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A little bit more from Francis on a theology of women in the church….

Most Catholics I know have heard of or read the now-famous interview with Pope Francis in America magazine. I sincerely hope that you read it for yourself, as some of the media summaries of the interview are skewed as they don’t often report from the lens, or context, of faith. Yes, its 12,000 words, but take some time –and read it for yourself.

(In other news, just yesterday, the Pope gave another interview in LaRepubblica in Italy — though some folks are quibbling about the translation to the English, and for now I’m just going to say that in regard to women, he told the reporter he’d like to cover that subject on a later day –  “We will also discuss the role of women in the Church. Remember that the Church (la chiesa) is feminine.”.)

As you may also recall, the Pope has been making some noise about women in the church in his post-WYD interview weeks back. So there are many of us who watching and wondering just when he might talk more about this. Turns out, we didn’t have to wait too long. However, must of what Pope Francis shares in this interview has been shared before.

Let’s look at that portion from the America interview…

Women in the Life of the Church

And what about the role of women in the church? The pope has made reference to this issue on several occasions. He took up the matter during the return trip from Rio de Janeiro, claiming that the church still lacks a profound theology of women. I ask: “What should be the role of women in the church? How do we make their role more visible today?”

We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church.

He answers: “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismoWomen are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”
That’s 263 words from the Pontiff on the subject, and I’m sure my own word-count in considering what he might mean will be more than that.
I wonder what are the deep questions that the women are asking– in the Pope’s mind? It can’t fully be gleaned from his recent comments. If we are talking about ordination for women, that is already settled. If we are talking about women talking leadership roles with parishes, dioceses, and the Curia — roles that work in tandem with the clergy/hierarchy — that is a subject for growth and possible change. Benedict began some of that conversation here when he was the #2 Man, as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Francis talks about “function” — I’m guessing he means work and leadership roles in the church — and there can more inroads for women’s leadership to be made, outside of ordination, for sure.
I wonder what are the deep questions that the women are asking– in the Pope’s mind? It can’t fully be gleaned from his recent comments. If we are talking about ordination for women, that is already settled. If we are talking about women talking leadership roles with parishes, dioceses, and the Curia — roles that work in tandem with the clergy/hierarchy — that is a subject for growth and possible change. Benedict began some of that conversation here when he was the #2 Man, as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Francis talks about “function” — I’m guessing he means work and leadership roles in the church — and there can more inroads for women’s leadership to be made, outside of ordination, for sure.

If we are talking about the deep questions of freeing women from the oppression of poverty, sexual slavery, mutilation, and war and other ghastly bondages, let’s keep talking and working on that too.

If we are talking about a woman’s dignity and vocation, the Holy Father is correct (not that he needs my approval) in pointing out Mary’s positive role, in that women are called to imitate her spiritual motherhood… and women ought to know the sublime dignity that Mary brings to a woman’s role in the life of a family, the church, and the community. Mary is the feminine genius par excellence. 

Spiritually and physically, women help give birth to and help nurture disciples of the Church already. How that might translate into “those places where the authority of the church is exercised” has yet to be revealed to me. In the meantime, I can write a good many words and I can make educated guesses about respect for the aforementioned vocation, and praying that it becomes more fully understood and implemented by the faithful. That is why I wrote my book, and why I recommend women and men cut their teeth on the theology of womanhood by starting with Mulieries Dignitatem, a groundbreaking document that is now 25 years old.

Keep talking Francis. we’re listening.

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