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European women call for inclusive language in liturgy

Feminist theologians in Germany and Austria have criticised Liturgiam Authenticam, the new Vatican instruction on liturgical translation, for clinging too closely to 'male-oriented' Latin texts.

The Tablet reports that the document has already drawn criticism from English-speaking translators who argue that its provisions are rigid and high-handed.

Speaking last week to the German Catholic news service KNA, Marie Therese Wacker, feminist theologian and Bible scholar at Münster University, went further, saying that Liturgiam Authenticam displayed 'male self-deification'.

She noted that the instruction insisted that the feminine pronoun must be retained in referring to the Church. But while the Latin word for Church - ecclesia - was feminine, the Hebrew kahal was masculine. Likewise, the Latin spiritus was masculine, whereas the Hebrew ruach was sometimes masculine but more usually feminine. This showed that in the Bible feminine images were also used for God and masculine ones for the Church. 'Grammatical flexibility' of this kind was used to prevent rigid images being formed, she emphasised.

As God was neither male nor female, a balance between male and female images in liturgical texts was essential so that women would not feel excluded, according to Maria Moser, spokeswoman of the Austrian Forum of Feminist Theologians.

Feminist theologians did not want to 'make a woman of God', she stressed, but 'if God is male, then maleness becomes divine'.

Moser also complained about Liturgiam Authenticam's warning that inclusive language was 'neither wise nor necessary'. From the pastoral point of view, inclusive language was 'both wise and necessary', and if liturgical language was too strictly regimented, then the exodus of young women from the Church would accelerate, she said.