Today is International Women’s Day. Over at the Vatican, we are drawn into a spectacle that blatantly shows the world the real role of women in our church. In the leadership and decision making that counts, women are absent.
Nigel Baker, UK Ambassador to the Holy See, has written a tribute to the highly qualified and intelligent women who work at the Vatican, called Women at the Holy See. He writes,
Anyone who works with the Holy See network will be aware of the vital role played by women religious in almost every aspect of Church life on the ground and across the world, be it in education, development work, health care, managing parishes, supporting Papal nuncios, or spreading the word about the faith…
We celebrate them all on 8 March, and the other women working for the common good on behalf of the global Catholic Church. And yet the public face of the Holy See, and the Roman Catholic Church, remains predominantly male. Stating that is not meant to be a criticism, but it is a fact.
I’m obsessively hooked on all the news coverage of the papal elections, and I’m mad at myself for being so. It leaves me angry and depressed. Why should I care what a small group of old men, dressed in fancier clothes than I’ll ever have, say or do?
And yet, I love my church and am terribly worried for her. As the pre-conclave discussions drag on, the only consensus seems to be that there is no consensus on who should be the next pope. John L. Allen, Jr at NCR is providing daily biographies and back-ground information on the cardinals; both the papbili and the long shots. As windows and doors are opened into their lives, skeletons keep falling out. Those who seem to be genuinely pastoral and spiritual are not perceived as being strong enough to clean up the current mess in the curia.
Is this the best we can come up with? What kind of system to do we have that places the responsibility of electing the most powerful position in the church in the hands of this exclusive, elitist, and now so obviously flawed male club?
During one press conference this week, the role of women in the conclave was summed up by Fr. Thomas Rosica, currently acting as the English spokesperson and translator for the Vatican Press Office,
One reporter asked about a video shown Wednesday of the preparations being made for the Sistine Chapel that showed a woman sewing cloth hangings for the chapel’s walls and asked if women were involved with the conclave in other ways.
“There could be other women involved in the whole preparation for the conclave, in serving the fathers” at their hotels, Rosica said.
And that’s it, in a nutshell. Women are there to serve the fathers.
Women are set up in a monastery on the Vatican grounds to pray for the Pope. When the ex-Pope requires a residence, the women are asked to vacate the property for him. He then prepares to move in with his own retinue of women to take care of him and his household.
For every woman who cracks the marble ceiling in theological studies or gains a position in diocesan or curial offices, there are hundreds or thousands who continue to selflessly serve God’s people in church kitchens, sacristies, and catechism classes. For every woman who has her name on an office door at the Vatican, countless others are serving those in need in schools, hospitals, and slums around the world. And yet, we have no decision making voice. We have no vote in who will lead our church.
In a recent CBC interview, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouelette said that questions regarding the role of women in the church, gay marriage and abortion are important but “secondary.”
The Cardinal is dead wrong. The issue may be “secondary” to those who hold the power, for their power is secure as long as women don’t threaten it. It is not “secondary” to all those women who serve the church they love, but are tired of being treated as servants and minions.
I hope and pray that our next “Servant of the servants of God” will be, first and foremost, a true servant leader. If he needs a model or inspiration, all he needs to do is look around him and observe the lives of the many faithful and faith-filled women in our church. If he is truly wise, he will find ways to make women’s voice in the church more active and effective.
Blessings and Peace to all on this International Women’s Day!