Over at St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park, Peter Avvento offered a session about the role of women in the Church, this past Monday. Please join him for future sessions, April 29, May 6, and May 13 as we discuss the challenges faced by the Roman Catholic Church, in the context of our rich history. We begin at 7pm in the Social Hall at St Edward the Confessor; all are welcome and many IC parishioners are present; admission is free, but a free will offering is always gratefully accepted.
Challenges Facing the Catholic Church
“How does the Church need to change in order to allow for the full participation of women?”
Critics of the Roman Catholic Church often contend that we are a sexist institution. If we are honest we have to admit that there is some truth here. While women certainly constitute considerably more than half the church-going population and while they dominate the entire field of lay ministry, they simply do not have remotely proportional representation in leadership roles on the parish, diocesan or international levels.
Why is this case? It is not that the Church restricts ordained ministry to men, but rather, it is that the Church assigns all leadership roles to the ranks of the ordained, who just happen to be men. It is not self-evident that the charism of leadership is intrinsically connected to that of pastoral ministry, but….as long as our church is organized on the assumption that this connection is real then women n cannot take their appropriate places in church leadership.
How can we change the situation? One approach is to find a way moving forward to an ordained ministry that includes women as equal partners with men. The other approach is to distinguish between leadership and the pastoral ministry of the ordained. Both approaches involve radical changes in the Church and neither is seriously being considered at the highest levels of Church leadership at this time. But that does not mean that change cannot occur. As painful as it might sound, within the Church we do not measure change and/or development in years or even decades. Rather we measure in terms of centuries and eons.
The Vatican is not setting out to put women down, although some say that it seems that way. We also have to realize that those many members of the Church, laity and clergy alike, who believe that it is time for a change, are not trying to destroy the institution, but rather, are trying to save it from itself. It is also incumbent on everyone with some skin in the game to be neither overly protective of a clericalist status quo nor simply to transpose the “rights language” of the secular feminist debate into the ecclesial arena.
Both sides in the debate have to place the issue in the context of the ecclesial tradition. Those who desire to ordain women cannot just “thumb their nose” at the fact that this has never been a practice of the Church. And those who oppose it cannot simply say so in the name of unchanging tradition. Tradition is important and sometimes it is normative ecclesial memory, but tradition is a constant process of development, a living stream of change.
So where does the Holy Spirit come into the picture? The Holy Spirit guides the Church into all truth and does so through the teaching authority of the popes and bishops as well as in the practice of the whole People of God – lay and clergy alike. But what are we to make of the activity of the Spirit when there is a serious issue over which the Church is divided? In such a time it is tempting to simply say that the Holy Spirit can never be at war with itself and so one side is right and the other must back down. It would be wiser to consider the possibility that the work of the Spirit may be invested in the discernment process that will result from good debate and out of which the truth that the Spirit guarantees will eventually emerge.