ROME – After a German newspaper last week claimed the Vatican is investigating a progressive women’s group due to their recent advocacy, one member denied the allegation, saying she believes the report is false.

Maria Mesrian, a member of the German women’s group Maria 2.0, told Crux that, “I’m not sure if it’s really true, because nobody contacted us, we have no letter from the Vatican.”

While it’s possible that someone opposed to the group wrote a letter to the Vatican complaining, “I have heard nothing about it,” Mesrian said, adding that in her view, it could be “one of the conservative members of the Catholic Church in Cologne who wrote a letter.”

Regardless of who sent the complaint, Mesrian said she doesn’t believe the Vatican will actually investigate them, “because there are many bishops in Germany who support us, so it would be really silly to start an investigation. For us, it would be more publicity.”

Founded in Münster in 2019, Maria 2.0 is an informal association of several small groups of women throughout Germany advocating for transparency and inclusion at every level of Church life, including women’s priestly ordination.

Mesiran described her group as a grassroots initiative of mostly older women who want to spread the Gospel and push for transparency and equality in the Catholic Church.

She denied allegations that Maria 2.0 is “ultra-feminist” and is advocating for positions opposed to Church teaching. The group, she said, is “totally on the ground of the Catholic Church,” despite advocating in a February 2019 letter to Pope Francis for women to be allowed access “to all church functions” and that mandatory priestly celibacy be “abolished.”

The organization also urged the pope “to align churchly sexual morals realistically with the reality of life,” and encouraged faithful to boycott Masses and other parish events for one week in protest of both church failures in handling abuse cases, as well as its treatment of women.

In November 2020, several members gathered outside of the cathedral in Cologne and the archbishop’s residence to protest the archdiocese’s failure to publish a report commissioned by the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, looking into the handling of abuse cases in the archdiocese by an independent Munich law firm.

In January 2019, Woelki engaged the Westpfahl Spilker Wastl law firm in Munich to examine the Archdiocese of Cologne’s personnel files dating as far back as 1975 in order to shed light on systemic failures in handling abuse cases.

Initially Woelki pledged to publish the results of that query, however, after legal experts advising the archdiocese raised concern over the methodology of the report, Woelki enlisted another Cologne-based legal expert, Björn Gercke, to write a new report.

After facing enormous backlash, allegations of coverup, and calls for his resignation for not publishing the original report, Woelki last week pledged to release the Gercke report in March, admitting that he had made mistakes in his handling of the affair.

Woelki has also faced pressure over his own handling of abuse cases, but he has insisted that his actions were compliant with the law.

In January, Maria 2.0 wrote an open letter to Pope Francis saying the events in Cologne “have plunged the parishes and the pastors and many believers into a crisis.”

Arguing that the credibility of the Church is at risk, they said faithful in the archdiocese “not only want legal opinions that can stand in court, but also a moral admission of guilt by the church officials.”

Last week, German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is “observing” Maria 2.0 after receiving a letter from Cologne complaining about the group.

The archdiocese itself has denied sending any complaint or report to the Vatican about Maria 2.0, which is a lay initiative with no formal ties to the Vatican or to any diocese.

In her comments to Crux, Mesrian said she believes the group is being targeted because in Cologne “there is a small group who are supporting the archbishop and his team, and they don’t like us, because we are putting our finger in the wound and pointing out and saying what is happening and why it’s happening.”

The Catholic Women’s Council (CWC), of which Maria 2.0 is a founding member, issued a statement after the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung report was published defending Maria 2.0, saying the group “has been fighting for months for a complete clarification of the abuse and its coverup in the Archdiocese of Cologne.”

“With numerous actions, these women stand up for those affected by these acts. They demand that those who covered up the acts of sexualized violence accept moral responsibility,” the CWC said, adding, “That Maria 2.0 should now become the target of an investigation is incomprehensible.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen