Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Theology of Woman

Jean-Marie Guénois:

Holy Father, one question… You have said that without women, the Church grows barren.  What concrete measures will you take?  For example, the diaconate for women or a woman as a head of dicastery?

Pope Francis:

A Church without women is like the college of the Apostles without Mary.  The role of women in the Church is not simply that of maternity, being mothers, but much greater: it is precisely to be the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady; what helps make the Church grow!  But think about it, Our Lady is more important than the Apostles!  She is more important! 

The Church is feminine.  She is Church, she is bride, she is mother.  But women, in the Church, must not only… I don’t know how to say this in Italian… the role of women in the Church must not be limited to being mothers, workers, a limited role…  No!  It is something else!  But the Popes..  Paul VI wrote beautifully of women, but I believe that we have much more to do in making explicit this role and charism of women. 

We can’t imagine a Church without women, but women active in the Church, with the distinctive role that they play.  I think of an example which has nothing to do with the Church, but is an historical example: in Latin America, Paraguay.  For me, the women of Paraguay are the most glorious women in Latin America.  Are you paraguayo?  After the war, there were eight women for every man, and these women made a rather difficult decision: the decision to bear children in order to save their country, their culture, their faith, and their language. 

In the Church, this is how we should think of women: taking risky decisions, yet as women.  This needs to be better explained.  I believe that we have not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood, in the Church.  All we say is: they can do this, they can do that, now they are altar servers, now they do the readings, they are in charge of Caritas (Catholic charities).  But there is more!  We need to develop a profound theology of womanhood.  That is what I think.
Press Conference on Return Flight from WYD Rio, July 28, 2013
Reflection – Well, this is why so many of us love Pope Francis. He has such a simple direct style of speech, such a blunt way of saying just exactly what he thinks about a subject – it’s great, really.

I wonder if he is familiar with one of Pope Benedict’s early books, Daughter Zion, though? It is a slim volume, really a retreat young Fr. Ratzinger gave on Our Lady in the wake of Vatican II, but it contains within it at least the germ of precisely the profound theology of woman Pope Francis is calling for here.
Benedict traces the line of women in the Scriptures, the barren women who conceive, the women who are raised up to deliver Israel from its enemies, Israel itself personified as a bride, and the personified figure of created wisdom, all culminating in the Virgin Mary. 

From this emerges a theology of woman as an icon of creation, of humanity, and of the Church—radically receptive, radically looking to God for life, radically dependent yet in this very dependence called forth to be co-creator and co-redeemer with God, ultimately in the very acceptance of dependence and receptivity called to transcend the boundaries of created human existence to be filled with the divine life and glory. Our Lady is assumed into heaven and is queen of heaven and earth; this is the direct result of her total obedience and surrender to God in all things.

In this, the strictly masculine model of activity—initiative, dominance, power—is radically relativized. What is done to us and done through us, our cooperation and submission to the deeper movements of the Spirit in our created and redeemed flesh, is much more important, vital, and ultimately determinative of our life than our own commanding will to power.

I don’t know if that’s what Pope Francis has in mind; as is often the case, he doesn’t spell out everything he has in mind, but leaves lots of room for interpretation and contribution of others. I think that’s deliberate on his part. He doesn’t want to be the only voice in the room. He wants to start a conversation. But this whole question of ‘theology of woman’ is a question of vision, of moving things away from rather superficial questions of power and role and office, of who gets to do what and when and how.

We need something more, and that’s what he’s inviting us to talk about. So… let’s talk about it! What do you think of this?


  1. At the parish level, the Catholic Church is run by and for women. They control education, charitable outreach, social activity and exercise budgetary control. These are mostly older women though. Women who have all of their lives dealt with the vanities of the effete, all male, closeted Gay priesthood.

    Younger women. Women of substance and intellect, have already made up their minds about their future within the institutional church and left it.

    Within 20 years, the majority of adult women of culturally Catholic background will have had very little actual interaction with the church because their own mothers voted with their feet. Will a new "theology of women" bring them back, do you think?

    1. Evidently you haven't been to very many Catholic events for young people because oftentimes the women outnumber the men. However by your reasoning all the younger women in the church must be lacking in either substance or intellect. Rather broad and general statements supported by naught.

    2. I am an 18 year old woman in my 3rd year of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I don't know if I necessarily have the intellect, but I can guarantee that I am young and of the female gender. I love the Church and find great strength in it. I would say a very large number of woman find refuge in the Catholic Church as it upholds them as human beings of great worth and as individuals who are deserving of respect. I am not sure why you think that "younger women of substance" have left the Church, but I do believe that, if anything, there are more women in the Catholic Church than men. I am sorry if you have never had the opportunity to meet such women and I hope that situation is soon rectified.

    3. As a 26 yr old honours graduate I find your sweeping statement against Catholic women of my generation incredibly offensive and, quite simply, untrue. Perhaps I am incorrect in what you meant to infer by the word "substance" but I take it to mean someone with integrity, a truth seeker and someone grounded in reality. I should like to think of myself as one such person. I am very well aware that a simple comment on a blog is highly unlikely to convince you of this as you've no real proof but I cannot stand by without replying.

      In your follow up statement you partially retracted your statement to admit that there are, in fact, young women in the Church but followed it up with the sweeping statement that they're all using contraceptives and longing for the day of change. I call bull shit. I personally know hundreds of young Catholic women who are waiting for marriage and uphold the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

      You grudgingly followed up that there are women who uphold the teachings of the Church but then followed it up by saying we'll be the ones having more children to keep the Church populated (or at least that seemed to be your meaning). Your tone suggests that the role of women in the Church is to be baby machines and pop out as many Catholics as we can. This grossly misrepresents the Church's teachings on women and family life.

      A final note I'd like to make is that the Catholic Church upholds that she contains the fullness of truth, meaning it's an all or nothing faith. This doesn't mean we're perfect or that Catholics shouldn't question teachings, struggle in faith or be expected to never sin b/c those are all part of being human but it does mean that those who reject the teachings of the Church in practice with no openness or seeking of answers to change these views have effectively excommunicated themselves. That's not ostracizing, it's fact. You can't be a vegetarian and still eat beef. The same goes for people who claim to be Catholic but reject the Church's teachings on things like women priests and family planning. I'd like to challenge those Catholics to stop lying to yourself and others and figure out what you really believe. Don't stop seeking the truth! Obviously something has kept you around the Catholic Church, even though you disagree with it so what is that? Find out! Don't be afraid! I don't want you to leave the Church but I don't want you to be in the Church with a closed heart and a misinformed intellect because that's dishonest and not really helpful to you or anyone else.

      I recognize my words here will probably be misconstrued, taken offensively and perhaps even considered unChristian but if you truly consider yourself a person of "substance and intellect" then I suggest you get your facts straight and stop sitting on a fence of denial.

    4. Oh the arrogance, the smugness of youth.

  2. Well, Moe, you are not saying all women of intellect and substance have left the church are you? Did you mean to say that?

    Also, we're you implying that all priests are closested and gay? Because I am not sure, that is true either.

    It is sort of hard to get you sometimes.

    Anyway, I like it that the Pope is calling for more theology for and about women. I sort of agree with Moe on the last point....I do think that many have left the church because they sense it has lost it's sense of the feminine. This feeling that the church displays misogyny is a hard one. Sometimes, there is a chastisement for even admitting you feel that way.

    I have always found comfort in Mary, once when I was very young, Father Tom took me to the icon of our lady in the chapel, he said something like you will find your faith when you find your Mother Mary. Funny how that pious, paternal, simplistic statement has stayed with me all these years. I am grateful for the little bit that I have learned of God's tenderness and mercy and faithfulness that I have learned from Mary.

    It is also true that I carry more responsibility, participate more in important decision making, am called on to share what little I have and know more and more. I am happy that Francis sees this and is offering help.

    Bless you

    1. No, I don't think all priests are Gay. I hope some of those that are begin to come out and relate how they express their sexuality in daily life.

      No, I don't think all young women have left the church. Many have and I'm not sure that they are retrievable. Those that remain in the church hope that change will come. They use birth control. They do not have statistically fewer divorces, abortions, incidences of premarital sex or cohabitation or usage of artificial birth control than their age mates that are not in the church.

      Yes, I realize that there are young women of strongly traditional and orthodox Catholic practice and belief who follow all the directives of the institutional church. Yes, I realize that these women have more children than average. If you are pinning all your hopes on these individuals, I think you are deluding yourself. Then again, what else is there?

      The remaining most Catholic cultural nations in the World, Ireland, The PI, Malta and Poland, are all undergoing rapid secularization and movement toward feminine autonomy.

      It is also true that many fewer Gay men seek vocations in the priesthood, due to greater acceptance and opportunity afforded today in much more tolerant secular culture. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

      I personally am heartened at how many very progressive individuals stay active in church life, even in the face of great discouragement from the hierarchy and traditionalist factions. I am hopeful that the church will change but not waiting around. I am a member of a Catholic faith community that embraces women in all roles and they can be Gay, straight, married or not. WE recently made Martin Luther King a saint. We have an icon of him on the wall. I love that. I personally think Margaret Sanger should be up there too.

    2. Moe,

      Thanks for clarifying. I have a friend who was told one too many times that she is "not catholic". "When people keep showing you the door, after awhile you just walk thru it". She is a member of a church like yours, there are five in Minnesota with women priests ans several moe on the brink. I have been told there are more than 60 nation wide. They have a different set of problems....

      She asks me why I stay? I am not a catholic because I signed up for a particular set of beliefs or action program, like joining a political party. I am catholic because I was born and raised a catholic. It is part of my identity, of who I am. I am catholic because of the oils father Tom poured over me which ever time I think of it makes me love God more. I am catholic because Father Joe took me to the farm and blessed my patients when they were dying. I am catholic because of MH and Catherine of Sienna, Dorothy Day. I am catholic because Jesus is present to me in the Mass. I can no more stop being catholic than I can stop being female or heterosexual. It is just in me. This is the way for me. I am catholic for the simple reason that the church is catholic, universal and inclusive.

      I am not voting with my feet, Moe. I am voting with my heart.

      But, I respect your choice. I also believe that you love God and the church very much.

      Let's just pray for each other.

      Bless you.

  3. "Within 20 years, the majority of adult women of culturally Catholic background will have had very little actual interaction with the church because their own mothers voted with their feet."

    Except that women who stay have way more kids than those who leave. So no.

    You have to be a woman of substance and intellect to remain in this Church to swim against the cultural tide.

  4. I am an active, involved, young(ish) woman in the Catholic Church. Intellect: check. Substance: check. I am but one of many.

  5. And then there are all those women with degrees who choose to enter the burgeoning and often new orders of women religious. They surely are voting with something...

    I'm not sure who is meant as young but I know a lot of young women who are educated and under 30 who are active...very active...and happy in the Church. Most of them, as I think of it, grew up in families which were large-ish and also active. Funny how that works

  6. I attended a Catholic Youth Festival in Ireland over the last 3 or so days and there were many young women in attendance. And the ones I spoke to are intelligent. So Moe, I don't think that your point about younger women having left the Church is true.

  7. Father Denis,

    I am sort of wondering what Francis has in mind about theology for women too. I think you are right...a lot of the theology, the images, the reasonings we have written down about God are pretty masculine. Sometimes, these are difficult for me...and sometimes it takes a really long time to get past that. I look around while I am waiting sometimes. I know I read stuff the librarian would never shelf at MH. Maybe, it is a little renegade, but sometimes I just want someone to be with me where I am in my journey. So, I have read some women's theology- not necessisarily Marian. Women have a different way of using words, a different way of moral reasoning. I am not saying the end points are different- truth is truth- but the process the journey is different. I would like to see more women theologians for this reason.

    Also, I would sort of like it if there were women in in the cdf, women in decision making places in the vatican, maybe even voting in the conclave. This doesn't keep me up at night and I am not campaigning for this... I just really long for it sometimes. It is something I pray for. But, ultimately, this is God's work...your post sort of got me thinking...that and I have a little more time than usual today.

    Did you read Pope France is having a Marian day? Is planning to dedicate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Has invited religious communities with a special Marian devotion. I thought of MH instantly- and who should go...too many planes full! I really like this Francis.

  8. If it were true that young women are no longer part of the church because their mothers left, the majority of participants in the World Youth Days would be male and having attended I can tell you this is not so. Having said that , in our parish there seems to be a lack of young people compared to the majority of the grey haired, but there are young families bringing their numerous children to church so I'm not concerned at all.Once you begin to understand that in this life of the church we are but a long sigh you can begin to see that this "time' in the church is but a short moment. Moe- Do not be Afraid.

  9. "Younger women. Women of substance and intellect, have already made up their minds about their future within the institutional church and left it."

    I am highly educated and have found the teachings of the church to have the answers to my questions. I think the problem is a lack of faith, education and understanding. It will take mothers and fathers of faith to raise our children in the faith so they know the path they need to take for salvation.

  10. Moe: Being a catholic Woman I find your statements rather generalized and without much grounding. I can personally attest to the dignity and value that the Church gives women; one that from experience, our Culture does not give us. Our culture (which ignores our personhood) only gives us a value according to our body shape, how much money we have and what education we have achieved. The church, without marginalizing any, says that we are much more than that. As stated above, according to Fr. Ratzinger’s theology of woman, women are the icon of creation, humanity and of the church and Pope Francis has reopened this discussion, calling the church to take a deeper look at what the role of woman really is.
    I am not sure that you are totally aware of whom Margaret Sanger really was... You may find this article written by her interesting. There are many others.

    Fr. Denis: Just a thought and please correct me if I am on the wrong track but it seems that there is two different theologies; One of woman and the other of womanhood- Woman speaking of the person individually, of "being" and womanhood speaking of the role that all women have been called to. That the person of woman is the icon of creation and humanity and her womanhood is the icon of the church.
    Question: Through Mary's womanhood in what way is the “masculine activity radically revitalized?" and would this be done through her role or through her "being"?

    1. Hey Nony Mouse:

      The validity of cultural religious practice is lost on me.

      My forebears were told by the US Navy that they had to adopt Ha'ole religion and culture because their own was unacceptable. Ritual sacrifice, cannibalism, that sort of thing.

      The matriarch of one branch chose Mormon because she thought they would let her keep her several husbands and wouldn't mind large age differences and the fact that they were all very close relatives. Turned out that was only true for men but it was too late to back out and she couldn't see that the others were any better.

      The Catholic branch were denizens of a leper colony and understood that letting their children be raised Catholic was part of the price to be paid and might somehow protect the children from becoming diseased. That wasn't true either.

      I'm very aware of who and what Margaret Sanger was. She was a transcendent individual. If anyone deserves to be a saint it is she. Her and my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, the cannibal princess. One of the reasons they did it was population control and protein conservation, you know.

      By the way, are you a plump individual? You seem like you might be. Yum!


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