress with gender equality, however.

“In some dioceses there are people working on these issues, in others nothing has been done,” Ritter-Grepl says.

A nationwide task force is expected to report its findings during the European autumn, with solutions are expected to be proposed in November when the Austrian bishops hold their next assembly.

The discussions with women at last week’s plenary session will be included in the Austrian Church’s contribution to the next Synod of Bishops’ in Rome in October 2023, Ritter-Grepl says.

During their meeting the Austrian bishops, the issue of women’s participation and right to vote at that assembly in Rome also came up.

The women told the Austrian bishops that it is incomprehensible that they can be invited to participate in synod assemblies but are not allowed to vote.

“In Austria, some cardinals are open to the idea of the female diaconate, but they don’t dare speak publicly about women priests,” Ritter-Grepl says.

“We asked them to talk to the pope, and tell him to do something for women’s access to the priesthood.”


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