Friday, October 4, 2013

Women Leaders in the Church



On October 3—4, eight cardinals chosen by Pope Francis will meet to advise him on reform of the Roman Curia and the governance of the worldwide Church. The first issue has gained more attention and interest, but the second one will prove the wisdom of decisions about curial reform.  Seven of these cardinals are lifelong pastors from Australia, Chile, Congo, Germany, Honduras, India, and the United States. The eighth one heads the internal government of Vatican City State. All are men.  The next time such a group meets; couldn’t that group include women as well? How many crises in the Church might have been avoided—or at least better responded to—if women had direct input about advice given to the pope?

Moving beyond Stereotypes

"Guests in Their Own House" was the title of Carmel E. McEnroy’s 1996 book about Vatican Il’s 15 women auditors. Many Catholic women still feel that way about a Church that praises them for nurturing children, caring for the sick, advocating for social justice, and carrying out every other Church task that flows from their Baptism.  Many cultures expect men to assume primary responsibility for life outside the home, while welcoming women’s gifts only domestically. Today, however, women also pilot jet planes, perform surgeries, head major corporations, and work at most jobs once reserved to men. Why are women’s gifts appreciated everywhere except the Church?  Pope Francis will continue to need assistance in carrying out the unique ministry of St. Peter’s successor. But must his closest collaborators be only men?
The number of existing offices, their names, and their internal relationships may certainly change. Is there a valid reason why only men can head the current Congregation for Catholic Education or the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life? Women do most of the work in these two areas. Furthermore, couldn’t a woman lead the present pontifical councils for laity, family, migrants and itinerant people, health-care workers, culture, or social communications?
At times, the best person for a particular job is a man; other times, it’s a woman. The old stereotype of men as active and women as passive arises from a historical misunderstanding of what each gender contributes to reproduction. Can the Church afford thinking that no woman will ever be the best person for any Church job at this level?

Learning from Francis and Clare

On October 4, Pope Francis will visit Assisi, home to Sts. Francis and Clare, who modeled a new way of recognizing each other’s God-given gifts. Between 1212 and 1215, Clare and her sisters often worked alongside the friars in caring for lepers. They became cloistered nuns after Lateran Council IV; those were the only official women’s religious communities The Church would wait several centuries before finally approving women religious as teachers, nurses, missionaries, and in other types of service.  We already have women leaders in the Church: as heads of organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, Focolare, religious communities, secular institutes, and lay movements.
As a priest, I sometimes pray at the altar: “And may your Church stand as a living witness to truth and freedom, to peace and justice, that all people may be raised up to a new hope” (Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs IV). I look forward to the day when the Catholic Church is as open to the gifts of women disciples as Jesus was.

—Pat McCloskey, OFM, St. Anthony Messenger October 2013. (The Church needs to recognize women’s gifts in areas still closed to them.)

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