Family Minister Kristina Schroeder. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Berlin - Germany's family minister has provoked ire among her fellow conservatives with a comment about the gender of God, forcing the government to weigh in on the debate on Friday.

Alongside issues such as Cyprus' financial woes and German foreign policy, the thrice-weekly government news conference saw spokesmen grappling with an unusual discussion on grammar and theology.

Asked how to explain to a young girl that in the German language, God is referred to by the masculine definite article, Family Minister Kristina Schroeder had told Die Zeit weekly that the neutral gender could just as well be used.

“Quite simple. You have to decide for yourself. But the article doesn't mean anything. One could also say, das liebe Gott,” she said referring to God by the neutral definite article.

German nouns take the masculine, feminine or neutral definite article.

Her spokesman told reporters that Pope Benedict XVI had himself written that God is neither man nor woman. “If I have the choice, and have to decide between the expertise of the Pope and critics (of the minister)... I, personally, would rather trust the Pope,” he said.

Schroeder is a 35-year-old politician from the governing Christian Democrats (CDU) who has an 18-month-old daughter. Her comment was part of a wide-ranging interview on children and education in Wednesday's Die Zeit, but it was condemned by other conservative politicians.

“This overly intellectual rubbish leaves me speechless,” Christine Haderthauer, Bavaria's social minister from the CDU's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), in the southern region told Friday's Bild newspaper.

Another CSU member Stephan Mayer also told Bild: “Instead of always instigating completely senseless debates, the minister should simply just do her work.”

Bild quoted Schroeder as saying that she had perhaps thought too much about the “little girl” in giving her answer “and not of the many adults who are stumbling on my words”. - Sapa-AFP