The Catholic German Bishops’ Conference has elected a woman as its general secretary for the first time. The 50-year-old theologian Beate Gilles will succeed Father Hans Langendörfer on July 1st, as announced by the Bishops’ Conference in Bonn. Langendörfer retired in January after 24 years in office.
The chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, spoke of a “strong sign that the bishops are fulfilling their promise to promote women in leadership positions.” Gilles is said to be “a profound theologian, strongly networked in the various structures of the Catholic Church and equipped with the best organizational skills,” explained the Limburg bishop.
Gilles thanked the bishops for their trust after the election and spoke of a “moving moment”. She sees her election as a “great opportunity” to work on the future of the church and to help shape it. She wants to approach her new task with “great respect”. Gilles is currently the department head for children, youth and families in Bätzing’s Limburg diocese.
Synodal path as the beginning of something new
“It is currently a challenging but also exciting phase for the Catholic Church in Germany,” said Gilles. Something new has started with the reform process of the Synodal Way.
Gilles was born in Hückeswagen in 1970. She studied Catholic religious studies and German at the University of Bonn. She did her doctorate with a thesis on liturgical studies with the Bonn theologian Albert Gerhards. From 2000 to 2010, Dr. Beate Gilles Head and Managing Director of the Katholisches Bildungswerk Stuttgart e. V. She is also the representative of the Hessian dioceses in the Broadcasting Council of the Hessian Broadcasting Corporation.
Maria 2.0 calls for a gender-equitable church
In view of the profound crisis in the Catholic Church, filling the post with a woman is an overdue sign of the will to reform, which is being discussed in the context of the Synodal Path. Nevertheless, women are still excluded from the ordination office. The appointment can therefore at best be seen as a calming gesture in a climate heated between abuse scandals, cover-up allegations and mass withdrawals.
Before the beginning of the digital plenary assembly of the Bishops’ Conference, activists of the Alliance Maria 2.0 had called for more participation of women throughout Germany with seven theses on cathedral and church doors. The causes of sexual violence must be fought, compulsory celibacy lifted and a gender-equitable church finally realized.
“That Luther is said to have nailed his theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg is more of a legend, but his theses set something great in motion,” says a statement by the Maria 2.0 Association. The protest action “Theses posting 2.0” has the same goal.
The new General Secretary Gilles did not expressly show solidarity with the activists of Maria 2.0, but stated that as a self-confident woman she shared “many” of their concerns.
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