Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where is the voice of women?

Where is the voice of women?
Nuala O'Loan Irish Catholic
22 Jul 2010
I have written in the past about openness and transparency in the Church and have joined the long queue of those articulating a considerable and consistent concern about the position of women in the Church and the extent of their ability to make a contribution in Ireland and elsewhere. There can be little doubt that while women form the majority of those who pray in churches, participate in parish activities, clean churches, raise money for churches etc, they have only a limited role in decision making in this Church of ours.

A recent announcement by the Vatican on a forthcoming meeting of the Administrative Council of the Populorum Progressio Foundation ''to deliberate on the financing of projects in support of poor indigenous, mixed race, African-American, and rural communities of Latin America and the Caribbean'' made me think about these issues again. It lists the composition of the members of the administrative council.

They are: Cardinal Paul J. Cordes, president of the foundation and of the Pontifical Council ''Cor Unum''; Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, archbishop of Guadalajara, Mexico and president of the council; Archbishop Edmundo Luis Abastoflor Montero of La Paz, Bolivia; Archbishop Alberto Taveira Correa of Belem do Para, Brazil; Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza of Guayaquil, Ecuador; Bishop Jose Luis Astigarraga Lizarralde C.P., apostolic vicar of Yurimaguas, Peru; and Msgr Segundo Tejado Munoz, representative of the Pontifical Council ''Cor Unum''.

230 projects

This year 230 projects in 20 countries have been presented to the council. They relate to production; communal infrastructure; education; health and construction.

The number of projects presented by country are: Brazil (57), Colombia (41), Peru (21), Haiti (20), Ecuador (19), El Salvador (13), Bolivia (8), Guatemala (8), Chile (7), Argentina (6), Dominican Republic (6), Costa Rica (4), Mexico (4), Paraguay (4), Uruguay (3), Venezuela (3), Cuba (2), Panama (2), Antilles (1) and Nicaragua (1).

Even in these areas, in which women play such a significant role across the world, the decision makers of the council are all ordained priests. Where is the voice and contribution of women in decision making in these most critical areas? Who will ensure the understanding of what it is to live a woman's life in conflict zones, in the midst of terrible levels of gender-based violence, in patriarchal societies, in deprivation and isolation? Who will understand the fear that makes the presence of security more important than food and water to women with starving children? Who will understand what it is to have walked for days with a sick or dying child to bring them to a hospital, to give birth on a roadside? While women may be involved as consultors or advisors they do not have decision-making power.


As I contemplated how this could be, I tried to find out a little more about how our Church is governed and who is responsible for its governance.

A visit to the Vatican web site to examine the membership of Pontifical Councils demonstrated that one could replicate this example many times: the membership of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples are all men. The Pontifical Council for the Laity has 24 lay members of whom 10 are women. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity does not list its membership on the Vatican website but appears to have no women members.

The Pontifical Council for the Family has a Presidential Committee composed of 15 cardinals and 12 archbishops and bishops, plus 19 married couples from all over the world.

Lay woman

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has a Cardinal President who is assisted by a Bishop Secretary and an Under-Secretary who is the highest ranked lay woman to work in the Curia The Pontifical Council COR UNUM for Human and Christian Development is composed of eight Cardinals, one Patriarch, three Archbishops, five Bishops, a prelate, a religious sister, a religious brother, a lay member and representatives from seventeen international organisations and agencies from five different continents. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers has 36 members.

There is no indication of how many women, if any, are involved. The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts has no women members. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has no women among its members. The Pontifical Council for Culture consists of 21 Cardinals and 14 Archbishops and bishops.There are no women among its members.The Pontifical Commission for Social Communications appears to comprise solely of Cardinals. Archbishops and Bishops. On the evidence available from the Vatican website some 35 women are involved in the Pontifical Councils of our Church. There appear to be no women involved as members in any Vatican Tribunals.

So what of the major organs of governance in our Church - the Secretariat of State in the Roman Curia and the various congregations. There is (as is to be expected) a Cardinal Secretary of State.

No mention

There are a number of great Congregations with extensive authority: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; for the Oriental Churches; for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; for the Causes of Saints; for the Evangelisation of Peoples; for the Clergy; for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; for Catholic Education, and for Bishops. There is no mention on the website that women are members of any of these organisations. Yet the issues with which they deal have the potential to touch all our lives and to impact on our faith.

Contemplating all this it seems to me that there is much to be done simply to give women a voice in our Church today. I am moved to wonder whether there is any understanding of the impact of the current governance arrangements on women across the world. How do we communicate with a Church which does not even translate all its critical documents and information into the major world languages, but which simply presents some of its information in the Italian language with no apparent consideration for the affect of this on people's ability to access and understand the Church in which we live and worship?


As we consider the communication capacity of a Church which does not realise the impact of grouping involvement in the ordination of women in the same category as the sexual abuse of children, as happened last week, we may come close to despair. Is it possible that involving women in how things are done in our Church might just help to prevent some future problems? As Pope Benedict said a couple of days ago ''Let us learn then, brothers and sisters, to help one another, to collaborate, but first and foremost together to chose the 'better part', which is and will always be our greatest good''.

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