From June 24 through 27, 2019, I attended my fourth meeting of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP). What is most striking to me as the co-director of FutureChurch is the growing strength of the association’s prophetic voice when it comes to advocating for women’s full participation in the institutional church.
Most recently, the association formed a working committee to draft a white paper on the status of women in the Church that encourages honest, respectful, and forthright dialogue. Along with AUSCP members, FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful, and other scholars were invited to help shape the document. The document was completed and accepted unanimously at the AUSCP’s recent assembly. It can be found at http://bit.ly/2Yyy2gY.
The document is by no means designed to be an exhaustive treatment of the topic, but the beginning of a much needed and long overdue conversation about the participation of women in the life, ministry and governance of the Church.
It begins with the impetus for the white paper…that a thorough examination of the official status of women is necessary to regain trust and credibility in a world that so badly needs their witness. The AUSCP states that “we, along with many Catholics today, judge that the misogynistic attitude embedded in Catholic Church culture must be uprooted to make room for women.” Further, they state that Catholic social teaching “calls us to examine systems that produce inequality and to bring the Gospel to bear on the life and structures of the Church as well as in society,” for “without equality, the credibility of the Church is rightly questioned.”
The document is segmented topically and includes sections on history, cosmology and science, anthropology, biology, Scripture, philosophical development, theology/ecclesiology, liturgy, sacramental theology, and pastoral ministry. An executive summary and a study resource is will be available in the near future, but highlights include contributions by a variety of feminist scholars who have re-oriented our understanding of women’s authority, ministry, and experience throughout history and today.
Below are some examples of the paper's insights:
- Scripture and other early Christian writings were the purview of churchmen and reflected their beliefs, practices and proscriptions at various times and places. Even then, Jesus’ behavior toward women, even when viewed through the androcentric bias of first- and second-century texts, is extraordinarily egalitarian. Women, both single and married, were part of his inner circle and traveled with him as disciples. Mary Magdala’s leadership is a prime example of the kind of partnerships Jesus formed with women as they spread the Gospel. The same is true of Paul’s leadership. He referred to women as co-workers, apostles, deacons, and prophets.
- Theological frameworks rooted in cosmological formulations of the past have yielded institutionalized sexism and gender discrimination. The Church must undergo a radical transformation reorienting itself to the radical interconnectivity imprinted at all levels of nature. If it does not, it will certainly die out.
- Sacramental life is at the heart of community. And while sacramental theology underwent an enormous transformation at Vatican II, it continues to be a largely male-dominated field, closely tied to the institutional Church where women have virtually no official voice or established authority. Because sacramental theology has not properly addressed women’s official exclusion and invisibility, many women have found the potential for the transformative nature of the sacraments constrained or, even, non-existent.
In a pre-Vatican II definition, the sacraments were “outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” Grace was understood as being necessary to get to heaven and the communal dimension of sacramentality was subordinate to the spiritual life of the individual. Current theologies recover an earlier sacramental tradition that defines sacraments in relationship to justice, understood as right relationships. What is celebrated in the sacraments is not an other-worldly reality but a community where all eat and drink together at a common table, where justice is a lived reality, and where Christians find the grace to reflect and inspire God’s vision for everyone. Indeed, if the sacraments are to be both valid and transforming vehicles of grace for women and men, they must be open to new lines of inquiry and new models of theological analysis.
- Vatican II initiated a dramatic reform of the liturgy and the active participation of the faithful. Still, the signs of the times demand further reforms that mandates an end to gender stereotypes, includes important scriptural passages relevant to women in the Lectionary, uses inclusive language, and creates much needed space for women to preach from the pulpit.
- Pastoral care has been rooted in a patriarchal framework where sexism and clericalism operate and have, too often, fostered dependency and paternalistic attitudes. New models of pastoral care offer mutuality, accompaniment, and solidarity where women’s experience is the starting point. Concerns that are specific to women such as violence and poverty in all its forms, women’s health, and the particular experiences of women in society, church, family, and work must be prioritized.
In determining the AUSCP priorities for the next year, the assembly voted to keep women’s equality high on the list. As such, another working group was formed that includes FutureChurch with a focus on developing concrete ways and resources to raise awareness about women’s equality in parishes across the United States and with our bishops.
This collaboration will complement other efforts, such as DeaconChat (catholicwomendeacons.org/deaconchat) to engender discussions and advocate for women deacons.