Irish women respected by the church?

This is very disturbing: Most (almost 3 out of 4) Catholic women in Ireland do not feel that their church “regards women with a lot of respect,” but most Protestant Irish women by far, almost all in fact, feel that their church does.

But this sounds a bit more hopeful: 73 per cent of Catholic women say the “Catholic clergy are now more understanding of what women need from their church.” They don’t say what “now” means or which needs are in view – and compared to what or when? But at least it’s better than something or the other.

No, this isn’t a post agitating for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. It’s not gonna happen in my lifetime, I predict. (I’m not extending any predictions beyond my death, at which point I hope to acquire new insights on all sorts of issues.)

This is a post, however, calling attention to a problem. If most of the women of a given church don’t feel respected by their church, then that church – whether it ordains women or not – has a huge pastoral problem on its hands. The kind of problem that takes root and lasts for generations to come. The kind of problem it’s very hard to turn around.

Folks, please let’s not debate women’s ordination, OK? Unless, I suppose, if the Holy Spirit has revealed to you something reallyreallyreally new that we haven’t heard before. We’ve all heard already, for example, that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.

But here’s something worth discussing: why do so many Catholic women (at least in Ireland) feel their Church does not respect them? Is it the same anywhere else? Presupposing that the teaching on women’s ordination won’t change (at least not anytime soon, some of you will want to qualify), what ten constructive things could happen in the Catholic Church to address the problem? Is mandatory celibacy – the kind of people it attracts to ordained ministry, or the kind of culture that develops around it – an aspect of the problem? If so, how can clerical culture be changed for the better? What would it look like for Catholic women to feel that their Church respects them?

Thoughts?

awr

Source: Irish Times

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49 comments

  1. As an Irishman, I wonder too why so many women feel disprespected. It is a pity the poll does not appear to go into reasons. Is it clear they feel disrespected as women? In other words, what percentage of lay men feel similarly disrespected by the Church in Ireland? Is it a laity issue or a gender issue? Or both? The Irish Church is in a bad state, some of it of its own making, some of it not. The Irish Times as a source is one I used to respect but it has had a relentless campaign of attack on the Church this year both as an institution and on its beliefs. It said in an editorial this year that any unelected male dominated organisation is a threat to a democracy (and I do not think they had Ireland’s small orthodox Jewish community in mind) – very chilling words reminiscent of those used in Russia in the 1910’s and Mexico in the 1920’s – so I would be somewhat sceptical of the source.

    Talking of Russia, the Church in Ireland today is in my view comparable to the Communist Party after the fall of the Soviet Union – previously all powerful but in a brittle way, when hypocrisies were exposed, the power collapsed, to be replaced by a passing consumerism which itself has collapsed leaving a very depressed populace who don’t feel respect about any institution or happy about anything when polled.

    I doubt that gender is largely in play here – I suspect it is a collapse of all moral authority, Church and secular. Pray for Ireland.

  2. Mandatory celibacy is one reason for the current problems – when men could not openly admit to being gay, one way to avoid marriage was to enter the priesthood, safely putting marriage out of the question (I am not saying celibate gays should not be ordained; just pointing out that there was an attraction to join other than a vocation due to societal pressures now largely gone). Others were, in essence, forced in by a culture where the mother wanted at least one son, usually the youngest becausue the others escaped home first, to be a priest. Finally, some did it because, at the cost of giving up marriage, it provided a free higher education and a comfortable lifestyle without emigration. Many, most, priests entered for all the right reasons, but perhaps more than in other countries entered for the wrong reasons. Oh – and only the laity can be blamed for this one – if anyone did enter a seminary but left without ordination, they were socially shunned as a ‘spoiled priest’ so even if someone realised they were there for the wrong reason, the pressure on them was not to try to take the right steps. A lot of lives were ruined under this culture, and it cannot be laid fully at the door of the institutional Church – it wasn’t separate from the rest of us in a small homogenous society where we’re all closely related anyway. The religious were our uncles, aunts, siblings, cousins. And we wouldn’t let them admit it if they found didn’t have a vocation. Vatican II undid a lot of this harm going forward but a lot of the hurt will not go away.

  3. Ceile De, thanks much for both of your thoughtful comments.

    I’m leery of seeing too hastily a “relentless campaign of attack” in others’ criticisms of our Church. It could be that, but it could be that we’re defensive and dismissing everything in the so-called attack, even the true parts. I’m amazed at the openness of the Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes – see the last sentence of article 44:

    She [the Church] gratefully understands that in her community life no less than in her individual sons, she receives a variety of helps from men of every rank and condition, for whoever promotes the human community at the family level, culturally, in its economic, social and political dimensions, both nationally and internationally, such a one, according to God’s design, is contributing greatly to the Church as well, to the extent that she depends on things outside herself. Indeed, the Church admits that she has greatly profited and still profits from the antagonism of those who oppose or who persecute her.

    My rules of thumb are two:
    1) don’t assume we’re being persecuted, in fact, strive to assume that we’re not, even when it seems otherwise;
    2) even if it feels like persecution, strive to be undefensive and to hear everything in the ‘persecution’ which is true.

    awr

  4. “what ten constructive things could happen in the Catholic Church to address the problem?”

    – half of the professors in seminaries should be women
    – some of the books read by seminarians should be authored by women
    – increased focus on saints who are strong, independent women
    – have the parish finance council chair be a woman
    – have the diocesan chancellor be a woman
    – the intentions in the prayer of the Faithful could be prepared by a woman
    – the Lent retreat or other such parish event could be led by a woman religious
    – if there are humble services in the church that are performed by women, then, once in a while the parish priest should do them himself, so as to be more appreciative of their contribution.
    – once a year the parish priest could send individual cards to each person volunteering his or her services for the church, explicitly expressing his appreciation for what they do.
    – banish any talk about abortion or contraception that does not equally criticize men and women.

    1. No offense, but many of these bullet points seem sort of like a straw man.

      It hasn’t taken in to consideration the fact that perhaps a parish would not have a woman with the skill set to be the finance council chair. Sure, in America, there are probably many parishes who could, but in many parts of rural America, there is no-one in the parish who is “qualified,” unless perhaps the one bank in town’s manager happens to be Catholic. What about other parts of the world?

      What books written by women would you recommend being read by seminarians? I’m sure that such classics written by St. Teresa of Avila are assuredly promoted as an essential in spirituality formation.

      What it seems (to me) this list is attempting at in part is to say that there is no difference between a woman with a man, and in the end does not recognize the true feminine beauty that naturally comes from being a woman, which a man would not be able to provide, lacking that character.

      Perhaps a better approach would be to identify the ways in which women can contribute positively using their gifts as women, rather than taking over a “male” role (please note, I’m not saying finance, etc belongs to a man… I’m saying in many places there aren’t women who have the skill set… a man naturally assumes the role by virtue of experience) — though, I agree with you completely, in whatever ways anyone contributes, the parish priest needs to recognize this, as well, and offer his gratitude early and…

      1. Mr. Owens —

        There are a large number of quite significant theological books written by women. Elizabeth Johnson (She Who Is is certainly central, but Truly Our Sister would also be at home in a seminary curriculum) and Lisa Sowle Cahill (perhaps particularly her writings in family ethics (e.g. Family: A Christian Social Perspective)) are only two significant female Catholic theologians who immediately come to mind. Catherine Mowry LaCugna, another Catholic woman theologian, wrote one of the most significant books on Trinitarian theology in the latter part of the 20th century. (One may of course take issue with LaCugna’s approach, but to ignore her in a doctrine of God class would be an oversight.) Kathryn Tanner and Sarah Coakley are two of the most significant Episcopal / Anglican theologians working today.

        I could go on — and others here who have formally studied theology could easily add their own suggestions. Indeed, PrayTell recently linked to a Christian Century article in which eight theologians were asked to name five of the most significant theological works of the past 25 years. Women theologians are not unrepresented in that list.

        I doubt anyone would fault a parish for selecting a man to be finance chair if he is indeed the most qualified person for the position, but it is simply not true that books by women would be out of place at seminaries — or that they would only end up in a seminary curriculum through affirmative action.

      2. Chris Owens writes:
        “rather than taking over a ‘male’ role (please note, I’m not saying finance, etc belongs to a man… I’m saying in many places there aren’t women who have the skill set…)”

        Chris, by calling it a ‘male’ role, I think you’re saying exactly that.

        The other difficulty I see: what will we do with all those strong, assertive, rational and logical women with good leadership skills, or all those wimpy, compassionate, relational men (even clergy, do you think?) who aren’t behaving according their intrinsic nature? How are we ever going to get all that regularized??

        awr

      3. Ms. O’brien–

        My apologies– I think I was misunderstood.

        My question of which theological books should be used was not to say that there aren’t any written by women; rather, trying to formulate the issue more positively– people give problems all the time: what’s the solution? What writers would the original poster suggest as reading by the seminarians?

        Sorry to come across as if I was slagging female writers… not my intention at all. Come to that, when I think of the most notable lay people working in Catholic academia– top of the list are several females… Janet Smith, Mary Ann Glendon…

        Fr.:

        Sorry– I was using the quotation marks around the word “male” to refer to the jobs that she was referring to as male– not to state that I thought they were such.

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Wimpy men. haha. To reference St. Paul, we all are many parts of the same body. Let’s use the strengths that we have, but not to simply say that a woman should be the finance chair, etc, simply because she’s a woman. (my mother would actually make a great one, since she’s a financial planner…)

        To flip it around… How many men are on the altar guild and ironing linens or making altar cloths, etc? 99% of the time, it’s the little old church ladies who are an extraordinary service to the Church by taking care of this holy service.

      4. (cont’d)

        My objection was more to the fact that we should assign the roles simply based on some kind of affirmative-action plan in the parish, and not on what talents God has given us, which is how the bullet-pointed list came across to me.

        An example in my own parish is that there is a woman who is the head of the liturgy committee. She brings a gift of real femininity because she cuts the ego of quite a few strong-willed personalities at the table, and helps to cultivate the devotional nature of big feasts in the parish life… sorry if that’s a stereotype. How about another quality that is perhaps gender neutral being that she’s a good organizer and motivator? 😉

        Anyway, I hope that I properly elucidated my point. Apologies for previous ambiguities. Darn word counts (but necessary!).

      5. HIstorically, in Irish-American households, the “finance” chair was the mother, not the father. Rather (in)famously. With the very strong approval of the pastor. Irish girls came to this country, and many became domestics, learning from their mistresses how to run a household (not just chores but budgets and money), and applied that learning to dealing with their husbands, especially with regard to supporting the Church and avoiding excess at the tavern and gambling. The men would not typically be as strong with financial issues as their wives. If we are going to think in default/stereotypical terms in the USA at least, perhaps we should mentally have the default image of a mother in mind for finance chair….. Maybe, if the pastor is the head, that mother should be the neck.

      6. The finance committee was just an example. In general just giving women roles of authority such that men have to do as they say, or such that women are the role model and the leader, would show that men respect women enough to defer to their decisions and give them precedence. It doesn’t have to be the finance committee: in any setting where there are both men and women, particularly contexts where members of the clergy participate, have them yield leadership to women; in any setting where we are shown people to look up to, have those be women. If, in the church, that happened about half the time, then we’d be in good shape.

        As to ironing altar linen, I certainly hope that men volunteers are welcome to do such tasks. I do not think that ironing requires specirfically feminine gifts. In fact, I explicitly refuse to perform this kind of chores unless there is also a male volunteer: that’s my way of ministering to the church’s needs regarding the image of women.

  5. I’d add

    Every bishop and male religious superior must have at least two independent women whose opinions he trusts and who advise him on the suitability of seminary candidates and ordinands – a sine qua non for every diocese and male religious institute.

      1. Because we select and train seminarians in primarily, if not exclusively, male groups in order to serve (often) primarily female parishes, or parishes in which women are the majority of active parishoners.

  6. The Irish Times hung Bishop Eamonn Casey out to dry long ago, fomenting the kind of Pharisaic scandal that has destroyed the Irish Church. People rant about “child rape” whereas in fact many of the incidents are mere indiscreet touchings by young and immature priests who had no idea that their affectionate caresses would provide material for a ferocious witch-hunt 30 years later.

    1. Well, people should rant about child rape where child rape has occurred, and should generally rant where priests have used or co-opted minors (however “consensually,” consent being at best a fraught concept in a culture that demurred greatly to clerical and religious authority, stated or implicit) to further their own ego needs.* Let not insincere accusations obscure sincere ones.

      * Reminding me in general of Sister Aloysius’ memorable lines: “*You* are a cheat! The warm feeling you experienced when that boy looked at you with trust was *not* the sensation of virtue. It can be got by a drunkard with his tot of rum.”

  7. Many secular feminists speak of empowerment. While I don’t believe that is the sole source of the problem, it is something to consider. The terrain of the Church in the USA has never included things that were included in Europe.

    Is it possible that women have lost influence in the higher reaches of the Church over the last century or so?

    For instance, we have never had, in the USA, collegiate chapters of canonesses, with an influential Provost or Dean (or whatever the female term is), and we have never had territorial Abbesses, who had de jure and de facto far-reaching power in the upper reaches of authority. Do they still exist in Europe?

  8. – Open up the roles of institued acolyte and instituted reader to women.

    – The expectation the that spiritual director of a priest should be a priest should change, so more priests (and seminarians) recognize the value of spiritual direction separate from sacramental confession.

    – Lay eccleisal ministers should be officially commissioned or instituted by the bishop.

    – All leadership positions, right through to the Vatican, should be examined to see if requirements that they be held by a bishop or priest is truly necessary, and opened up to qualified lay people.

    – We should never say “vocation” without meaning marriage, too. Prayers “for vocations” must never make it seem that marriage is not just as blessed a state as ordination or the consecrated life, nor just as necessary to the Church.

  9. This is a great launching pad for a discussion. As is so often the case, we get into an “either/or” debate about the ordination of women, yay or nay and any meaningful conversation about other things is derailed.

    And without that conversation, discussion, dare I say – discernment – how can anything happen?

    In any event, the focus of why women in Ireland and elsewhere feel disrespected is an excellent question for this kind of forum.

    As an American lay woman whose life is pretty much immersed in the Church (employment, grad school, writing and other ministries) I am in a diocese where I feel very respected. That said, I also experience the less-than-respected element from the Church at large. And I was not only in this diocese; I have been here three and half years; I was somewhere else that was shall we say, different. (And even here there remains at least one parish where there are no women lectors, etc.)

    If I were to rephrase this I guess I would use disregarded more than disrespected and I would say that the disregard, more often than not is benign. Of course, benign disregard often leads to something more complicated in my experience.

    Ignore at your own risk, might be the warning sign. And for the places where the warning has been ignored and the disrespect has turned into something worse, change is needed.

    Possible changes? Many already mentioned here – use of the word vocation, women involved in the determination of seminarians are two great…

  10. I would wonder how many Irish women feel oppressed by males in general. I’m not so sure its an ecclesiological issue per se, rather than a symptom of a larger only-now-changing deeper societal structure in which the smaller protestant communities are ahead of the curve. Not all European societies evolved in the same fashion or pace in the last 60 years.

    I think a savy integrated pastor, and pastoral team, that was attentive to womens’ lives and issues in contemporary society could do much via preaching, parish life organization and community outreach that didn’t even involve red button issues.

  11. As has already been mentioned, the Irish Times is not very sympathetic to the Catholic Church. Also I would wonder how they define Catholic and Protestant, does this mean people who actually go to church on Sunday or simply people who define themselves as “Catholics” or “Protestants,” as in Ireland few non-practicing people would not place themselves in one or other category. Therefore if many of the statistical sample are not actually practicing, is it no surprise that they do not feel like they belong in the Church. Also if we see Catholicism as a “seamless garment”, as a body of inter-related doctrine, faith and practices, then a group that supports abortion (as mentioned by the article) is unlikely to be happy with other aspects of the Church’s teaching and her hierarchy. I do not doubt that the Church in Ireland needs to work a lot in many areas, but I would question whether the Irish Times can really be the starting point of a meaningful renewal.

    1. But the poll numbers come from the research agency, not the Irish Times. The Irish Times had nothing to do with carrying out the study, they’re just reporting on it. However ‘anti-Catholic’ they may be, I don’t think they falsified the survey numbers, did they?
      awr

  12. My thought is that polls like this reflect poor pastoral choices in this local Church over a number of years and ineffective preaching/teaching by the bishops, priests and vowed religious. Anyone who knows that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood would never even consider such a thing in a Church with orders be it ours or in E. Orthodoxy.

      1. Some do but they would call her a deaconess and they would not confuse a deacon with a deaconess even when the word “ordain” is used. The Coptic Church has deaconesses but is clear that they remain laity and they seem to follow the principle laid out in Nicaea (19).The EO don’t generally permit women in the sanctuary & words like “ordain” are interpreted more fluidly in Orthodoxy than in Catholicism. The Catholic Carthusian nuns are very progressive though, they get the deacon’s stole.

      2. Well, the issue of what the ordination of women to the diaconate comprises is muddled even at the conciliar level by counterexample of Chalcedon and historical praxis.

    1. The fact is that Irish women – nearly 3/4 of them -say they don’t feel respected by their Church. And you think it would be different if the (all male) preachers had laid down the party line more clearly, and told all the women more clearly how they should feel? Your solution sounds precisely like that which is most likely to make women not feel respected.

      Since the question asks about womens’ FEELINGS, Leo, it’s worth asking whether men like you are I have the necessary expertise to offer lots of answers about how to change their feelings.

      awr

      1. Thanks for making that distinction about feelings Fr. Ruff. I had this post very much on my heart as I went to mass this morning. I went to another parish that I am affiliated with, not my home parish and it was a cluster pulpit exchange weekend. The situation there (a positive one) gave me much to reflect on when respect is considered in the context of being included or if it is int he context of being marginalized. Even if the marginalization is unintentional, feelings still matter.

        It struck me as I listened to Luke’s Gospel about Zacchaeus that feelings are changed profoundly by Jesus through his inclusion. Now inclusion does not have to mean ordination – it is a matter of being recognized. Just as today Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. Is that not at the heart of our baptismal call? Being called by name? That is why respect – and feelings do indeed matter. Thank you.

  13. I don’t know about the “party line” but a clear presentation of the faith would offset such things. Clarity has not been in great supply in most western countries for forty years.
    This poll taken together with the 1 in 3 post discussed earlier is indicative of the pastoral malaise we’ve operated within since the 1970’s.

    1. Leo Connor writes: “A clear presentation of the faith would offset such things” – ie, such things as women’s feelings of not being respected by the Church.

      Wow, Leo, you really are an expert in women’s feelings, what causes them, how to change them.

      I wonder, how do women feel about that? Or maybe first I should ask, do women have a say in your world in telling us about their own feelings?

      awr

      1. Maybe he’s a married man with daughters. My guess is the issue is how effective pastorally the Irish Church has been in providing a counterbalance to rampart secularism which leads many of the baptized, women included, to see “disrespect” where authentic Church teaching rejects accommodation to the secular status quo (i.e. O.S.).

        We are long past the point where one has to be a woman to interpret a poll of women. We also don’t know many things about this poll. Another poll suggests that two-thirds of “practicing” Catholics in England & Wales would attend the EF regularly if they could do so in their own parish (2010 Harris Interactive Poll).

      2. Well, Fr. Ruff, I feel that Leo is pretty clueless on several points. I further feel that my feeling this way doesn’t matter at all to him, but that’s okay. Our worlds don’t intersect anyplace but here.

  14. Karl Liam Saur, “people should rant about child rape where child rape has occurred” — certainly; but in most cases what they refer to as “child rape” might less dramatically be referred to as indiscreet touching. It is well known that even true pedophiles are not usually into penetrative sex.

  15. Women had power and authority in the medieval church that was pretty indistinguishable for that which male clergy enjoyed. What reduced women to second class citizens was the extreme stress on the sacramentality of Orders in the Counter-Reformation. Discuss.

  16. I wonder how the poll was conducted. In prognosticating political election results, polls among ‘likely voters’ generally prove more accurate than polls based on responses of ‘registered voters.’ I wonder how active in parish life the responders are.

    Knowing the perceptions, or feelings, among different levels of participation might help inform the Church’s outreach to women.

    1. I know many women who are very active – and faithful – in parish life who would say they feel they are not regarded with respect. Anyone who thinks this is a mostly a problem with inactive or rebellious Catholic women is fooling him/herself. We have lost way too many holy, prayerful, valuable women to other churches because of the way they feel about how the Church regards them.

  17. This study was done by Dr Florence Craven in 2000 and 2002.

    Results were first published in International Review of Sociology
    http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/1882365633-92828236/content~db=all~content=a713995295~frm=abslink

    The journal article contains little about the Catholic Protestant differences mentioned in the newspaper article. It focuses upon how much Catholic and Protestant women share in their feminist negative attitudes toward establishment.

    The results were published in July 2010 as the book A Comparison of the Social, Religious, and Gender Role Attitudes of Catholic and Protestant Women in the Republic of Ireland: Twenty-First Century Ireland from a Woman’s Perspective only $119.95 at Amazon
    http://www.amazon.com/Comparison-Religious-Attitudes-Catholic-Protestant/dp/0773437878/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1288562678&sr=1-1

    The book focuses more upon the differences that are reported in the newspaper article.

    One wonders if the changes in Ireland in the intervening years have not altered the focus of the book. The Catholic Church has become an easier target.

    The Catholic Church and the Irish establishment were likely perceived as closely allied by both Catholic and Protestant women. Negative attitudes shared by both Catholics and Protestant women toward the Irish establishment may have been applied to the Catholic Church by Catholic women, but not to Protestant churches by Protestant women.

  18. For those of you interested in methodology, there are some interesting issues since the sample evidently was not random. On the other hand, she got a very high response rate for a modern survey. I would very carefully look at the methodology in the book. She did get this study published by a peer reviewed journal so it is probably OK.

    “Forty-eight qualitative interviews were conducted with 24 Catholic and 24 Protestant respondents during 2000. Catholic /Protestant clergy and women’s groups assisted the author in locating respondents, who were evenly stratified according to the primary variables of religion (Catholic/Protestant), age (they were aged between 21 and 70 years as this was the best way of observing how attitudes varied across different age cohorts) and location (urban/rural).”

    Presumably this same method was used for the questionnaire study below.

    “Questionnaires were posted to 488 women (244 Protestant /244 Catholic) residing in 12 counties throughout Ireland in early January 2002. These counties also included the nine counties used for the qualitative phase. Respondent were again located according to the influential variables of age, location and religion. As respondents received their questionnaires by post, guidelines were included. They were also given the author’s telephone number in case of any difficulties. Although literature contends that mail questionnaires have the disadvantage of yielding low returns,467 questionnaires (a 95% response rate) were returned.”

  19. Joe – you continue your theme on the “poor” misunderstood cleric who “ONLY” touched some underage kid and so should be given a break.

    Yes, am aware that there are always clerics who acted “stupidly” because of poor formation, under the influence, underdeveloped psychologically, etc.

    But, experts in the field know that less than 50% of all abuse is reported; that a victim is still a victim no matter what the abuse entailed (sorry, your comment above sounds like Bill Clinton trying to parse the verb – “is” and redefining sexual behavior); in major diocesan settlements less than 3% of all accused clerics were deemed as false accusations; that very few credibly accused clerics had only ONE victim.

    Finally, despite your focus on the “misunderstood” emotionally immature abusive cleric, the real issue is that bishops covered up and there has been no accountability for this including upto the Pope.

    You need to get over your fixation on a storyline that has little credibility except for anecdotal stories you have heard.

  20. Here’s Pope Benedict on women:

    As you know, we believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the Apostles, obliges us and doesn’t allow us to confer priestly ordination on women. But we shouldn’t think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest. There are lots of tasks and functions in the history of the Church — starting with the sisters of the Fathers of the Church, up to the middle ages when great women played fundamental roles, up until modern times. Think about Hildegard of Bingen who protested strongly before the bishops and the pope, of Catherine of Siena and Brigit of Sweden. In our own time too women, and we with them, must look for their right place, so to speak. Today they are very present in the departments of the Holy See. But there’s a juridical problem: according to Canon Law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to Sacred Orders. So there are limitations from this point of view but I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I’d call their “spiritual power,” will know how to make their own space. And we will have to try and listen to God so as not to stand in their way but, on the contrary, to rejoice when the female element achieves the fully effective place in the Church best suited to her, starting with the Mother of God and with Mary Magdalene.

    This is from an interview with German journalists in 2006.

  21. Why should the power to take legally binding decisions be “limited to Sacred Orders”? There were once lay cardinals, as I understand it. Why could the leader of a Vatican congregation not be a woman?

    1. If Pope Benedict were reading this, I guess he might point toward this audience in which he talks about the munus regendi, the priest’s ministry of governing. And he might say that a woman couldn’t exercise this ministry because she can’t receive Holy Orders.

      It still seems to me that a canonical prohibition against laypeople taking legally binding decisions could be lifted with the stroke of a papal pen, where the pope would say that he and the Church have no power to ordain women.

  22. Off the Catholic news wire last week: “VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI praised the millions of Catholic women in the world who inspire their husbands and children to live truly Christian lives.”

    There’s nothing wrong with praising women in their roles as wives and mothers. Yet to focus exclusively on these roles for women, or at least first and mainly, can relegate women to a secondary role in the family and in society as a sort of assistant to their man.

    Would the Vatican press ever release the reverse of this story? “Pope Benedict XVI praised the millions of Catholic men in the world who inspire their wives and children to live truly Christian lives.” That sounds strange if you presume that a woman’s place is in the home and a man’s place is in the world.

    Are husband and wife (or wife and husband) equal partners in a marriage, or is the man the head of the household aided and inspired by the woman? According to a hierarchical view of creation, one is the head of the family unit and the others are constituent parts.

  23. Bill De Haas, you quote all sorts of dubious stats, but Fr Tony Flannery writes from the coalface, and I find his plea convincing.

  24. The Catholic Church is in a state of liturgical disarray and spiritual depletion. The silencing of women’s voices may be a major factor in this. The best sermon I heard this year was from a black Jamaican woman in a Methodist church.

  25. Flannery’s comment again: “Catholic Church authorities need to distinguish between the paedophile priest and the cleric who committed a minor indiscretion with a teenager 30 or more years ago, according to a spokesman for the new Association of Catholic Priests. Father Tony Flannery said many priests who attended a meeting in Co Mayo Tuesday afternoon sympathised with colleagues who had been excluded from ministry even though their behaviour since the transgression had been blameless.

    “He said there was a strong feeling that a distinction needed be made between the paedophile, whose history involved a pattern of child abuse and who had to be kept away from children, and the man who had behaved inappropriately towards a teenager shortly after emerging from a seminary three decades ago.The question was asked at the meeting whether it was just that both types of offenders had been publicly shamed in their parishes and religious communities by being withdrawn from ministry.”

  26. Sorry, Joe, the stats are not dubious – in fact, have been proven in court. You merely quote one priest – I sympathize with him but his plea ignores the facts. Yes, we need a humane way of dealing with abuse but not by protecting abusers who have broken civil law. You sound like the current Dutch bishop who stated last week that old credible or confirmed clerical abusers should be left alone.

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