Catholic Activists Want Pope Francis to Match Words with Actions

Catholic activists want Pope Francis to match words with actions | Al Jazeera America

by Lisa De Bode | February 19, 2014 7:00AM ET

Sister Teresa Forcades and other left-leaning religious leaders welcome new papal rhetoric but wonder about substance

“I don’t see any theological problem to ordain women in a church where ordination plays such an important role. Of course women are as valuable as men, but only ordained people can make decisions, and only men can be ordained. This is the trap.” - Sister Teresa Forcades

From her small convent in the mountains near Barcelona, Harvard-educated Sister Teresa Forcades has emerged as a leading advocate of Spain’s “Indignant” protest movement.  Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

From her small convent in the mountains near Barcelona, Harvard-educated Sister Teresa Forcades has emerged as a leading advocate of Spain’s “Indignant” protest movement. 

Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Spanish revolutionary, Harvard-educated public health specialist, abortion rights advocate and Roman Catholic nun.

These four labels seldom apply to the same person, but Sister Teresa Forcades, a 48-year-old woman from Barcelona, straddles many worlds.

In Europe she is the star of televised debates on feminism and religion, a leader of the Occupy movement in Spain who has taken on big corporate interests and a fierce critic of modern capitalism. 

She pulls no punches with her views. “I don’t think it is possible to have democracy and capitalism. They go against each other because the way we live capitalism is that we allow some corporations to have such power that they are able to influence government. And that’s the problem,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview.

Until recently, these controversial opinions might have led to her being reprimanded by the Vatican. But now, with a new leader in power apparently committed to fundamentally changing the church’s approach on social justice issues, she believes she’s merely taking some of Pope Francis’ ideas and running with them.

I don’t see any theological problem to ordain women in a church where ordination plays such an important role. Of course women are as valuable as men, but only ordained people can make decisions, and only men can be ordained. This is the trap.
— Sister Teresa Forcades

The new pope has invigorated the previously isolated social justice wing of the church, a change that many leading activists have welcomed. But at the same time, others are warning that his papacy has so far been more about a shift in tone than about substantive change on key issues such as abortion, women’s ordination and gay rights.

The new pope has invigorated the previously isolated social justice wing of the church. But his papacy has so far been more about a shift in tone than about substantive change on key issues.

In a much-publicized manifesto for his papacy, Francis lamented the misguided priorities of a world obsessed with money. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?” he asked.

Francis drives an old Renault, refuses to live in luxurious papal suites, invites homeless people over for dinner and expelled a German bishop for his exorbitant lifestyle. His focus on social justicerepresents a stark departure from his predecessors’ focus on doctrine and propelled grassroots activism back into the spotlight.

Forcades said his words hinted at a possible revival of liberation theology, a branch of religious philosophy that “has been where the poor have been” and looks at the imperative “to lose fear to be like Jesus was, entangled in political matters.”

In the 1980s, liberation theologists in Latin America worked with local activists against poverty as part of a political movement for the rights of the oppressed. Accused of professing Marxism under the guise of social justice theories, many priests were driven out of countries such as Nicaragua and Mexico, where they assisted local activists in combating poverty and authoritarian governments.

Like Forcades, other activists said Francis’ papacy has created more space for those working to achieve social justice or address controversies such as scandals about sexual abuse by priests.

The Nuns on the Bus campaign Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

The Nuns on the Bus campaign

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Thomas Gumbleton, a sex-abuse survivor and former bishop whom the Vatican forced to retire as a pastor in Detroit for testifying about his experience, said some of the fear is gone.

“Certainly now people feel much more free to speak out and not wary of being cracked down on,” he said. “They’re going to be supported if they speak out. Francis is living out the teaching and encouraging other people to do the same thing. I’ve noticed the other bishops are becoming more outspoken, certainly laypeople.”

Marisa Egerstrom, a Harvard University doctoral candidate in American religious history and founder of Protest Chaplains, an activist group with roots in the Occupy movement, said Francis’ reign has inspired a new generation of activists.

“I“m calling it the Francis factor. All of a sudden, it’s as if everyone remembered that there were more possibilities within the category of religion than just American Christian fundamentalism,” she wrote in an email. “Now even totally religiously unaffiliated activists have some context for understanding their religious friends.”

Despite the Vatican’s change in tone, some activists say their new breathing space remains limited. “I hope (Francis’) signs will come into practice, and by practice, I mean there are some of the church’s structures that will need to change to come closer to the poor,” Forcades said.

When Francis set up a committee to help fight rampant child abuse in the church and provide care for abuse survivors, activists say he didn’t go far enough. The Vatican rebuffed the scathing United Nations report on child abuse and has yet to directly engage with victims of abuse who were forced to remain silent for decades.

“Francis really needs to enter a conversation with a survivor to understand what happened,” said Gumbleton. “Until the pope and the commission get deeply involved with the survivors, I don’t think that they’ll come up with the right solutions.”

Alleged misogyny

Even though Francis made appreciative comments about women’s pastoral work, silence still surrounds the ordination of women priests. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. Catholics and 64 percent of European Catholics believe women should have the right to become priests. Nearly half of Catholics in Latin America agree, according to a recent poll by the media network Univision.

“I don’t see any theological problem to ordain women in a church where ordination plays such an important role,” Forcades said. Criticizing the way the Vatican talks about women, she added, “Of course women are as valuable as men, but only ordained people can make decisions, and only men can be ordained. This is the trap.”

Abortion too remains a difficult issue. When thousands of anti-abortion activists took to the streets of Washington, D.C., for a recent march, Francis backed the protesters on Twitter. “I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable,” he tweeted to 11.5 million followers.

Forcades said that while “in many cases the pope is right” when he calls abortion a sign of the world’s “throwaway culture,” she said a woman’s right to self-determination should supersede the rights of an unborn infant before it is able to survive outside its mother’s womb. Calling it “the argument of the lesser evil,” she said in some cases it is better to allow abortion than to force women into motherhood.

It is difficult for Catholic women not just in the United States. In Brazil, home to the largest Catholic population in the world, the Catholic women’s group Catolicas pelo Direito de Decidir advocated for an end to the country’s ban on abortion and joined a protest during Francis’ World Youth Days visit last summer. In January the women wrote an editorial, along with 12 other feminist associations in Latin America, on what they say are Francis’ misogynist interpretations of Scripture and on the need for reform. In one poll, nearly 70 percent of Catholics in Latin America said an outright ban on abortion is wrong.

In the U.S., Kaya Oakes, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church,” said that Francis has only moderately appealed to female Catholics. Even though he has discussed the role of women in the church more than his predecessors, he is mostly doing so in the context of motherhood.

“If he thinks of some other metaphors to describe women, they might grow less weary,” she said. “‘Women are wonderful because they’re mothering.’ Can you possibly see us in another way? Isn’t there any other way you can describe us?”

On the issue of women and the church, Francis has not yet broken with the past. Two years ago, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — an influential group of American Catholic nuns whom the Vatican has accused of “radical feminism” — was placed under supervision, after long-standing disagreements on women’s rights and other issues. Last year Francis reaffirmed his predecessor’s reprimand of the group.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network and leader of the Nuns on the Bus campaign, said his decision was disappointing. “We were hoping (the censure) would disappear. Something else is coming. We don’t know what,” she said.

“The reality is that Pope Francis so far has been more about a change in tone than anything substantive,” she added. “But I also think it is evident that he doesn’t demonize women. He idealizes them. Substantively, that’s not much of a step forward. The tone is better, but it still can leave women in a distanced and unreal position.”

On the issue of gay rights, there is also a mix of a softening tone but no real shift on the ground. Gay rights activists have applauded Francis for saying the church had become “obsessed” with doctrinal positions on issues like gay marriage and made waves saying, “Who am I to judge?” to reporters about gay priests.

But in reality, critics have said, his policies are in line with the beliefs of Catholics only in some regions. Catholics in Africa are said to support Francis, with 99 percent of Catholics there reported to be against gay marriage, compared with 40 and 57 percent in the U.S. and Latin America, respectively.

However, there is little doubt that in general, the new pope has galvanized the social justice wing of the church and will continue to do so. In expectation of more changes to come, Campbell recently prepared to give testimony to Congress on a minimum-wage debate by studying Francis’ ideas and public statements on poverty.

“Francis is saying the same things for which we got in trouble,” she said. “So we figure, if we use him as a footnote, we should be OK in the long run. I just don’t know how long the run is. Hopefully, it’s in my lifetime.”

For Pope Francis: A To-Do List on Women | Angela Bonavoglia | Huffington Post

Dear Pope Francis: As this new year unfolds, I've decided that, with all due respect, it is time for me to share with you my suggested "To-Do list on Women." I've been deeply moved by your passionate defense of the poor; your willingness to call unbridled capitalism what it is, a spirit-killing machine for those to whom its bounty fails to trickle down; your symbolically and not so symbolically throwing the money changers -- in the form of remote, rich, recriminating hierarchs -- out of the Church temple. But I have been far less moved by what you have been saying about women. So,without further ado...

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Women's Ordination Group to Meet in Catholic Church for the First Time

Women’s ordination group to meet in Catholic church for first time
Clerical Whispers | January 31, 2014

Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO)

Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO)

A women’s ordination group will hold their annual meeting in a Catholic church for the first time in their history.

Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO), which was founded in 1993, announced in their latest newsletter that their next annual gathering is due to take place at St Nicholas of Tolentino Church in Bristol.

They described the news that the gathering was taking place in a Catholic church for the first time as “historic” adding that their meeting, on 4 October, will focus on the theme of women in the diaconate.

“This appears to be a subject in the air at present and poses the question: could it be opened to women in the future and if so would members of CWO support the idea?” the newsletter stated.

The question of whether women could be ordained deacons has long been discussed and was recently advocated by then Archbishop of Freiburg and Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Robert Zollitsch, who suggested a specific office of deacon for women.

Fr Richard McKay, the parish priest of St Nicholas Tolentino, said he was happy for the parish to host the meeting and personally supported the ordination of women.

“I understand not everyone would agree – that’s not a problem. But I do think it is a problem that you are not allowed to debate and discuss the matter.”

In 1994 Pope John Paul II said that the Church had no authority to ordain women and that this view “is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

On women’s ordination Pope Francis has said: “the Church has spoken and says no … that door is closed.”

http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.ca/2014/01/womens-ordination-group-to-meet-in.html

The Church Has to Begin to Listen to Women | The Irish Catholic

'The Church has to begin to listen to women'
by Martin O'Brien | The Irish Catholic | January 30, 2014

Dr. Geraldine Smyth OP, noted theologian, former prioress general of the worldwide Irish Dominican Sisters and pioneering director of the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE) is one of those exceptionally gifted persons who  would always have risen to the top of any organisation and left a legacy of achievement.  Were she a man there can be little doubt that all other things being equal she  would be widely known as one of the most powerful voices in the Irish hierarchy if not an influential figure in the  Roman Curia. 

Gospel-centred, articulate, eloquent, clear thinking, and highly intelligent both emotionally and intellectually (they don’t always go together) Dr Smyth was once described in my hearing by a senior Protestant Churchman  as “one of the cleverest figures in the [Irish] Catholic Church”.

Pope Francis’ call for the development of “a profound theology of women” will be listened to with particular attention by those who are disturbed that the giftedness of Geraldine Smyth and numerous other women does not currently blossom to its full potential in the Church.

Powerful voice

Were Dr Smyth a man there can be little doubt that all other things being equal she  would be widely known as one of the most powerful voices in the Irish hierarchy if not an influential figure in the  Roman Curia.

Educationalist, passionate bridge-builder, with an enviable research record in inter-Church relations, ecumenism and peace-building she turned 65 last month.

She will retire as associate professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at ISE next September.

One of a family of  six  brought up  off the Falls Road she went to St Dominic’s High School where Mary McAleese was a few years behind her.

One day when she was 14 she was walking home when a school friend asked Geraldine if she ever thought of being a nun, as “they are ordinary people but have a clear sense of what they want to do with their lives”.

“I said, are you wise? But it sowed a seed and I thought about it and made up my mind very quickly and I never changed my mind after that.”

Geraldine spent more than six years with the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in England   but  eventually found the draw of the Dominican charism  irresistible including  ”its liturgy and its  rootedness in history and tradition”.

Professed

She was finally professed in the Dominican Convent Falls Road on the Feast of St Dominic in 1976.

With a first class honours degree in English from the University of Ulster under her belt she taught in the Dominican Grammar School Portstewart from 1975 to 1983 before becoming at 36 the youngest prioress of the convent on the Falls Road and then being called to headquarters in Dublin to membership of the General Council from 1986 to 1992.

As one of her chief responsibilities was ecumenical affairs she enrolled for a Masters at ISE which quickly became a TCD doctorate. This entailed field work with Presbyterians in Belfast and the beginning of a lasting friendship with Rev. Ken Newell and his congregation at Fitzroy.

When the directorship of ISE became vacant in 1994 Dr Smyth was prevailed upon to apply and was successful. 

One of her most noted achievements was in the late Nineties when she led negotiations resulting in the integration of ISE, then a cash strapped independent college, into Trinity College Dublin thus achieving its financial stability. 

Last year when she completed a second spell as director overseeing the physical transfer of ISE from Milltown Park to the site of the old department of physiology at Trinity.

The ISE at TCD offers full time and part time Masters and PhD degrees in peace studies, conflict resolution and reconciliation. It has a second centre in Belfast and students can study in either city.

Her first spell as director was interrupted in 1998 when she was elected to a six-year term as  prioress general becoming leader of 500 Irish Dominican sisters based in Latin America, USA, South Africa, Portugal and of course Ireland. 

That experience “underlined the sense of the Church Catholic and different ways of being Church”.

When I met Dr Smyth she had an already well-thumbed copy of Pope Francis’s recently published Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium in her hand.

What would she say if she had 10 minutes with Pope Francis, I wondered.

“The Church has to begin to listen to women, to their experience, to their theological reflection” in the context of half a century of feminist theology.

Feminist

“I would [describe myself as a feminist] in the sense that I think we can’t do theology and shouldn’t do theology without taking a feminist critique on board no more than we can do theology without doing a liberation critique.”

She stresses: “We have got to ask the critical feminist and liberation questions: who defines the agenda? Where are the power relations? Who is missing from this debate or discussion? What perspectives need to be included?”

Dr Smyth says the type of issues that need to be addressed include “the sin of clericalism, the sin of patriarchy”.

“We can put that theology and language on it and it may be emotive language but we have got to start thinking about these things.”

Dr Smyth does not think that the teaching against the ordination of women priests stands up though she herself has never felt called to be a priest.

“I don’t think that it is right. I don’t think it is in accordance with the truth of what we understand and know about the human being made in the image of God.

You are essentialising women and essentialising men into roles that have been culturally and socially determined and you are saying that God and the Holy Spirit while working through cultural and historical dynamics and patterns and realities has to stay stuck in one particular configuration of those. I think that is heresy.
— Dr. Geraldine Smyth, OP

“I don’t think it accords with what we see and saw and reflect on in the Gospels in the life of Jesus.”

She added that she did not think the reasons for not ordaining women “stood up theologically though I think they may stand up in terms of Church discipline”.

Dr Smyth said the teaching was on “very shaky anthropological and theological foundations” and was “effectively saying there are two different levels of human being”.

Configuration

“You are essentialising women and essentialising men into roles that have been culturally and socially determined and you are saying that God and the Holy Spirit while working through cultural and historical dynamics and patterns and realities has to stay stuck in one particular configuration of those.”

She added: “I think that is heresy.” 

Dr Smyth warned that reformed governance would not work if it meant “taking lectures from organisational theory and slapping it on ecclesial structures”.

“It doesn’t work if there isn’t a more profound self-reflection and self-critique in the light of the Gospels and in the light of what we know about the human condition and the mystery of the human person.”

There was also a need to explore “what is missing from the Church, from culture and society if female experience and female approaches to pastoral care to children, to marriage are actually excluded a priori from the theologising. We are still at the level of tokenism.”

Dr Smyth said  the Church “is still operating out of old biological mind sets and social constructions of the human person that are highly dualistic and deeply excluding of the inherent irreducible dignity of women as created by God.”

She said it was “too early to know” if Pope Francis represented “a paradigm change”.

But  certainly in terms of “symbol, language, attitude,  the content of speeches, all that has opened up a different rhetoric and signalled a need for deep renewal and change”.

Re-focus

Geraldine Smyth does not strike one as a lady who does retirement.

When she leaves her beloved ISE she will “re-focus my future work to examine the Christian meaning of the past, memory and forgiveness in the contexts of sectarian division”.

Her own family have known the pain of that division, a cousin was murdered by the UDA in 1972. 

She is deeply committed to reconciliation in the North – recognised by Queen’s University with the conferral on her of an honorary doctorate as far back as 2003.

Whatever happens to the stalled proposals of Richard Haass - and Eames Bradley before him -Geraldine Smyth will always have something challenging to say about contending with the past.

And she’ll be poised to debate and critique any proposals for reform that emanate from Rome.

- See more at: http://www.irishcatholic.ie/article/%E2%80%98-church-has-begin-listen-women%E2%80%99#sthash.bvC3ABEU.P1ahic5f.dpuf

An Open Letter to Pope Francis from Roy Bourgeois

An Open Letter to Pope Francis 
from Roy Bourgeois
January 19, 2014

Dear Pope Francis,

I have been inspired by your humility, love, and compassion. I was especially moved when you said, “I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle.”  You said the Church must “heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”

Roy Bourgeois, now excommunicated and stripped of his priestly status by the Vatican on account of his support for women's ordination.

Roy Bourgeois, now excommunicated and stripped of his priestly status by the Vatican on account of his support for women's ordination.

And so I ask that you reach out to the women and gay people in our Church who have been wounded by Church teachings that demean and discriminate against them. I ask this as someone who was expelled from the priesthood after 40 years because of my public support for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church (this happened just four months before you became pope).

You once said of your own priestly vocation: “God left the door open for me for a few years.”  Pope Francis, our Church teaches that God creates men and women as equals. Couldn’t God open the door to the priesthood for women, too? 

Isn’t our all-powerful God, who created the cosmos, capable of empowering a woman to be a priest?  Who are we, as men, to say that our call from God is authentic, but God’s call to women is not? 

Our last two popes, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, maintained that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal but have different roles.  I believe that your predecessors were speaking from – and for – an all-male clerical culture that views women as lesser than men, as separate and not-really-equal. 

You once said of your own priestly vocation: “God left the door open for me for a few years.” Pope Francis, our Church teaches that God creates men and women as equals. Couldn’t God open the door to the priesthood for women, too?
— Roy Bourgeois

Our Church also teaches about the primacy and sacredness of conscience. Conscience is our lifeline to the Divine, always urging us to do what is right and just.  The consciences of many Catholic women have moved them to claim and act upon their vocations to the priesthood with active ministries. Similarly, I have been compelled by conscience to speak out in solidarity with them.  

My pain at having been kicked out of the priesthood has allowed me to glimpse the exclusion and discrimination that people of color, women, and gay people in our Church have experienced for centuries. I will never forget how Blacks were restricted to the back pews of my childhood church in Louisiana. While the Church has made great gains in valuing and respecting Catholics of all races, we continue – with flawed theology and dogma – to make God our unwilling partner in discriminating against women and gays.

Pope Francis, you famously said, “If a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, who am I to judge?”  I appreciate that you do not judge people for being gay, but our Church certainly does judge them.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church states that gay people are “intrinsically disordered.”  This teaching is cruel and offensive, and it implies that, somehow, God has made many mistakes in Creation.

For many gay people, this teaching has instilled confusion and shame and caused grave harm.  Gay people have lost their homes and jobs. Just recently, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote members of Congress expressing opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill promoting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) equality. 

Even worse, some LGBT people have been despised and murdered; others have despaired and committed suicide.

Pope Francis, I have some urgent requests.

First, talk and listen to the women who have been called. I’m confident you will understand that our loving God is indeed calling women to be priests.  Let us welcome them to the priesthood and give thanks to God for answering our prayers for more vocations.

Second, I ask that you declare that the Catholic Church will accept and value LGBT people as equal persons – made fully in the image of God – and recognize gay marriage.

Any movement rooted in love, justice, and equality is of the Divine and cannot be stopped. And so one day our Catholic Church will have women priests and marriage equality.  

I do hope, Pope Francis, that you will implement these changes as soon as possible.

In your own words, “Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.”

In solidarity,

Roy Bourgeois
19 January 2014 

Let's Not Forget: Everyone's Favourite Pope Still Has a Serious Problem with Women: Katie Englehart

Let's Not Forget: Everyone's Favourite Pope Still Has A Serious Problem with Women

by Katie Englehart
PolicyMic | January 16, 2014

 Let your women keep silent in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church."

I Corinthians xiv. 34-5

"With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no… That door is closed."

Pope Francis, 2013

This week, another whammy from His Holiness: Pope Francis wants women to breastfeed their babies under the stirring frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. "Today the choir will sing but the most beautiful choir of all is the choir of the babies who will make a noise," extolled the 77-year-old pontiff, while baptizing new Catholics last Sunday. "If they are hungry, mothers, feed them!"

The move, which inspired delight the world over, is yet another gift from a pope who keeps on giving.

Image Credit: AP

Image Credit: AP

Pope Francis — TIME magazine's 2013 Person of the Year — has surely earned his status as a media beloved: with his advocacy for the poor, his overtures to gays and to atheists, and his pledge to flatten the pyramid of privilege that corrupts and scleroses his Church. Most of all, Francis is celebrated for a single, embracing phrase, uttered last July in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood: "Who am I to judge?"

But it is easier to let a mother feed her wailing babe — or to kiss a girl's feet — than to pray alongside a woman, as equals.

Pope Francis' ubiquitous, and largely deserved, popularity belies an important fact: When it comes to women in the Church, his papacy is nothing new.

Sister Theresa Kane

Sister Theresa Kane

In 1979, Pope John Paul II paid a visited to Washington, D.C. One morning, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one Sister Theresa Kane (pictured left) rose to challenge him on the treatment of women in the Church. Sporting a blue armband (dozens of nuns were wearing them as a symbol of protest against sexism), Kane demanded that the pope ordain women and allow women "in all ministries of our Church."By the '70s, writes Angela Bonavoglia, author ofGood Catholic Girls, "Feminism was seeping into the bones of American nuns." The modernizing impulse of the Second Vatican Council was gaining ground.

So Pope John Paul II began a smackdown by: moving to limit the agency of Catholic Sisters.

On the question of ordination, in 1994, Pope John Paul would "declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." And he urged Catholics to drop the matter: "This judgment is to be definitely held."

Since then, this judgment has been challenged. Theologians continue to argue about whether the limitation is doctrinal or ecclesiastical — definitive or "infallible."

But it is easier to let a mother feed her wailing babe — or to kiss a girl’s feet — than to pray alongside a woman, as equals. Pope Francis’ ubiquitous, and largely deserved, popularity belies an important fact: When it comes to women in the Church, his papacy is nothing new.
— Katie Englehart

Pope Francis, like his predecessors, has also attempted to quell the debate. "The reservation of the priesthood to males … is not a question open to discussion," Francis recently explained. In September, the Vatican excommunicated an Australian priest who supports gay marriage and women's ordination. In November, after a report in the Irish Times raised speculation that a woman might be appointed to the College of Cardinals, Pope Francis' spokesman dismissedthe news as "nonsense."

Francis has also maintained his predecessors' hard line on liberally-minded American nuns, who the Vatican has criticized for their silence on issues like abortion, and for their "radical feminism." The Church, under Francis, has boosted its oversight of the sisters. "People do not know how hurt and disillusioned women are," Sister Mary C. Boys, a prominent theologian in New York, told the New Yorker.

Indeed, Francis's recent statements about women have been largely evasive. Praising the innate "sensitivity, intuition" of women, the Pope noncommittally called for "a more incisive female presence in the Church."

Katie Englehart

Katie Englehart

"Rome wasn't built in a day," sympathetic observers balk. Yes. But the pope has already shaken up several strongholds of papal tradition. Why not hear out the women who are already in his fold?

So, yes, celebrate Francis; yes, do. But also keep in mind that sometimes "Who am I to judge?" is less an ecclesiastical relaxation or an extension of grace — and is more a cop-out. 

Katie Englehart is London-based writer and reporter. www.katieengelhart.com

Indian Church Conference Leads to National Christian Women’s Movement, 15 January 2014

Indian Church conference leads to national Christian women’s movement
'Gender awareness is far below our expectations.'

By ANTO AKKARA on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 | Catholic Herald.co.uk

A conference in India of women religious and others on the impact of the Second Vatican Council has led to the establishment of a national Christian women’s forum.

The Indian Christian Women’s Movement was launched on January 11, the final day of the four-day conference on “Paradigm Shift in Vatican II and Its Impact on Women.”

“We were challenged to change our patriarchal mindset, to develop a feminist way of thinking, to create gender sensitivity, promote the use of inclusive language, break boundaries and move into a new way of being and doing,” said the statement from the conference participants, 113 women and seven men.

The statement said the new women’s forum was to be a “voice for Christian women, the poor and the marginalised at the national level.”

An ad-hoc committee has been formed to mobilise more members into the movement and draft the ethos of the new forum of Indian Christian women.

The January conference was organised by several groups under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

Archbishop Bernard Moras quoted Pope Francis In his opening address to the conference (CNS)

“In a highly divided and unjust world, where the prophetic role of the Church is almost lost, religious women/men are challenged to live their consecrated life fully dedicated to God and to God’s people and… to help them overcome exploitation and oppression,” said a statement from the conference.

Although several documents issued during and after Vatican II spoke about the equality of women and men, the conference statement pointed out that “a lot remains to be done to make the shift from subordination to partnership in church and society.”

In his opening address to the conference, Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore referred to Pope Francis remarks that a Church without women “is a lifeless body.”

Father Cleophas Fernandes, director of the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Center, acknowledged that although in 2008, the bishops approved a 12-point action plan for empowerment of women, several of the steps recommended were yet to be implemented.

However, a survey on awareness on the historic “gender policy” that the Indian church adopted in 2010 showed that gender awareness in the Church remained at low levels.

“Gender awareness is far below our expectations,” said Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Julie George, a practicing lawyer and director of Streevani (Voice of Women), as she released the survey report on the role of women in the Catholic Church in India.

While only 16 percent of the 1,000 parish council members surveyed from 99 dioceses – two thirds of them graduates – had read the gender policy of the Church, 44 percent of them had not even heard about the policy.

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/01/15/indian-church-conference-leads-to-national-christian-womens-movement/

The Trouble With Francis: Three Things that Worry Me | Mary Hunt

The Trouble With Francis: Three Things That Worry Me

by Mary Hunt
Religion Dispatches | January 6, 2014

Will Pope Francis be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated engaging in "spiritual exercises" in next month's issue?

Given the spate of media attention he has received in the U.S. market, I will not be surprised by anything. Just to head off distractions, let me stipulate that I do have a heart, and approve of the personal direction of this pope: a simple lifestyle, a commitment to the poor, a soft touch with those who are young or ill, all indicate a fine human being, indeed what Christianity would hold up as a model.

A Pope who loves and is easy to love -- so what's the problem?

A Pope who loves and is easy to love -- so what's the problem?

I note only that his predecessor popes and some of their episcopal sycophants gave the job such a bad name that the bar is low. Undoing their structures and policies, especially regarding criminal sexual scandals and Vatican finances, will take longer than these first nine months of the Francis papacy.

The phenomenon of a pope becoming a pop culture icon is fascinating, troubling, and not a little confusing. Here are a few of the puzzles I'm struggling with as I try to make sense of the current Catholic religious scene.

1.  Pope and Papacy

All of the enthusiasm about Francis’ style does not change the fact that the institutional Roman Catholic Church is a rigid hierarchy led by a pope—the warm feelings in response to Francis shore up that model of church by making the papacy itself look good. To my mind, this is a serious danger.

Even when I agree with his statements about eradicating poverty, becoming friends with our enemies, and the like, I have scruples about giving the new pope too much praise—as if other people have not said the same things and more for eons.

The papacy is the ultimate bully pulpit, but it works both ways—on things that are progressive and things that are conservative. It is risky to embrace papal remarks when one agrees, only to live long enough to have another pope undo them.  Conservatives are living that reality as I write. The point is to be mature enough to set our own moral trajectories and decenter papal authority.  

All of the efforts at church reform—whether the ordination of women, married clergy, acceptance of divorced and/or LGBTIQ persons as full members of the community, and many others—are based on the assumption of widespread lay participation in an increasingly democratic church. From that perspective, it does not make sense to ordain more people to a closed clerical caste headed by the Bishop of Rome, however socially progressive he may be.

Rather, beneath all of these movements for change has been the working assumption that a new participatory, democratic administrative model must evolve. Key to that model is a deeply diminished authority role for the pope and a much stronger emphasis on the pope’s function as a symbol of the unity of the whole church. That is not something that anyone accomplishes by kind deeds, but by structural change.

I understand that neither Time nor The Advocate’s editors worry about theological problems. Their task is to move magazines. But as a theologian, I must point out how difficult their choice of cover matter makes my job of institutional change. If I say something negative about the current pope, then I am a wet blanket who cannot embrace the good when I see it. If I say something positive about Francis, then I am reinforcing and reinscribing the very power structures that I think are deeply problematic for a healthy, functional, and inviting church. This is a conundrum.

Of course there is a difference between a person and a role. But in this case, I daresay most people outside of Argentina would never have heard of a certain Jorge Mario Bergoglio if he had not been elected pope. It is the person in the role that matters.

To say it baldly, the nicer the pope the stronger the papacy, and the harsher the pope the stronger the papacy. The Roman Catholic Church has been around for two thousand years for a reason. They always win, or so it seems.

My concern is that this spate of marvelous press renders it harder, not easier, to make a case for a horizontal model of church. If such a wonderful man is doing such a wonderful job in such a wonderful church, who am I to judge?

Ask millions of former Catholics why they now constitute the second largest denomination (the Roman Catholic Church remains the biggest one) in the United States. My only answer is that at the level of teaching and structure nothing—but nothing—has changed this year. 

2.  Women and Gays

A second difficulty flows from the first, in that nothing has changed for women or LGBTIQ people with regard to Catholicism during the early months of this papacy. Nor is there much prospect on either issue given what the pope has said publicly.

Regarding women’s ordination, Francis has been clear: “On the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and said no. Pope John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.” Just what is it that the media see as so promising here? Or, is it the case that what happens to Catholic women does not really matter much?

We have heard from Francis all about women’s superior qualities, and how Mary trumped the apostles in importance. But who is naïve enough to believe that without any say in how the church operates locally or globally Catholic women are valued? To say that to think about women cardinals is a species of clericalism is beyond logical explanation.
— Mary E. Hunt, WATER

Given that more than half the world’s poor people are women and children, this gives me pause about praising too soon. If one cannot act justly toward those nearby and similar, why would one act justly to those at a distance who are very different? I admit to confusion that borders on incredulity

Then there was the speculation that if Francis really wants to include women in decision-making he could do so without much fanfare by adding a few to the College of Cardinals that will elect his successor. His reply was telling: “Women in the Church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” Whatever could he mean?

One might be tempted to think that he was dissing cardinals. But on closer inspection, it is clear that women ought not to book tickets to Rome just yet. Juxtaposing “valued” and “clericalized” is odd at best, pernicious at worst. In a church in which ordained male clergy have jurisdiction— that is, authority to make decisions about things that matter—to claim that women who cannot be ordained are valued is a hard case to make. Valued for what and how?

We have heard from Francis all about women’s superior qualities, and how Mary trumped the apostles in importance. But who is naïve enough to believe that without any say in how the church operates locally or globally Catholic women are valued? To say that to think about women cardinals is a species of clericalism is beyond logical explanation.

The same goes for the now-famous “Who am I to judge?” line about same-sex love that won Francis such favor in both mainstream and gay press. Two intertwined issues emerge. One is that every human being is called to judge what is good, to recognize love when they see it, and to acknowledge the value of committed relationships as part of what constitutes a strong social foundation. To assume that “judge” always means something negative, punitive, rejecting is simply to fall into the Catholic trap that has ensnared so many for centuries.

So my response to this question is to say, “You must judge, not because you are the pope, but because you are a human being whose support for what is good is useful and expected.”

I understand that many people, especially LGBTIQ people, have been hurt by the judgmental (in the negative) teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. But I respectfully suggest that we keep some perspective. We expect that human beings will affirm what is good, not abdicate their responsibly to do so in the public forum, even if they are the pope, for fear that they will offend those who do not affirm the same goodness.

Moreover, the very phrasing of the pope’s seemingly revolutionary comment as a rhetorical question stands in sharp contrast to his usual blunt, declarative approach to economic issues, for example. The turn of phrase piqued my curiosity, aroused my suspicion about what he really thinks about same-sex love. I want him and everyone else to judge love positively where and when they find it.

A second critical issue raises my suspicion even higher. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta alleged that Pope Francis said that he was “shocked” by the notion of same-sex adoption as part of a move toward civil unions in Malta. He claimed that the Pope “encouraged me to speak out” against it. Mr. Scicluna has done just that, though it is not clear that other bishops of one of the most Catholic countries in the world (also one of the smallest) agree.

Perhaps this pope doth protest too much. His native Argentina has same-sex adoption. But perhaps he thinks that Malta is simply too fragile to withstand the earthshattering impact of two people of the same gender loving and caring for the same child for a lifetime.

It is perplexing this papal doublespeak.

3.  PR and Substance

A third conundrum of contemporary Catholicism is the remarkable, even enviable public relations success, not to say coup, that the papacy of Pope Francis represents.

I am not suggesting that there is no substance to Francis’ agenda, that change does not underlie it. Conservatives would not be so hot under their collective collars if that were not the case. But I am cognizant of the very powerful public relations machine that has turned an ecclesial ocean liner on a dime, transformed an all but written-off patriarchy into one of the most inviting, benevolent monarchies the world has seen in modern times.

But substantive structural and doctrinal issues do not evaporate just because the pope does not wear Prada.

Surely some of the “credit” for this PR blitz goes to former Fox News and Time writer, Opus Dei member and Midwestern Catholic, Greg Burke. He became senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in June 2012, well before the new pope took over.  Mr. Burke is commonly associated with moving the papacy toward a more hip, social-media savvy approach to getting out its word. It works. Papal tweets are new. But more important than 140 characters at a time are the remarkable visuals, photo ops that don’t quit, moving gestures of a humble, caring man projected for the world to see and imitate. Only a craven critic would pass over these as trivial.

Still, I am left with a feminist theologian’s duty to think about (perhaps overthink) the scenes. Is this the stuff of real change or is it a way of shoring up a model of church that has endured for centuries? Are those who reject the kyriarchal model as I do simply to be told like other protesters before us that we can go elsewhere when we are as Catholic as the Pope?

Where are the women theologians called in to consult, the young people invited to discuss their lives and choices? Where are the lay people who might preach at the pope’s daily mass so he would listen instead of speak sometimes? Where are the lesbian and gay seminarians to explain the facts of life to an old Jesuit who entered the Society of Jesus before gay was gay? Where are the survivors of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops to whom the institutional church, beginning in Rome, owes reparations? I do not see signs of them anywhere, nor do I expect to any time soon. Opus Dei is not a clothing line, but a deeply ideological Catholic group that stands for very conservative religious values. Rachel Maddow was not tapped for the media job for a reason.

Granted nine months is a short gestation even for a newbie pope. But waiting quickly becomes complicity when there is so much at stake—so many lives to be enhanced and spirits to be warmed, so much damage to be undone and suffering to be prevented.

As we saw with the rapid exit of Pope Benedict XVI, popes come and go. Older people do not live and cannot work forever. So, while I wish Francis “multos annos,” I am realistic enough to know that what he does to bring about change in the Roman Catholic Church and in the world he had better do now while the window is still open and he can still see out of it.  

-  Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. A Roman Catholic active in the women-church movement, she lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to liberation issues.

The Church Never Treats Women As Fully Independent Adults - Joan Chittister, OSB

The Church Never Treats Women As Fully Independent Adults
by Joan Chittister, OSB

in Association of Catholic Priests (Ireland)
December 12, 2013

Joan Chittister, OSB

Joan Chittister, OSB

The 20th-century Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “The only task worthy of our efforts is to construct the future.” My concern today is how to construct a new future for women around the world through the global outreach of the church.

The 6th-century philosopher Boethius reminds us that every age that is dying is simply a new age coming to life. A second insight that gets my attention comes from Woody Allen 15 centuries later: “I’m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Both messages are clear: First, continuity can go too far. Second, to fail to face the moment we’re in can fail the future that’s coming with or without us and whether we like it or not.

Point: This is a crossover moment in history. This is the moment when history discovered women.

In fact, intelligent men as well as intelligent women realize now that feminism is not about femaleness. It’s not about female chauvinism either, or feminismo machismo. And it’s definitely not about women wanting to act like men.

The fact is that religion — all religions — has been used to justify the oppression, the servitude, the invisibility of women for century after century. Indeed, religion after Jesus has a historic lot to repent where women are concerned, Catholicism and Christianity among them.
— Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Feminism is about allowing every member of the human race to become a fully functioning human adult, to make choices at every level of society, to participate in the decision-making that affects their lives, to be financially independent, to be safe on the streets, secure in their homes, to have a voice in the courts and constitutional bodies of the world — to enjoy, in other words, full and equal civil rights.

It is about bringing to public visibility and public agency the agendas, the insights, and the wisdom of the other half of the human race. It is about taking their ideas and plans seriously. No! Correction: It is about taking the theology of creation seriously. It is, in other words, about this century’s “emancipation proclamation” of women. And since it is 2,000 years after Jesus himself modeled it, it can hardly be argued that we’re rushing things.

Pope Francis, clearly sensitive to the issue, has himself brought up the notion of launching a study of women, the very thought of which coming out of Rome is at least as earth-shaking as seriously expecting Rome to do something serious about it.

Three issues in particular will measure the authenticity — the morality — of the church’s response to the women’s issue. The issues of maternity, human agency and poverty are key to the way we’ll be seen on this issue for years to come.

First, the question of the role of women in church and society is not one of the 39 areas of concern listed in the questionnaire the Vatican sent to the world’s bishops in October seeking wide Catholic response to questions about family life. So how really important are the roles and rights of woman-as-woman seen in shaping even the family? Really.

Second, the pope’s recent statement on women to a meeting of the Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome concentrated almost entirely on women’s maternity, which occupies — at best — about 20 years of a woman’s life. Most modern women, demographic data indicates, live at least another 35 to 40 years after the youngest child leaves home. And after that? What is her role then? Is maternity her only value, her perpetual definition? What does she do now with her personal talents, her insights, her gifts that, they tell us, are given for the sake of the world?

And how does the world make up for the loss of such experience, intelligence and wisdom of the other half of the human race if women are not expected, not welcomed to its shaping?

But without the input of women, humanity sees with only one eye, hears with one ear and thinks with only one half of the human mind. And — read the newspapers — it shows.

Or, more, why is a woman defined by maternity whether she is a mother or not when a man is rarely, if ever, defined by his paternity rather than by his job, his genius, his leadership, his heroism?

Pope Francis says in his now-famous interview with the Jesuit magazine Civilta Catholica, which was shared worldwide in September, “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.”

Right. But the question there is who will do this study? The same clerical, patriarchal types who have been doing it for the last 2,000 years when church fathers first said that women “have the malice of both dragons and asps,” among other things. Or when Thomas Aquinas called women “misbegotten males.” Not the gold standard of the human race, apparently. And medieval theologians declared that women were by nature subservient, secondary in the order of creation, more emotional than rational.

And today, here and now, a Vatican document can say, “Forms of feminism hostile to the church are among matters of deep concern” but never even mention male chauvinism or the very structures of patriarchy itself as any kind of concern at all.

And yet, the church never treats women as fully independent adults, let alone as fully baptized disciples of Jesus. And this despite centuries of deaconesses, a chorus of women saints and hundreds of years of women religious administrators who built the larger part of the social service systems of the church.

Most important of all, on what anthropology and theology and science from what century will they ground their ideas about women this time? What feminist writers, feminist researchers, feminist philosophers, what scientists, theologians and canonists, both women and men, will shape this theology in this era?

Will it simply be another round of “men do this” and “women do that,” a dual anthropology that sees women as caregivers alone and men as world builders exclusively, an anthropology that denies our common humanity, our joint human nature basically and entirely? Despite the work of our own Dorothy Days and Raissa Maritains, our Mother Joneses and Rosemary Haughtons as national leaders and bona fide theologians?

And if so, what can possibly be done to save the world such division has made?

The fact is that religion — all religions — has been used to justify the oppression, the servitude, the invisibility of women for century after century. Indeed, religion after Jesus has a historic lot to repent where women are concerned, Catholicism and Christianity among them.

As a result of such poor study in the past — “religious,” as it may have called itself, sincere as it possibly was — everywhere on the planet women are still, today, at this hour, as the United Nations Development Fund for Women reports, two-thirds of the illiterate of the world. Women are still two-thirds of the hungry of the world. Women are yet two-thirds of the poorest of the poor everywhere in the world. Even here; even now.

That can’t be an accident. That is a policy. Someone somewhere has decided that women need less, deserve less, and are worthy of less than men. And all in the name of God.

By the time those apologists get done, God is the only sexist left in the room.

Pope Francis has won the heart of the world by being humble, simple and pastoral — the warm and caring face of the church, a man like Jesus who is a man of the poor. But clearly, no one can say they are for the poor as Jesus was and do nothing, nothing, nothing for the equality of women. To address classism does not begin to resolve the problems that come with sexism.

Yet when the membership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious commit themselves again — as they have so often in the past — to do for women what must be done for the sake of the Gospel, and the good of the church, it’s called “radical feminism” and they are investigated for heresy.

The full humanity of women, human anthropology, and our efforts to eradicate poverty are indeed among the issues that will measure both this papacy and this church as it moves again from an age that is dying to a new age that is coming to life. Otherwise, when death comes, we may all be there to see it.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II instructed the bishops of Michigan and Ohio in their ad limina visits to Rome: “The genius of women must be evermore a vital strength of the church of the next millennium — just as it was in the first communities of Christ’s disciples.” Which, from where I stand, leads directly to the question women find continually more wearying: If not now — 15 years later — when?

 Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor

http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2013/12/the-church-never-treats-women-as-fully-independent-adults/

Why Keep Women Out of the Priesthood | Erin Saiz Hanna

Why Keep Women Out of the Priesthood

by Erin Saiz Hanna
The New York Times | November 27, 2013

Like Pope Francis’s humble, pastoral nature, much of his 84-page document, Evangelii Gaudium, will win over the hearts of many Catholics. In this exhortation, which lays a clear blueprint for his papacy, Pope Francis calls for reform of the curia and global economic justice. As I read the document, I found myself really rooting for Francis when he said: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Yes. This is what Jesus would say. This is being Catholic. 

But where Francis lost me is on the role of women in the church, where once again women are seen as a separate entity and unworthy of priestly ordination. Pope Francis reiterated we’re not even allowed to discuss the issue. In the document, Francis states, “The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion, but it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general.” 

Where Francis misses the mark is suggesting that women are seeking ordination simply as means to gain power. While women’s decision making and leadership is certainly vital, the fact of the matter is women are called by God to serve alongside their brother priests. For a pope who seems so in tune with the marginalized, how does he not see that women are weeping and yearning for justice in the church? How can his sense of social justice not extend to the women of the church and their capacity for ordained ministry? 

By including women as priests, the church would model Jesus’ radical example of equality and solidarity with women. It would also have a powerful and positive impact on a world stunned by economic crisis and continually reeling from sexism, racism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. 

As Pope Francis continues his papacy, I believe keeping the hearts of women engaged will serve as a real obstacle for him. While many of Pope Francis’s calls for reform are inspiring, when it comes to the role of women in the church, he is just another enforcer of the stained glass ceiling.

Erin Saiz Hanna

Erin Saiz Hanna

- Erin Saiz Hanna is the Executive Director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops.

He seems in tune with the marginalized. But he does not seem to realize that the Church is marginalizing women.
— Erin Saiz Hanna

The Elders Urge the UN to Vote to Protect Women's Human Rights Defenders

Vote yes to protect women human rights defenders say Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani on behalf of The Elders

“This vote recognises the courageous women who defy patriarchy every day.”

"Often, [women] come up against entire systems of laws and cultural values designed to silence them."
 November 26, 2013

Amid concerns that some UN member states may vote against a resolution to protect women human rights defenders, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani author an open letter urging support for the vote.

Elders Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani have published an open letter calling on UN member states to vote in favour of the first ever resolution specifically on protecting women human rights defenders.

Member states have passed previous resolutions on human rights defenders by consensus. This week’s vote at the UN General Assembly represents an effort to recognise the critical role played by women human rights defenders, as Gro Harlem Brundtland and Hina Jilani write:

“This vote recognises the courageous women who defy patriarchy every day, everywhere in the world, to champion human rights. They hold communities together in times of war – and hold the key to building peaceful communities when the guns go silent. In so many male-dominated institutions, they campaign for women’s voices to be heard. They stand with men in public squares to challenge autocratic leaders.”

They also emphasise the particular risks and repercussions that women human rights defenders face in their work:

“They can be harassed and verbally abused. They face gender-based violence including rape. Their children and their families may be targeted. Often, they come up against entire systems of laws and cultural values designed to silence them.”

Despite strong support from civil society groups in Africa and elsewhere, there is concern that not all member states are prepared to support the resolution. The two Elders, along with women Nobel Peace Laureates and human rights organisations worldwide, urge the international community to “do the right thing” and vote in favour of the resolution.

Read the full text of the letter here:

We must protect women human right defenders 

On the left, Hina Jilani, pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner.  She is a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights. On the right, first woman Prime Minister of Norway and Deputy Chair of The Elders. She is a medical doctor who champions health as a human right and works to put sustainable development on the international agenda.

 The UN General Assembly votes this week on a resolution to protect women human rights defenders.  
 
This vote recognises the courageous women who defy patriarchy every day, everywhere in the world, to 
champion human rights. They hold communities together in times of war – and hold the key to building 
peaceful communities when the guns go silent. In so many male‐dominated institutions, they campaign for 
women’s voices to be heard. They stand with men in public squares to challenge autocratic leaders. 
 
These women embody the commitment made by the international community in 1948 when the world 
enshrined the equal rights of all human beings “without distinction of any kind” in the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights. 
 
The UN recognises and protects the vital role played by human rights defenders. But there is a growing 
consensus that women who choose to challenge human rights abuses face particular risks and need 
particular protection. They can be harassed and verbally abused.  They face gender–based violence 
including rape. Their children and their families may be targeted. Often, they come up against entire 
systems of laws and cultural values designed to silence them. 
 
In the past, resolutions on human rights defenders have passed in the UN General Assembly by consensus. 
But we are very concerned that not all countries are prepared to support this week’s vote.  
 
To be clear, a vote to protect women human right defenders is a vote for human rights. 
 
On the other hand, a vote against the bravery, sacrifice and determination of millions of women worldwide 
is a vote against the values to which we aspire. It is a vote against dignity and hope. 
 
We urge all Member States of the General Assembly to do the right thing and vote in favour. 


Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former Prime Minister of Norway and former Director‐General of the World 

Health Organization. Hina Jilani is a lawyer and pro‐democracy campaigner from Pakistan. She was UN 
Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders from 2000‐2008.  
 
Both are members of The Elders (www.theElders.org), a group of independent leaders working for peace, 
justice & human rights worldwide.  

http://theelders.org/article/vote-yes-protect-women-human-rights-defenders

Women's Rights Must Not Be Taken for Granted: Gro Harlem Bruntland

Women's Rights Must Not Be Taken for Granted: Gro Harlem Bruntland

Women's rights must not be taken for granted

"Why is it so important to promote and safeguard gender equality? It is a matter of human rights. It is a matter of democracy. Also, it is pure common sense."

Marking 100 years of women's right to vote in Norway, former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland gives a speech on Norway's struggle for gender equality, the centrality of women to a prosperous and equitable world, and why we cannot be complacent about the progress made so far.

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Women Resistant to Pope Francis' Call for New Theology

Women resistant to Pope Francis' call for new theology
Megan Fincher | The National Catholic Reporter
November 4, 2013

Pope Francis is calling for a theology of women, but women in the church are resistant, calling instead for a theology of the laity.

"I want to talk about a theology of men and women together," lawyer and theologian Helen Alvare told NCR in an email.

Lawyer and Theologian Helen Alvare: 'I want to talk about a theology of men and women together.'

Lawyer and Theologian Helen Alvare: 'I want to talk about a theology of men and women together.'

Alvare was a speaker at a recent Vatican symposium marking the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women"). The Women's Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity hosted the symposium at the Vatican Oct. 10-12.

Around 100 women from 25 countries, representing lay movements and church associations, explored and discussed Mulieris Dignitatem. On the final day, Francis met with the participants and their families.

He told them: "It pleases me to think that the church is not il chiesa ['the church,' masculine]: it is la chiesa [feminine]. The church is a woman! The church is a mother! And that's beautiful, eh? We have to think deeply about this."

He added: "From here, we must restart that work of deepening and of promoting [women], for which I have already hoped many times. Even in the church, it is important to ask oneself: What presence does the woman have?"

I want to talk about a theology of men and women together.
— Helen Alvare, Lawyer and Theologian

In his interview with Jesuit magazines, published in English in America in September, Francis said, "It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church" and "We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman."

Francis told the pontifical council's seminar, "I suffer -- I speak truly -- when I see in the church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service -- which we all have and should have -- that woman's role of service slips into a role of servitude."

However, Francis also has said, "On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed."

John Paul's Mulieris Dignitatem is among the "formulations" cited as closing the door on women's ordination. In that letter, John Paul wrote, "In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time." The letter also advocates a Christian complementarianism of genders, which was received critically in some church quarters at the time.

Francis' words, then, have left many women who serve the church in a diversity of roles wondering what he means.

"We keep talking about women as if they were just invented," said American Vicki Thorn, who attended the seminar. "You look at history, women have done darn near everything. Women in the church were educators, they ran hospitals, they gave the popes advice, etc."

Thorn is founder of the post-abortion ministry Project Rachel. She expressed resistance to a theology that includes only women, as did other women NCR spoke with.

"Personally, I am not sure why there needs to be a theology of women, and certainly not one written by men," Marti Jewell of the University of Dallas' School of Ministry said in an email to NCR. "There is not talk of a theology of men. We are all disciples by virtue of our baptism."

Francis praised Mulieris Dignitatem for its "profound, organic reflection, with a solid anthropological basis illuminated by revelation," and said the document was a point of departure for further study and efforts at "promotion" of women.

Alvare said, "Perhaps [Francis] is pointing to a subject that came up more than once at the Mulieris Dignitatem [seminar] -- the need to explore what women and men could do together outside the home in a complementary fashion."

Alvare said it is time to "transcend gender mistrust as a regular path, thinking about what more is produced, not only in the family, but everywhere, when men and women collaborate."

Ana Cristina Villa Betancourt, head of the Women's Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said in an email to NCR that Francis had told the seminar that "Mulieris Dignitatem is a starting point."

She said that some theologians have not taken John Paul's letter seriously enough, and suggested, "Maybe we should all start by re-reading it without prejudices."

Motherhood is a key topic in Mulieris Dignitatem, and Francis reaffirmed this vocation when he spoke to the seminar participants.

"Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution," Francis said, according to Vatican Radio. "But the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men."

Referring to this quote, Villa Betancourt said, "I think women who forget this, or try to put this fact aside as not very meaningful, end up not fully [supporting the cause of] women."

"When Pope Francis is stressing maternity as a key to understanding women's vocation, he is not thinking only of mothers that physically give birth," she explained. "He is thinking in a deeper expression of a woman's vocation ... that is present in consecrated women, religious women, single women, married women without children, every woman!"

Thorn agreed, saying, "Look at Mother Teresa -- she was a spiritual mother. Maybe I'm someone who gives my life to being a teacher, a nurse, a social worker."

Zeni Fox, professor of theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., is cautious of defining women only by the role of mother.

"I think that motherhood does need to receive due praise," Fox said to NCR. "But I think it's only a portion of what we as women do and especially the fact there are many women who have never been married and have no children, it's only a part of womanhood." Fox is a member of the NCR board of directors.

Jewell said she hopes that Francis will not underestimate what women can offer the church beyond the traditional vocation roles.

"I would be careful not to overdo the equation of the gifts of women with either motherhood or virginity," Jewell wrote in an email to NCR.

Citing both gifts as beautiful states in life, she said she hopes "that the exploration goes further, however, in recognizing the intellectual, spiritual and pastoral gifts women bring as well."

Jewell said Francis has invited "both men and women to look at whatever biases they hold about the role of women in ministry and leadership, and find ways in which we can open up an invitation to the Spirit to animate the gifts of all the baptized."

Mulieris Dignitatem "is a theology that emphasizes a woman's role as wife and mother, but it seems to me when I read Francis' Oct. 12 remarks he really was opening the door to go beyond that," said Sheila Garcia, retired associate director of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "These roles are important, but we really need to look at women more holistically. Women have other gifts and talents they can contribute."

Villa Betancourt said she thinks that Francis is "serious about wanting to count on women and he is also very keen on the fact that this happens with women not being some imitation of men; rather, he understands it as a collaboration."

Alvare agreed: "My major impression from [Francis'] remarks is that he wants to see women in positions in the church really leading or really collaborating with men."

"I expect the church could not only take more advantage of women's growing know-how and expertise ... but also reap the benefits that come from gaining both a male and female's perspective … where there are now few or no women," Alvare said.

Garcia said she hopes that Francis will make "a commitment to really look at how women exercise decision-making authority in the church."

"You have to take interim steps to bring women into participation in the church, and you don't start off by getting ordination," she explained. "Personally, I think we need to look at what we can do now and not lose opportunities that are right in front of us."

Agreeing that significant changes are going to take time, Fox said, "We need to build slowly and not lose heart."

[Megan Fincher and Colleen Dunne are NCR Bertelsen interns. Contact them at mfincher@ncronline.org and cdunne@ncronline.org. Catholic News Service contributed material to this report.]

A women and theology reading list

A flash poll of NCR readers and contributors turned up these books as suggested reading for someone -- like Pope Francis -- interested in women and theology. It is by no means comprehensive but is a good start for beginners.

Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretation of the Church, by Letty M. Russell (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)

Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being by M. Shawn Copeland (Fortress Press, 2009)

Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective, edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993)

In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1983)

La Lucha Continues: Mujerista Theology by Ada María Isasi-Díaz (Orbis Books, 2004)

Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination by Mary Catherine Hilkert (Bloomsbury Academic, 1997)

A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, edited by María Pilar Aquino, Daisy L. Machado and Jeanette Rodríguez (University of Texas Press, 2002)

Sor Juana: Beauty and Justice in the Americas by Michelle A. Gonzalez (Orbis Books, 2003)

Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made: A Womanist Theology by Diana L. Hayes (Fortress Press, 2010)

Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Continuum, 2003)

A book that isn't explicitly about women, but offers a corrective to some of the church's outdated teaching on sexuality, which Francis will certainly have to reexamine if the Christian community is to move forward with a transformed understanding of women, is Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret A. Farley (Continuum, 2006).

-- Dennis Coday

Keeping Up With Teresa Forcades - A Nun With A Mission | The Guardian | May 17, 2013

Sister Teresa Forcades is one of Catalonia's foremost political figures, but uniquely for a faith-led figure in Spain, her ideology is feminist and left-wing. Against a backdrop of continued economic contraction and austerity, she spoke to the Guardian about the need for an alternative to capitalism and criticised the misogyny of the Catholic church

Keeping up with Teresa Forcades, a nun on a mission

Spanish Benedictine nun is emerging as one of the most outspoken – and atypical – leaders of southern Europe's far left

by Giles Tremlett in Montserrat
The Guardian, Friday 17 May 2013 12.40 BST

The speedometer on Teresa Forcades' battered silver Peugeot saloon shows 130kmh, but Spain's most famously radical nun is so busy talking she seems oblivious to the 80kmh speed limit signs above the motorway near her Sant Benet convent on the slopes of Montserrat, Catalonia's sacred mountain.

The Roman Catholic church, which is my church, is misogynist and patriarchal in its structure. That needs to be changed as quickly as possible.
— Sr. Teresa Forcades

The woman whose biting criticism of everything from banks to big pharmaceutical companies has shot her into the political limelight is rushing to Barcelona's train station so she can travel to Valencia to deliver a speech. Then she will fly to the Canary Islands for the next appointment on her public speaking schedule.

She is on the campaign trail to promote a radical manifesto for revolutionary political change (link in Catalan). In the black headdress of the Benedictine order, Forcades has emerged as one of the most outspoken – and atypical – leaders of southern Europe's fragmented, confused far left.

Flooring the accelerator, she praises Syriza, the leftwing Greek group that rose from the rubble of the country's ruined economy and is a reference point for her manifesto for a radical approach to building an independent Catalonia.

"The economic crisis in Spain has got to a point where it threatens the fabric of society," she says. "This is something that has happened in Greece. The precariousness of people's lives is progressing at an accelerated pace and they cannot cope. The danger of violence and upheaval in some non-democratic way is a possibility."

She and economist Arcadi Oliveres co-wrote the manifesto calling for a refounding of the Spanish state, with an independent Catalonia, nationalised banks and energy companies and an exit from Nato. They hope to rekindle the spirit of the indignados who occupied Spanish squares in 2011, but focusing on more concrete aims.

"I and a group of people felt a need to intervene, in my case because of this popularity I've acquired. I thought it could be good to try to organise this discontent, this feeling of deep disappointment and growing tension," she says. "I'm not starting a political party and am not intending to run in any elections. That is not for a Benedictine and not for me."

Forcades hopes to revive the spirit of Spain's 'indignados' protest movement. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Forcades hopes to revive the spirit of Spain's 'indignados' protest movement. Photograph: Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

While she is not running for office, Forcades is not shy of public debate, regularly appearing on local television. Her conversation includes references to liberation theology, Marx's theories on surplus value, Hugo Chávez's Venezuela and the Tobin tax, as well as the 12th-century figure Saint Hildegard of Bingen or the rule of Saint Benedict, precepts by which she tries to live.

Visiting Venezuela in 2009 she found a country she did not recognise from critical descriptions in Spanish newspapers. "Marginalised people spoke as if what they thought and wanted was important in the politics of their country," she says. "They had a sense of counting, which is essential in democracy."

Her critique of neoliberal capitalism includes not just a Christian desire to protect the weak, but also an attack on the hypocrisy of a system that gives goods and capital the freedom to cross frontiers while workers cannot. "It is a version of capitalism where the rights and needs of people are pushed aside," she says, pointing to how taxes are higher on selling bread than on financial speculation.

Her fame stems from a polemical spat with the World Health Organisation and the pharmaceutical industry over swine flu vaccines in 2009. A video filmed at her convent, in which she talks to camera for a solid hour about what she claims are the dangers of the vaccine, went viral.

"What I found astonished me, the lack of scientific ground for any of the public policies and decisions," she says. "The video was highly viewed by more than one million people. And that was the start of my public presence."

El País labelled her a "paranoid conspiracist" and "hoaxer-nun" who used half-truths and her religious status to spread fear. But Forcades, who trained as a doctor in the US and has a public health PhD, says she spent three months studying the science before making an hour-long YouTube video, one of 95 that now sit on a Forcades YouTube channel.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/17/teresa-forcades-nun-on-mission

Is Our Institutional Church Unjust? by Emmy Silvius

Is Our Institutional Church Unjust
by Emmy Silvius
Catholica
catholica.com.au

Today's Prophets

Emmy Silvius has a Degree in Theology (Melbourne College of Divinity). She works in the social services sector and has a passion for social justice.

Emmy Silvius has a Degree in Theology (Melbourne College of Divinity). She works in the social services sector and has a passion for social justice.

Admittedly, some may view this question as provocative or at least challenging. How can an institution that has faith in an all-loving God as its foundations be unjust? However, unless God is actually "running" this concept called Church, then like any institution it is prone to the weaknesses of humans, who despite the best of intentions, bring their own interpretations and understandings to how their services can best be carried out. Thankfully, as we have seen throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, there is a role for prophets brave enough to question powerful structures — directing all to return to the basics and review afresh the 'what and how' of what they wish to achieve.

Today's prophets are calling for change of views within our church structure. The topics being discussed worldwide are as varied as the people who make up the Body of ChristOne of the issues that not only keeps surfacing but has been increasing in frequency over the past thirty years is that of the ordination of Catholic women to the priesthood.

The huge Christian ambiguity of the place and role of women

Sadly, regarding women's issues, a huge ambiguity runs through our Christian heritage. Tertullian said women are the second Eve, the gateway to the devil. Augustine said women's souls are OK but their bodies are not in the image of God. Aquinas said that women are defective males. We are all heirs to this way of thinking. And as with any prejudice, these thoughts become accepted and the internalisation of this inferiority becomes a pervasive idea that affects men as well as women.

No one can deny the growing number of women in the life of the Church today. More than 80 percent of ministry is done by women. Nonetheless Church authorities have been telling us throughout the centuries that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus had male apostles. Yet Jesus did not ordain anyone! In fact priesthood and Eucharistic worship as we know it did not come about until the 4th Century AD. The twelve apostles appointed by Jesus represented the twelve tribes of the restored Israel. This category of "The Twelve" was not continued by the early Christian communities. At the time worship often took place in the homes of women, with both men and women providing leadership. The style of worship was prophetic and charismatic, which was in keeping with what the first followers ofJesus had known of him and his mission.

While Jesus did not ordain anyone, he did call both men and women to discipleship. Luke mentions in 8:1-3 that Mary MagdalenJoanna and Susanna were among the women who travelled with Jesus. That these women are mentioned by name is significant as women were only ever mentioned in ancient writings if they had considerable wealth or had achieved some social prominence. Through the letters of St Paul we learn that women in the early churches were called and chosen for discipleship and leadership. Let us remember that women disciples were the last to see Jesus at his death, and the firstto see Him risen. I wonder what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned Mary Magdalen to go and tell her fellow apostles that He had, indeed, risen from the dead?[1]

The Magisterium — the official teaching of the Church — claims that only man, through his natural resemblance to Christ, can express sacramentally the role of Christ himself in the Eucharist. Following this thought, some have in fact argued that if God had wanted women priests then Jesus would have been a female. This is being quite presumptuous. How can one even claim to be able to rationalise God's thoughts? Still, if Jesus had been a woman — and there is no way he could have been both man and woman or we would be celebrating the birth of twins at Christmas — I can't help but wonder if men would today be needing to fight as equally hard to earn their rightful place within the Church or within society for that matter...? All humans are made in the image and likeness of God! This begs the question of what sex God then could be? But this is a discussion for another time. Also, how do we know that theIncarnation of 2,000 years ago is or was the only Incarnation to ever take place? We have only recently discovered that our planet is but one of billions in a galaxy and that our galaxy is but one of many millions. How can we even attempt to know or understand what else is out there, let alone in what waysGod makes God-self known to ALL creation? Surely we are but a speck of dust compared to all that is and all that will be?

In Galations 3:28 St Paul tells us that all Christians, both male and female, share in and make upChrist's risen bodynot by imaging the maleness of Jesus, but by participating in the paschal mystery through Baptism. Many qualified women experience a call to priestly ministry, but because of their gender, have never been given the opportunity to test their vocation. It is interesting that the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism acknowledges the action of the Holy Spirit in other denominations, who have women serving as priests by stating: "Whatever is wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brothers and sisters can contribute to our own edification." (Ch1, Art4) It would seem that Catholicism has something to learn in our journey to ecumenism.

The only human that God exalted above all others was Mary, a woman. Why then, is no woman in any serious decision-making position in the Church? The most important decision made in Christian history was Mary's: whether or not to accept divine motherhood. If her decision, a perfectly free one, had not been affirmative, there would have been no Christian Church as we know it.

According to the New Testament, all are called by God, all are justified by Christ, all are sanctified in theSpirit, we are all invited to faith and active love. Consequently we are all the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy people. And in this sense, in principle, we are all equal in the church. (Hans Küng)

Historical evidence for women priests

There is meaningful evidence that there were churches in the fourth to sixth centuries that remained in communion with Rome and also had women priests. Dr Giorgio Otranto, Director of the Institute for Classical and Christian Studies at the University of Bari, Italy, discovered iconographic evidence of women presiding over the Eucharist in ancient catacomb frescos. Otranto cites a letter from fifth centuryPope Gelasius I scolding bishops in southern Italy for allowing women "to officiate at the sacred altars, and to take part in all matters imputed to the offices of the male sex..." He also points to the letters of a ninth century Italian bishop, Atto of Vercelli, substantiating the use of the word "presbytera" to refer to women priests[2].

In the early 1970's Roman Catholic married men and women priests were ordained in Czechoslovakia byBishop Felix M. Davidek[3] to meet the needs of the underground church, in which single males were highly suspect, and to minister to Catholic women in prison. One of these women, Ludmilla Javorova, toldThe Tablet (11/11/95) that she had explained all the circumstances of her ordination to Pope John Paul IIin a letter, but had not received a reply.

In Germany 1.8 million Catholics signed a petition in December 1995 asking that ordination be open to married people and women, that sexuality is celebrated as a gift, that the laity participate in the selection of bishops and that married people be consulted and included in teachings about sexual morality. Shortly after, 500,000 Austrian Catholics added their signatures to the petition. In that same period Archbishop Maurice Couture of Quebec promised to take the results of a clergy-laity synod asking to reopen the question of women's ordination to Rome.

Dutch author, theologian and ex-priest John Wijngaards (ordained in 1959) has written extensively on the subject of women's ordination, questioning the church's teaching in this area. In 1998 he resigned from the priesthood in protest against Pope John Paul II's decrees 'Ordinatio Sacerdotalis' and 'Ad Tuendam Fidem' which forbids further discussion of the women priests' issue in the Catholic Church. In his 2001 book, The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church – Unmasking a Cuckoo's Egg TraditionWijngaards explains in a methodical and highly readable fashion how the practice of not ordaining women in Catholic Tradition came in from outside the Church. It did not find its origin in Sacred Scripture or in other Christian sources, but in pagan Roman law which had excluded women from holding any public responsibility.[4]

The injustice handed out to women must end

The struggle for voting rights has taught women to ask questions about education, property and legal rights. Our foremothers protested the right of women to go to university and equip themselves in professional, academic and research fields. Our schools are shaped by the access they won. Women have spoken out so that society is not only acknowledging domestic violence as an offence, but also putting strategies in place to enable victims to become survivors. The list of practical concerns goes on in many other areas. Can we believe that women are created in God's image and argue against these developments? A 1980 United Nations Report points out that despite the fact women do two thirds of the world's work, they only earn one tenth of the world's income and own less than one hundredth of the world's property. It seems that thirty years on, not much has changed in this regard.

In the USA there is a growing group of Catholics connecting with the 'FutureChurch' movement. These Catholics seek the full participation of all baptised Catholics in the life of the Church. They advocate that Eucharistic Celebration is available universally and at least weekly to all baptised Catholics. FutureChurchpromotes widespread discussion on the need to open ordination to all baptised Catholics who are called to priestly ministry by God and the people of God. They seek to participate in formulating and expressing the Spirit inspired beliefs of the faithful through open, prayerful and enlightened dialogue with other Catholics locally and globally. The decreasing number of parish priests is their main concern. Their discussions with the local Bishops are focused on women's ordination and priestly celibacy. They seek women's full inclusion at every level of decision making in the church from Rome to the local parish. In making their needs known to their Bishops, members of FutureChurch are following the Canon Law of the Church, which states "Christ's faithful have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the church." (Canon 212, par 2)

In the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) we are told that through the power of God's Spirit the Church is a sign of salvation in the world. As the bearer of the gospel it discloses to people the mystery of God and the meaning of their own existence. It calls them to consider central questions about their origin and destiny and helps them to 'name' the true goal of their searchings. At the same time, the Church profits from the experience and questions of each culture and age in which it lives. It draws on the philosophies, language and concepts of the social milieu to express and clarify the gospel message. Gaudium et Spes is Latin for 'Joy and hope'— yet if there has been a time to speak out on the wrongs of cultural thinking, now is one of them.Remember the wrong done to Galileo? Well, now the wrong is being done to women. For hope to remain alive we need to be firm, dare to speak up and voice our honest concerns.

Reality is the only thing we have that can possibly nourish hope. Hope is not based on the ability to fabricate a better future; it is grounded in the ability to remember with new understanding an equally difficult past — either our own or someone else's. The fact is that our memories are the seedbed of our hope.[5]

Keeping the discussion open does not mean being disloyal, on the contrary it is our duty to express what we believe as Jesus taught us to. The challenge is to create an environment for honest exchange; where the truth can be spoken in love. As Sonia Wagner sgs pointed out recently, we need a Catholic culture where questions about the participation of women are acceptable and even welcomed.[6]

Enriching the dialogue and enhancing life

Many women and men want their experience to be heard, honoured, integrated and absorbed; they want their church to be affirming to all and welcoming to all those currently excluded. They want a process of listening that is not condemnatory. Not dictatorial. They want a development of more adequate theology that speaks to matters of sex and sexuality, open and honest dialogue, wherein disagreement should not be feared. They want a church that looks for genuine healing and not just sustenance, a church that will look for remedies. And they want a spirituality that is reflected in rituals and celebrations that encourage and celebrate life while specifically addressing the stresses and strains of modern living. They want women in leadership roles and they want women to be able to choose to be ordained. It is not about trying to take away from any structure that has existed for thousands of years, it is all about trying to enrich the dialogue and enhance the life of the church.

There is no shortage of vocations if we count everyone who experiences a call to priestly ministry. There are numerous women and men, both single and married, who feel called to the priesthood, but not necessarily to celibacy. It is a hopeful sign for the future of the church that women and men from England, Ireland, Belgium, Australia, Germany, France, Canada, the USA and the Netherlands have organised to work for women's ordination. This issue will not disappear — throughout the Catholic Church a certain restlessness with the current position has set in. Many Catholics feel deep within their hearts that women should not be refused ordination.

- Emmy Silvius January 2011

FOOTNOTES:

[1] For a closer look at the New Testament evidence — both pro and contra – on the ordination of women go tohttp://www.womenpriests.org/classic/fuller2.asp for an article by Reginald Fuller.

[2] See http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/otran_1.asp for a translation of his work. A recovery of women's full participation in early Christianity may be one means of confronting the persistent perception of women as subordinate in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches today, "Images of the past that we carry within us do help to shape both our present and our future. A new set of images may have a liberating effect not only on scholars, with their specialized concerns, but also on the culture of which they are a part."

[3] Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, 'Davidek: mad or a genius?' The Tablet, 8 March 2003, Accessed 9 January 2011http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/3614 See also 'A Priest called Ludmilla' (6 Oct 2001) by the same author athttp://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/4873

[4] The following website was established by John: www.womenpriests.org. It is very up-to-date in presenting its evidence. Following up a reference by consulting the writings of various theologians presents no difficulty here. For example, it is easy to read and print the text from John Duns Scotus's (1266-1308) commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, on the question of 'Whether the female sex or youthful age should impede the taking of Orders' - in the original Latin, if one wishes. Bernadette Toal in The Furrow 53 (2002) no 5, May, pp. 316-317.

[5] Joan Chittister in Scarred by Trouble: Transformed by Hope, (William Eerdmans, Michigan, 2003), p 104.

[6] Sonia Wagner sgs, Woman and Man: One in Christ: A Retrospective. Paper presented at the Conference Women: Gathering, Affirming, Celebrating, held in Canberra 26-28 August 2009. A copy of her talk can be obtained from http://www.cacw.catholic.org.au/from-the-office/45.html (see link under: A great gathering!)

Sonia used to be Deputy Chair of the Commission for Australian Catholic Women. In her book Into the Vineyard,she states: "The refusal to admit women to ordination is just one of the symptoms of the disorder that exists in our Church."

Source: http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2001/sep2001p9_606.html

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  • AD2000 – A Journal of Religious Opinion – www.ad2000.com.au/index.html
  • Commission for Australian Catholic Women website (CACW) was established by the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference in December 2000 as a consequence of the 1999 report Woman and Man – One in Christ. In 2006, this Commission became a Council for Australian Catholic Women(CACW) advisory to the Bishops Commission for Church Ministry with a changed Mandate. At the same time, the Office for the Participation of Women (OPW) was set up.
  • Future Church website – see for example www.futurechurch.org/sopc/dutchdominicans.htm for an interesting account of the forward thinking vision of the Dutch Dominicans in relation to the role of the laity at Eucharist. At their 2005 Chapter, Dominicans in Holland formed a committee of experts to study "whether celebrating the Eucharist depends on the ministry of ordained men, or whether it is possible that the Church community it has appointed, celebrate the Eucharist themselves." In August 2005, the outcome: "The Church and the Ministry" was sent to every parish in Holland.
  • Ordination of Catholic Women (OCW) website – "OCW maintains links with international organisations committed to the ordination of women and has a representative on the Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW) Steering Committee as well as being a signatory to the eleven resolutions passed at the inaugural conference of Women's Ordination Worldwide held in Dublin in July 2001." See www.ocw.org.au
  • The Tablet – the International Catholic Weekly – www.thetablet.co.uk
  • Women Priests website – founded by John Wijngaards – www.womenpriests.org

 
Emmy Silvius has a Degree in Theology (Melbourne College of Divinity), works in the social services sector and has a passion for social justice.

Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling: An Experiential Account of Marginalization and Criminalization in the Roman Catholic Church, Marie Bouclin

Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling: an experiential account of marginalization and criminalization in the Roman Catholic Church
by Marie Bouclin

Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour*
new catholic times sensus fidelium public lecture
Toronto | September 1, 2010

I am tempted to challenge Fr Roy (Bourgeois)’s title for this lecture series. My experience of the ceiling in the Roman Catholic Church is one of solid marble - imported from Italy. Seriously, if I had to give a title to a talk on the excommunication of ordained women in our church, which marginalizes and criminalizes us, it would be something like “We just don’t speak the same language.” I’ll explain that if time allows.

Marie Bouclin

Marie Bouclin

As I jotted down notes to tell you my experience of marginalization and criminalization within the Church, I came to the realization that three discourses have had their impact on my life (Theology/Spirituality, Social Justice, and Church Law), and certainly on my journey to priesthood. So what I will share with you is a chronology of events which marked turning points in my life, and the lessons I learned from them.

I was born in a small town in Northern Ontario to a French-Canadian Roman Catholic mother and an Anglo-Canadian Protestant father; I was educated by French Canadian nuns who instilled in us a religion of fear, self-abasement and redemption through personal abnegation. At age 18, I entered the convent because a) I wanted to earn the approval of my parents by being the best I could be, and that would be, according to the Sisters, a consecrated virgin; b) I wanted to earn the approval of God by dedicating my life to the service of the church; and c) I hoped to validate my existence by spending a life of prayer and dedication which would somehow bring about the conversion of my father to Catholicism. (He was a Freemason, therefore, according to my teachers, going straight to damnation).

After 7 years as a woman religious, and having lived through the paradigm shift for Catholicism that was the Second Vatican Council, I left the convent. First, I knew I was not cut out for celibacy, but I had learned that ALL believers are called to love God with their whole heart and mind and soul, not just priests and nuns. All human begins are created in the image of likeness of God, that in Christ, there “was neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female”, in other words, there should be no discrimination on the basis of race, socio-economic status, or sex. That also meant that no calling or vocation is more important than another, but all have a place in the reality we call the Body of Christ. So, I returned to University to become qualified as a high school teacher, met a charming young dental student, whom I married. We were gifted with three wonderful children, and my husband of 42 years and I have also been blessed with 2 beautiful grandchildren. In the 10 years I was by choice a stay-at-home mother, I did Bible Study, joined a Catholic Charismatic prayer group, played the organ at Mass most Sundays, volunteered with Birthright to help pregnant teenagers, and was a member of the local core group of Amnesty International. While I defended the human rights of the unborn and of prisoners of conscience, I must admit I was not interested in the wave of feminist liberation of the 1960`s and 70`s. I was satisfied that I was keeping the Great commandments by cultivating my personal prayer life and practising the ethics of social justice promoted by my Catholic faith. Once my kids were all in school, I returned to University and became a free-lance translator and interpreter.

In 1987, I was hired by our diocesan bishop as translator for the diocese, secretary for the diocesan synod he was undertaking, and personal secretary for the new auxiliary bishop. I saw this as a fulfilment of my life as a Catholic woman, which was to serve God and God’s people by working for “the Church”.
In 1992, my suitability for church employment was questioned because I had been reported in the local press as saying, in a workshop on women`s human rights, that the church discriminated against women. I was pressured to resign from my position. The lessons I learned from that experience of being dismissed without apparent cause and the 5 years of working with the local hierarchy were that:

  • women are expected to work much harder for less pay that even lay men get;
  • there is no freedom of speech, i.e. no expression of doubt, dissent or questioning is tolerated;
  • there is no job security - a woman can be dismissed, without cause, on the whim of a priest or bishop;
  • women have no input, no decision-making power even in areas that concern them: not only are doctrinal and moral decisions are made by men vested with clerical power, but so are the more practical decisions about the institutional workplace
  • sexual harassment is rampant.

I wondered where the Social Justice Teaching of the Church was in all of this...

Unable to work in what I came to see as a “poisoned work atmosphere for women” I returned to free-lance translating and one of the great loves of my life, the study of theology. The words a close friend had muttered to me in 1972 came back to me. “You are not a feminist, but then you have never lost your job just because you`re a woman.” It seems I had paid my dues.

In 1996, about the time I was considering a subject for my Master’s thesis, a friend of mine called to tell me she had been sexually abused by our pastor. She knew two other women who were also victims of this priest. Over the course of the next 2 years, I met 18 women who had been victims of either clergy sexual abuse or had been dismissed without cause. I made an appointment with my bishop to ask him who was ministering to these women. His response was, “Marie, all those women want is money.” In 6 words he made it very clear that there would be no justice, and certainly no healing process for women coming from church leaders.

So, in 1998, I presented my thesis which was titled, La codépendance des femmes en Église; comment se relever d’un abus de pouvoir. My aim was to answer the question, “How do we help women heal the spiritual wounds caused by the abuse of power by clergy?” I learned in the process - and stories of clergy abuse of nuns and young girls were emerging from all over the world - that as long as women were not allowed to represent Christ in an official, sacramentally recognized way, not only would the spiritual needs of women not be met, but women, especially poor and vulnerable women would continue to be exploited, raped, and even murdered with impunity.

I published my thesis in 2000 under the title Pour vivre debout, femmes et pouvoir dans l’Église, in which I claim that for justice to be served, and for abused women to find healing, the Church needs women priests. My arguments rest on the experience of women and the research and publications of feminist theologians and Scripture scholars. The English of the version of the book, Seeking Wholeness was only published in 2006, and that was on the condition that I take out the chapters dealing with women`s ordination. That was no problem, to be honest, there were all kinds of stories of injustices against women I could tell. And I did want women to hear the stories of other women so their own story would be validated. There were plenty of books out there making a case of women`s ordination.

In 2000 I followed a seminar on dealing with allegations of clergy misconduct with Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute, then called the Centre for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence. Her opening words were, “It was not until women were ordained in the Protestant churches that the problems of sexual abuse by clergy and family violence began to be treated seriously.” It was at that point that I decided to become actively involved in the women`s ordination movement. It was time to put my faith - research, reflexion, and prayer - into to concrete action to bring about change.

In 2002 I was invited, as delegate for Canada`s Catholic Network for Women`s Equality, to attend the first ordination of 7 RC women on the Danube. Although these women were ordained by a RC bishop, the ordinations were considered illegal (contra legem = against the law) and invalid under Canon Law. The women were all excommunicated - the harshest punishment imposed by the church. I was also Canada`s delegate to the annual steering committee meeting of Women`s Ordination Worldwide. WOW’s main objective is to change Canon 1024 which reads “Only a baptized man can validly receive sacred ordination”. By changing one word: man to person, thus opening Holy Orders to women, we hoped to put the Roman Catholic institutional church on a path towards the full inclusion of women, but also initiate a reform of the priesthood as it now exists. In that sense, WOW is an important part of a larger movement for church reform.
In 2004, as Coordinator of Women`s Ordination Worldwide, I met African feminist theologian Patricia Fresen. She had been ordained by 2 women from the Danube movement, now bishops. Patricia was convinced that, much as apartheid ended in South Africa because people refused to obey the unjust apartheid laws, so Church law (Canon 1024) would be changed if some bishops just disregarded it and ordained women. Because she was ordained outside the law, Dr Fresen was dismissed from her religious community after 45 years of service and from her teaching position in a Catholic university; she now lives in exile in Germany. During a visit Patricia invited me to be ordained to minister to women who had been abused by clergy, and so I was ordained to the priesthood in 2007. That week I received an email from my pastor saying that, on the bishop`s order, I would not be allowed to receive communion at Sunday Mass.

On May 29, 2009, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano published a notification that all women who attempted ordination are excommunicated latae sententiae - meaning automatically. Our group of Canadian Roman Catholic Womenpriests were gathered in Victoria at the time for the ordination of our 3rd and 4th priests - a divorced woman from Calgary and a married man from Vancouver. All we could say was, “This is an unfair punishment for breaking an unjust law” and recommit to offering a new model of priesthood, based on servant leadership, that is a non-clericalist, non-violent, and radically inclusive from of ministry which believes, teaches and practises a religion of compassion, justice and peace.

By now I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that one of the problems in the religious institution I belong to is that ordained Catholic women - simply do not speak the same language as our current leadership.

*There are three broad discourses within all religions and consequently within our church today. First, there is the METAPHYSICAL, which includes the study and applications of Philosphy, Theology, Sacred Scriptures, and Spirituality, seeking answers to the questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who and What is God? Can we enter into a relationship with the Divine? What does that relationship look like? It is out of this metaphysical quest that come not only a religious belief system, but also the sacramental or symbolic and ritual (or public expression) of the Catholic church. Personal religious devotion, mysticism and meditation practices, as well as centuries of sacred music, art, and literature are also part of this metaphysical discourse.

Secondly, there is the ETHICAL discourse, which includes the study and application of Christian Ethics and Moral Behaviour based on the teachings of Sacred Scripture, more specifically the New Testament, the Church’s Traditional Moral Theology and the Social Teaching of the Church. It is the Christian moral/ethical imperative discourse that has given us, over the centuries, people who were moved to found hospitals for the sick and dying, schools, social agencies, movements for prison reform, and for all kinds of humanitarian works because they took the Gospel message to heart.

Basically, these two discourses, the metaphysical and the ethical, can be summarized in the words of Jesus, the Jewish prophet from Nazareth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets ”. Yes, Jesus refers to the Law.

Religions hold a third discourse, which is LEGAL. In Roman Catholicism, that means the study and application of Canon Law which defines the rules and norms of actions to maintain in place the Roman Catholic church’s hierarchical structure and particularly the sacred power of priests to administer the sacraments and “achieve order in the ecclesiastical society”(Introduction to the 1983 Code of Canon Law). The criminalization of women`s ordination is part of a legal construct which is called the Roman Catholic Church. *

Our discourse, as I said at the beginning, is grounded in the metaphysical and ethical discourse of Jesus of Nazareth, Jewish Wisdom and the experience of Early Christian communities - understood through the lense of our current culture and theological scholarship. The highly centralized hierarchy of the RCC seems to be trapped in the illusion of self-proclaimed inerrancy and the rule of man-made laws. Criminalized and marginalized as we may be, we womenpriests enjoy a much greater measure of freedom in the quest for knowledge and a relationship with the Divine. For me, this is a source of serenity, joy, and inner peace. But that does not mean that justice for women in the church has been served.


Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour
new catholic times sensus fidelium public lecture

Join Roy Bourgeois, Maryknoll priest, SOA Watch founder, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and Marie Bouclin Roman Catholic Womanpriest , as they speak in Toronto as part of the “Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour.” Join us and participate in breaking the silence on women’s ordination.

Sunday October 24th 2010
2pm
OISE Auditorium
252 Bloor Street West Toronto

There is a parking lot directly under the building which is accessed from Prince Arthur, the first street north of Bloor, and a municipal lot on Bedford just north of Bloor Street. OISE is on top of the St. George subway station and can be accessed directly from there

$10

A Roman Catholic priest faces excommunication for his public support of women’s ordination through the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. The priest is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch who is known internationally for his work to end U.S. government-funded combat training of Latin American militaries. Last November, he decided to risk his 36 years of priesthood to end sexism in the Church.

Marie Evans Bouclin, a former nun and high school teacher, was ordained a deacon in August 2006, and was ordained to the priesthood in May 2007 in Toronto. Marie worked as a free-lance translator in religion and ethics for over twenty years., is serving a second term on the national work group of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) and was coordinator of Women’s Ordination Worldwide from 2002 to 2006. She is the author of Seeking Wholeness: Women dealing with abuse of power in the Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2006).

The Toronto event will host the Premiere of the film,

Pink Smoke Over The Vatican

A Film by Jules Hart

“Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” is a documentary film about a group of impassioned women who have stepped forward to challenge the Vatican. They have been labeled heretics, heroines, radicals, visionaries, feminists and fanatics. By whatever name, this unique group of religious women have chosen at great personal risk to live out their spiritual calling through the forbidden path of ordination. The film follows candidates for priesthood as they confront their inner doubts and anxieties while at the same time challenging the centuries-old established order of one of the most powerful institutions in history.

This film is topical, unique, and controversial. The papacy has reached a time of crisis and the controversy over women’s role, and their place in the Church, must be addressed if the Vatican is to have any relevance in the 21st century. These women feel a spiritual calling to be priests and they are tired of waiting. They have chosen to take hold of their destinies and, in so doing, the destiny of the Roman Catholic Church.

The voices of these women must be heard.

Pink Smoke Over The Vatican has been chosen as an official selection of the Hot Springs 19th Documentary Film Festival in October!
Pink Smoke Over The Vatican has also received 2 awards at the Action on Film International Film Festival: Best Female Filmmaker and Best Faith-based Film!

Roman Catholics face excommunication by defying the Vatican's absolute ban on women's ordination - a "crime" considered as "grave" as male priests' molestation of children. To order a dvd please go to www.pinksmokeoverthevatican.com or amazon.com!

Ordination of Women a Crime: Vatican (The Age)

Ordination of women a crime: Vatican

The Age | Melbourne
July 16, 2010

AFP

AFP

The ordination of women as Catholic priests is a "crime against the faith," the Vatican has said while it issued a raft of new disciplinary rules.

Cases of "attempted ordination of women" will now be handled by the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a Vatican statement said on Thursday.

The new rules put attempts at the ordination of women among the "most serious crimes", along with pedophilia.

They update a 2007 CDF decree, according to which those who attempt to ordain women - and the women concerned - are subject to automatic excommunication.

The US-based Women's Ordination Conference, an advocacy group, dismissed the decision as "medieval at best" and a "scare tactic".

The update was prompted by "fear of our growing numbers", the group said in a statement. "The Vatican is using this attempt to extinguish the widespread call for women's equality in the church."

The Vatican also issued new rules on the handling of sex abuse cases on Thursday. It ordered quicker investigations of pedophile priests and extended the statute of limitations by 10 years to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi underscored how the ordination of women is "a crime against sacraments", while pedophilia should be considered a "crime against morals".

In May, an Austrian Catholic bishop said the church should rethink ordaining women following the widespread pedophilia scandal.

Eight Catholic activists staged a demonstration in favour of women's ordination in St Peter's Square in June.

Vatican Says Female Priests 'As Sinful' As Child Abuse

Vatican says female priests 'as sinful' as child abuse

By Fiona Govan in Rome
Independent.ie | July 16, 2010

Under the new rules, ordaining a women as a priest is among the church's "most serious crimes". (Getty Images)

Under the new rules, ordaining a women as a priest is among the church's "most serious crimes". (Getty Images)

THE ordination of women as Roman Catholic priests has been made a "crime against the faith" by the Vatican and subject to discipline by its watchdog.

The new rules issued yesterday put attempts at ordaining women among the "most serious crimes" alongside paedophilia and will be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), considered the successor to the Inquisition.

Women attempting to be priests, and those who try to ordain them, already faced automatic excommunication but the new decree enshrines the action as "a crime against sacraments".

The unexpected ruling follows the Pope's welcome to Anglican clergy dissatisfied with its General Synod attempts to compromise over calls for the ordination of women as bishops. The first women bishops could be ordained in the Anglican Church as soon as 2014.

Exodus

A group of 70 disgruntled clergy met with a Catholic bishop on Saturday to discuss plans to defect and hundreds are said to be poised for an exodus to Rome. Earlier this year three bishops travelled to the Vatican to talk over an offer by Pope Benedict XVI inviting disillusioned Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, while still keeping tenets of their own faith.

Within the Catholic Church here have been growing calls to allow women to become priests in the wake of the widespread paedophilia scandal. Women priests have been allowed in the Anglican Church since 1992.

But the Vatican made its stance clear yesterday by comparing such actions to child abuse crimes and issuing new rules for investigating both by the same disciplinary body.

Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, underscored how the ordination of women is "a crime against sacraments," while paedophilia should be considered a "crime against morals" and both would fall under the jurisdiction of the CDF.

The organisation, once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, was previously headed by the current Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger.

The raft of new rules from the Vatican includes the fast-tracking of the investigation process of priests accused of child abuse. 

The CDF will accelerate investigations of paedophile priests and extend the statute of limitations by 10 years to 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday. 

Defrock

It could defrock priests but would not be forced to hand over abusers to the civil courts.

"Clergy sex crimes must be reported to police and the Vatican must make this a binding policy that is uniformly enforced," said David Clohessy, of The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. 

"Today's action doesn't do that."

(©Daily Telegraph London) 

Catholics Angry As Church Puts Female Ordination On Par With Sex Abuse

Catholics angry as church puts female ordination on par with sex abuse

Women's groups describe Vatican's decision on female ordination as 'appalling'

by John Hooper in Rome 
The Guardian | July 16, 2010

Three ‘bishops’ at the ordination of a female French priest in Lyons in 2005. All four women were excommunicated. From left: South African Patricia Fresen, Austrian Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and German Gisela Forster. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP)

Three ‘bishops’ at the ordination of a female French priest in Lyons in 2005. All four women were excommunicated. From left: South African Patricia Fresen, Austrian Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and German Gisela Forster. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP)

It was meant to be the document that put a lid on the clerical sex abuse scandals that have swept the Roman Catholic world. But instead of quelling fury from within and without the church, the Vatican stoked the anger of liberal Catholics and women's groups by including a provision in its revised decree that made the "attempted ordination" of women one of the gravest crimes in ecclesiastical law.

The change put the "offence" on a par with the sex abuse of minors.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called the document "one of the most insulting and misogynistic pronouncements that the Vatican has made for a very long time. Why any self-respecting woman would want to remain part of an organisation that regards their full and equal participation as a 'grave sin' is a mystery to me."

Vivienne Hayes, the chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre, said the decision to raise women's ordination to the level of a serious crime was "appalling".

She added: "This declaration is doubly disempowering for women as it also closes the door on dialogue around women's access to power and decision making, when they are still under-represented in all areas of political, religious and civic life. We would urge the Catholic church to acknowledge that women's rights are not incompatible with religious faith."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "We are sure that the vast majority of the general public will share in our abject horror at the Vatican's decision to categorise the ordination of women as an 'offence' in the same category as paedophilia – deemed to be one of the 'gravest offences a priest can commit'.

"This statement follows a series where the Vatican, an institution which yields great influence and power not only in the Catholic community but also wider society, has pitched itself in direct opposition not only to women's rights but to our equal worth and value. We hope this is an issue that the government takes the opportunity to raise if it still feels the impending papal visit is appropriate."

The revision of a decree first issued nine years ago was intended to address the issue of clerical sex abuse. Last night it remained unclear why the Vatican had decided to invite further controversy by changing the status of women's ordination in canon law.

Since scandals blew up in Germany in January, five Roman Catholic bishops have resigned as evidence has come to light of priests who raped or molested children, and of superiors who turned a blind eye to safeguard the reputation of the church. Data from countries in which church membership is officially registered suggest tens of thousands of Catholics, perhaps hundreds of thousands, have abandoned their faith in disgust.

Father Federico Lombardi, the pope's spokesman, stressed that the new rules on sex abuse applied solely to procedures for defrocking priests under canon law. They had no bearing on whether suspected offenders were notified to the civil authorities – he said bishops had already been reminded of their duty to do so.

The most important change is to extend the period during which a clergyman can be tried by a church court from 10 to 20 years, dating from the 18th birthday of his victim. Many people who were abused by priests are unable to summon up the courage to come forward until well into adulthood.

The new norms also streamline the procedures for dealing with the most urgent and serious cases, enabling bishops to defrock priests without a long, costly trial. They put abuse of the mentally disabled on a level with that of minors. And they introduce a new crime of paedophile pornography, defined as "the acquisition, possession or disclosure" by a clergyman of pornographic images of children below the age of 14.

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who helped overhaul the rules, said: "This gives a signal that we are very, very serious in our commitment to promote safe environments and to offer an adequate response to abuse."

Lombardi said the Vatican was working on further instructions "so that the directives it issues on the subject of sexual abuse of minors, either by the clergy or institutions connected with the church, may be increasingly rigorous, coherent and effective".

But Barbara Doris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) said it was tackling the issue the wrong way round. "Defrocking a predator, by definition, is too late," she said. "Severe harm has already been done."