Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Women in the Life of the Church

A section of Pope Francis' interview that appears not to have caught the attention of the media, be that the main stream media or that of Catholic bloggers, is the section in which he responds to a question about the role of women in the Church. This is something to which Pope Francis has made reference on other occasions, but this paragraph in his interview suggests a more systematic indication of his views on the subject.
“I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”
 What are the suggestions tucked away in this paragraph?

A recognition that women are asking a question about their role in the Church that must be addressed.

The affirmation of a particular charism for "the woman" in the Church, who has a different make-up than a man. This charism is analogous to that of the Virgin Mary, who is "more important than the bishops".

Rather than an effort on behalf of women in the Church that is inspired by a feminist ideology ("female machismo", in Pope Francis' words - and Pope Francis identifies much that he hears about women in the Church as having such an inspiration), we need to engage in the development of a profound theology of "the woman".

Pope Francis draws an interesting distinction between dignity and function in talking of the role of women. The theological effort just referred to can be seen as one that first seeks to address the nature of the dignity of the place of women in the Church and then, consequently to that, to develop an understanding of their function. The function needs to follow from the dignity. Is there perhaps here an indirect reference to Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem?

Pope Francis ends by identifying the challenge facing the Church on this question: the specific place of women in places where authority is exercised for various areas in the Church. His framing of the challenge in this way - in terms of an exercise of authority - seems somewhat un-Francis like until it is read alongside his earlier discussion in his interview of the idea of decision making as discernment.

A feminist agenda for Catholicism it is not.

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