“We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the Church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.” (Pope Francis, August 2013)
Have you noticed how often women are the central figures in Jesus’ life? His encounters with them are instructive, especially given the aggressive and bullying patriarchy that pervaded: there’s the outcast Samaritan woman he met on his own at the well; the same sinful woman with whom he confided a rarely shared personal truth: I am the Messiah; a truth he entrusted “a woman” to pass on to the community. There’s Mary, who risked public humiliation by anointing his feet with her tears and her hair. There’s the woman caught in the act of committing adultery whom he defended with his life – the same women about to be discarded as surplus to the needs of men. There’s the crippled woman Jesus dared to heal on the Sabbath; the woman he called a “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13); a title that, until that moment, was always gender-specific and reserved for circumcised men only as “son of Abraham”. And there’s Mary Magdalene, who was the first to encounter him after his Resurrection; the same woman who he entrusted with preaching the Good News of this wondrous event to the 12 apostles.
We clergy – popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons – are nurtured in our mothers’ wombs and beyond. Our mothers teach us, feed us, instruct us, clothe us, discipline us, guide us, inspire us, serve us, love us; and while this teaching and leadership role is, for the most part, honoured and embraced in mainstream society where women have a place in nation building, in corporate governance, in shaping culture; this is not the case within the Church. In terms of leadership, in terms of being embraced as equals to help shape the Catholic Church, women are confronted with a number of closed doors.
What our Lord’s encounters with women – which were socially unacceptable by the standards of their day – show us is that the main leadership the Church needs is one of courageous love; a love that gives birth to humility and equality. That is one door that can never be closed.
Indeed, as aspiring Christ-followers, are we not compelled to challenge the ongoing patriarchal constraints being imposed upon women today? And, like him, must we not also refuse to allow custom, or habit, or closed minds, or the way we have understood things in the past, to hinder us from giving women a voice; or, at the very least, having a mature and respectful debate about the issue?
There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can neither be slave or freeman, there can be neither male nor female – for you are all one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28-29)
Have you noticed how women are marginalised in our Catholic Church?
Fr Peter Day is a priest based in the Australian Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
I have come to expect the English Roman Catholic newspaper, ‘The Tablet’, to feature articles that encourage discussion among its readers in the U.K. True to form, this week we have this article by an Australian Roman Catholic priest, commenting on the subject of the hierarchy’s treatment of women among the faithful.
The comments that actually follow the blog article are obviously by traditional R.C.s who disagree with the author’s supposition that women are not treated well by the hierarchy of the Church, suggesting that any inference that women ought to be allowed to proceed towards ordination is entirely misplaced. That there are no commenters supporting the author’s views may reflect the fact that most Roman Catholics are not used to opposing their hierarchy in public statements. This makes this article all the more interesting.
I can heartily recommend ‘The Tablet’ for its eirenic openness to points of view other than those necessarily espoused by the Church leadership. This is a sign of its pragmatic approach to modern issues of spirituality and human justice issues that affect Catholics and, in some cases, other Christian communities. The fact that Pope Francis is now encouraging conversations on many issues that have formerly been out of bounds to public debate shows a healthy regard for transparency.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand