women are still predominantly servants of the Servant of the servants of God!

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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!

why a male priesthood? men care more about leaky roofs!

leaky church roof

Catholic News Service ran a story yesterday called Why not women priests? The papal theologian explains. Recent head-lines have told of silenced, banished and laicized priests, punished for their open questioning of a male-only priesthood. The Pope’s own theologian felt it was time to set the record straight.

Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych begins by giving all the well-known reasons. Jesus chose only men to be his apostles on earth.  God chose to take on the form of a man (male) therefore one must be a man (male) in order to act in the person of Christ. Jesus acted against societal norms in his relationship with women, therefore he would have chosen women to be his apostles if he so desired – but he didn’t.

Father Giertych then begins to muse on why men are more naturally suited to the priesthood.

Men are more likely to think of God in terms of philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms, he said, a quality valuable for fulfilling a priest’s duty to transmit church teaching.

Hmmm. First of all, I enjoy studying philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms. I get a charge out of spotting the fallacies in arguments – whether on discussion boards or from papal theologians. 😉

And then came this wee gem,

Father Giertych said priests love the church in a characteristically “male way” when they show concern “about structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the church which is leaking, about the bishops’ conference, about the concordat between the church and the state.”

The friend who forwarded this article to me summed it up with these words, “It’s all about leaky roofs. So that’s why women can’t be priests”!

So, what is the role of women in the church? Fr. Giertych explains it with obvious clarity,

Women are better able than men to perceive the “proximity of God” and enter into a relationship with him, Father Giertych said, pointing to the privileged role played by women in the New Testament.

“Women have a special access to the heart of Jesus,” he said, “in a very vivid way of approaching him, of touching him, of praying with him, of pouring ointment on his head, of kissing his feet.”

“The mission of the woman in the church is to convince the male that power is not most important in the church, not even sacramental power,” he said. “What is most important is the encounter with the living God through faith and charity.”

“So women don’t need the priesthood,” he said, “because their mission is so beautiful in the church anyway.”

This form of biological essentialism is at the root of gender stereotyping. Historically, women have not fared well in the stereotyping department. The simplistic view that men rule the head and women rule the heart becomes a back-handed argument for maintaining leadership in the male realm. Look carefully at the argument above. While praising the holiness of women with one breath, in the next they are told that they do not need the priesthood. They are already holy enough!

Men don’t fare much better in this narrow-minded world view. Men have to be tough. Rational thought is masculine. Emotions are feminine. Masculinity is equated with strength that excludes any outward show of emotion.

This theological argument, if taken to its extreme conclusion, also tells us that holiness is not as critical to the priesthood as logical thinking and the ability to swing a hammer. And, it gives women the unenviable task of ensuring that priests do not abuse their role in the church. It is our task (our “mission”) to show priests that faith and charity are more important than power. Does this mean that when dysfunctional leadership trumps faith and charity, women are somehow to blame? (Just making a logical assumption based on the premises given.)

Sadly, the rationale that Fr. Giertych presents is not a personal eccentricity. This is the view of male and female based on the theological anthropology of John Paul II, pared down to the bare bones. It is the basis of the “new feminism”, that raises the gifts of women to such heights that any desire for the priesthood should vanish away. If we, as women, are called to such a special holiness…why would we want to be priests?

And now for something completely different….

swords, ploughshares, popes, bishops, and women’s ordination

swords and ploughshares

Advent is my favorite month, and today’s reading from Isaiah provides one of my favorite images,

“and they shall beat their swords into plough shares.” Isaiah 2:4 

I was planning all day to write a reflection on these wonderful words, but I got side-tracked. The discussion boards over at the National Catholic Reporter were hopping! NCR published an editorial in favor of women’s ordination. Denying women access to the priesthood, says the editorial, is an injustice. This evening, you couldn’t read the newest comment without several more pouring in. Many are enthusiastically supporting the editorial staff at NCR for their courage. Others, a smaller but very vocal group, are slinging accusations of unfaithfulness and heresy.

Now, for anyone who doesn’t know the do’s and don’ts of Catholicism, there are some issues that you have to keep mum on. Women’s ordination is one of those issues. You can be a pedophile priest or rob your parish blind, and punishment will not come as swiftly as it would for a fellow priest who has openly participated in the ordination of a woman, or a mass celebrated by a woman priest. Recent news shows that a bishop can be found guilty in a court of law of not reporting an abusive priest and the same bishop can remain active in pastoral ministry. He can even attend a national Bishops conference, seemingly in good standing, without a single bishop challenging his presence.

But, openly supporting women’s ordination is considered a grave sin. Excommunications and defrocking are handed out bluntly and swiftly.

No sooner has the inked dried on commentaries about the recent expulsion of Fr. Roy Bourgeois from the Maryknoll order and the priesthood, news came out that Jesuit Fr. Bill Brennan, a 92 year old priest from the Milwaukee area was ordered by Archbishop Jerome Listecki to no longer celebrate the Mass or perform any other priestly duties. NCR published the story just this afternoon. Fr. Brennen’s sin? He participated in a Eucharistic liturgy with a woman priest last month.

I’m trying hard to cling to the Advent spirit of hope, to ponder the images of swords being beaten into plough shares. It turns out that I already wrote a reflection at this time last year. It’s a strange thing when you forget what you wrote. It’s even stranger when your own words force you to stop and ponder.

What about the swords and plough shares in our own lives? Do we use the gifts and resources given to us to promote peace and unity, or dissent and division? Our words and actions have the power to slay for good or for evil…

What swords do I need to hammer into plough shares? This is a constant challenge with my writing. It’s a fine line between having a good, cathartic rant and using your words to attack. When an issue is close to my heart, it is easy to fuel the flames of dissent – in myself and in others. The flames have the power to heat up my personal views. Witty words add fuel, as does the support of kindred spirits.

…once we have spoken, how do we take our own passions and unite them for the greater good? How do we hammer our own issues into plough-shares for peace in our church and our world?

Yes, I have many swords that need beating down–an embarrassingly large arsenal in fact. I need to put aside that which destroys, and pick up that which is life-giving.

I wish that the powers that be in our Church would try to do the same. Picking up the sword against those who question or refuse to give assent to one teaching of the church, while refusing to acknowledge all the pastoral work they may have done, does not nourish our faith. It just makes us wonder why swords, and not plough shares, are in the hands of those who call themselves shepherds.