“Women,” says Pope Francis, “should play a greater role in society and the Church.” But what exactly does that mean?
Pope Francis spoke on Saturday, January 25 to the national congress of the Italian Women’s Centre, a Catholic women’s association promoting greater democracy, human rights and human dignity. “I strongly wish,” he said,
“…that (opportunities and responsibilities) may open themselves up further to the presence and participation of women, both in the church as well as in society and the professional sphere.”
This is nothing less than a restatement of his message in his first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he wrote,
“I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection.
“…demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.
“I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection.”
And this is good: Pope Francis recognizes that women have much to contribute, and he wants to take full advantage of their special gifts for the Church.
Despite early ruminations that Pope Francis might be the guy to step up and change the Church’s stance on women’s ordination, he has reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church that Holy Orders is open only to males. “With regards to the ordination of women,” he said, “the Church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul [II] said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed.” (He was referring to Pope John Paul’s 1994 document, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which explained that the Church has no authority to ordain women, and this view must be held by all as a definitive belief.)
But the problem, at least in my eyes, is that we’re already there.
Apart from sacramental ordination–which is, after all, an anointing for service, not a tribute nor a transference of power–women are already engaged in active service at all levels of the Catholic Church.
I personally know several women who serve as chancellors of dioceses. Women are school principals and university presidents, Catholic hospital CEOs, media directors.
In the liturgy, women serve as lectors, eucharistic ministers, music directors, readers, and cantors; and little girls are already altar servers. Women serve on parish councils and planning committees.
Women enter religious life at a rate lower than in the past, but there are thriving, vibrant religious orders which attract talented young women.
Women have been named Doctors of the Church. Women are canonized saints, and their stories told to encourage holiness in women and men today.
In regular life, where most of us spend our days and our careers, women are teachers, daycare moms, and enthusiastic volunteers.
So try as I might, I can’t figure out just what needs to change.
Maybe the governance of the Vatican? Since the Curia is generally served by priests and bishops, there is a preponderance of men in service at the Vatican. But even there, I know of women who serve on Pontifical Councils and in various advisory roles.
Tim Padgett, a self-described “doctrinally dissident Roman Catholic” writing in Time magazine, chastised the Church for “scapegoating women.” What he meant by that, though, was that the Vatican had censured his fellow dissident (and a woman) Sister Margaret Farley for her wide-ranging disagreement with Catholic theology, as expressed in her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. In it, Farley embraced divorce, homosexuality, “nonprocreative” intercourse and masturbation. Rome’s “doctrinal bulldogs” (that’s Tim Padgett’s word, not mine) reminded Farley that those acts are considered disordered, deviant and depraved.
I don’t think Pope Francis meant that the ersatz views of dissident women must be embraced, and the longstanding, gospel-based teaching of the Magisterium must be discarded.
So, what must change? If you want to harp about women priests blah-blah, I’m not interested. If you have other ideas, though, about how women can be drawn into the life of the Church in new ways, can help in the greater mission of evangelization to which we are all called–then I’m all ears.