Chantal Götz: "Standing in front of the walls"

This original article was published in German publication Herder Correspondent. It has been re-printed here and translated in English. 

The lawyer from Liechtenstein organises a annual conference on International Women's Day inside the Vatican. This time there was a conflict around some speakers.

By Benjamin Leven

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"What scares me is that our hierarchy has reduced Christ to a rather unattractive politician who is misogynist, homophobic and against abortion," says former Irish President Mary McAleese at a pre-press conference in Rome. She is the opening keynote speaker of an International Women's Day event. The "Voices of Faith" initiative has been organising this event in Rome on March 8 for the past 4 years, so far having it always inside the Vatican walls. At the pre-press conference at La Stampa Estera, McAleese the conservative politician, who was president of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, talked about many issues holding women back from being leaders within the Catholic Church. For issues such as women priestesses she talked of a hatred of women "disguised as theology". The press conference is very busy and McAleese dominates the scene. When another speaker of the event talked of her wish to see more women working in the church to be more visible, McAleese stated firmly, "it's not visibility that matters, but real power."

Next to her, lawyer Chantal Götz from Liechtenstein sits on the podium and strives to strike a little less rabid tone. "Priestly ordination for women is not the primary concern of the group. First of all, it is about entering into dialogue with the church representatives and making the voice of women audible," Götz says. She founded the Voices of Faith initiative five years ago.

Is it conceivable that a voice like McAleese would be invited to speak in the Vatican? Cardinal Kevin Farrell, head of the new Vatican bureau for lay, family and life apparently could not imagine it. Four times this "Voices of Faith" International Women's Day event happened in the building of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences inside the Vatican. But this year, Farrell demanded that three of the designated speakers, including McAleese, be removed from the list. But instead of giving in, Chantal Götz decided to move outside the walls of the Vatican. So this year they meet inside the Roman headquarters of the Jesuit order.

In 1969, the textile manufacturer Fidel Götz founded a foundation to support the Catholic Church. Götz was a friend of curia Cardinal Augustin Bea, who was in charge of the papal secretariat for promoting Christian unity from 1960 until his death in 1968, and had helped his activities financially.

In 1999, his granddaughter Chantal Götz took over the management of the foundation. "Back then, I asked myself how the foundation's purpose could be changed or interpreted in a modern or time related way," says Getz. Although Chantal grew up in a rather strict Catholic household, in which Sunday Mass was compulsory and in which the Mayan devotion and the Eucharistic adoration was maintained, as a teenager Chantal grew distant to Catholicism. Growing up, she found that the church was "all right and good" without being particularly involved.

As managing director of the foundation, she then experienced the work of women in the projects they funded. "When I saw how some religious sisters sacrificing themselves for a certain cause, such as working with street children, I was fascinated," says Götz. "I was wondering: why do they do that, where did this passion come from? Is it really her Catholic faith that makes her work so heartfelt?" Increasingly, the Foundation has gone over to promoting social projects that focus on women and girls.

"After the election of Pope Francis, who said he wanted to strengthen the role of women in the Church, I thought, let's try to bring a new and fresh idea to the Vatican with a focus on women," says Getz. Thus, the International Women's Day event came to life inside the Vatican. After four successful events, the initiatives did leave out tricky or controversial topics so as to not make it too difficult for the partners in the Vatican. Thus, the question of women's ordination has hardly been touched in recent years. However, this year she opted for the confrontation. The public attention did not hurt that. But at the congress on March 8, many women, especially from the English-speaking Catholic world, are present, as well as some nuns, but only a handful of clerics and not a single representative of the curia. One remains nevertheless in the conversation, says Götz, and one is also heard in the Vatican, there they are sure.

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