News Story — Role of Women in the Church

Continued from September 6, 2013 Newsletter

The Pope then launched into a strange interlude about Paraguayan women who,
after that country’s war with Brazil led to such a decimation of the male
population that there were eight women to every man, made the risky choice
to have more children to preserve the homeland, culture, faith and
language. And he said that, in the Church, we must think of women from that
perspective of risky choices made as women. Before what I’m sure were very
bemused faces in the press corps, he then added that this should be better
explained. Indeed it should. “I believe that we have not yet done a
profound theology of women in the Church. Only that they can do this, they
can do that, now they’re altar servers, now they’re lectors, the president
of Caritas … But, there’s more! We must do a deep theology of women.”

These remarks have led to a certain amount of eye-rolling among Catholic
feminists. As Jamie Mason put it succinctly in the National Catholic
Reporter, “for the past half-century, Catholic women theologians, many of
them women religious, have been developing, writing and teaching a profound
theology of women. Just because the hierarchy has not cared to read it
doesn’t mean it doesn’t already exist.” Perhaps Pope Francis could invite
some of these theologians to come to the Vatican and brief him on the state
of theological research in this area. He might start with Sr. Teresa
Forcades i Vila, the Benedictine nun and theologian who has written a book
on the subject. Because she’s Spanish, there would be no language barrier
and, as an officer of the European Society of Women in Theological
Research, Dr. Forcades is well-positioned to recommend other experts in her
field with whom the Pope might consult.

Further along in the in-flight press conference, a Brazilian reporter, Anna
Ferreira, gave the Pope an opportunity to dig himself in deeper by asking
him why he decided to talk to the Brazilian bishops about the role of women
in the Church and then asked him point-blank what women’s participation in
the Church should be and specifically about women’s ordination.

The Pope responded that he “would like to explain a little what I said
about the participation of women in the Church — it can’t be limited to
the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the
catechist … No! It must be more, but deeply more, even mystically more,
with what I’ve said about the theology of women. And, with reference to the
ordination of women, the Church has spoken and it says, “No”. John Paul II
said it, but with a definitive formulation. That it, that door, is closed,
but on this I want to say something to you. I’ve said it, but I’ll repeat
it. Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the apostles, the bishops and
deacons and priests. Women in the Church are more important than the
bishops and priests — why that is, is what we must try to explain better,
because I think a theological explanation for this is lacking.”

Needless to say, this reiteration of Pope John Paul II’s ban on women
priests and even on the discussion thereof drew immediate fire from groups
and individuals supporting women’s ordination. A sample:

Women’s Ordination Conference: “The church was not Pope John II in 1994
when he forbade women’s ordination nor is it Pope Francis today. The church
is made up of the people of God and Pope Francis could have looked to the
majority of Catholics who support the ordination of women, recognize that
women are created in God’s image, and strongly believe with God a door is
always open.”

Women’s Ordination Worldwide: “The church has spoken? We remind Pope
Francis that the church is made up of millions of women and men who have
been officially forbidden by the Vatican from even discussing the question
of women’s ordination. Pope John Paul II may have spoken but he is not the
Church. The ban on women priests may have been a definitive expression of
prejudice but it was not an infallible ruling and it does not reflect the
will or best interests of the people of the Church.”

Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests: “The Association of Roman
Catholic Women Priests calls on Pope Francis to open a dialogue on women
priests and gender equality, following the example of Saint Francis and
Saint Clare. It is time for the full equality of women in the Catholic
Church and for Pope Francis to drop ‘definitive’ and discriminatory
practices.”

Dr. Mary E. Hunt, feminist theologian: “This is the same old same old
theology — the Virgin Mary is more important than anyone else in the
story, but living women cannot make ecclesial decisions, exercise
sacramental ministry, or make ethical choices. Apparently, the question of
women’s ordination is so yesterday in the Vatican Francis doesn’t think it
needs to be revisited.”

Sr. Ivone Gebara, Brazilian nun and eco-feminist theologian: “How can Pope
Francis simply ignore the strength of the feminist movement and its
expression in Catholic feminist theology for more than thirty or forty
decades, depending on the place? It also amazes me that he stated that we
can even have more spaces in ministry when, in fact, in all the Catholic
parishes, it’s women for the most part who are carrying out the many
missionary projects.”

Bottom line: Your Holiness, women understand perfectly well where power
resides in the Catholic Church. You can try to diminish clericalism — a
laudable goal — and increase the role of the laity, but in any parish the
ultimate decision-making power rests with the pastor who, in the current
Church structure, is always a male priest. Higher up, at the diocesan
level, it rests with the bishop and ultimately with your office. Women do
not presently have access to those positions and that needs to change. No
amount of ethereal Marian theology will compensate for that or satisfy the
demands of women today who are used to equality in every other sphere of
society. With all due respect, it’s time for you to start to listen to
women for a change.

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