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For a Lady Pope

Pope Francis and women

When the Pope speaks of women

We are overjoyed to learn that Pope Francis wants to create a new image for the Church by highlighting its concerns about the poor. We are also overjoyed to learn that he wants to shake up the Curia and implement a new, more synodal governance, representing a real break with the past. A new wind seems to be blowing in the Vatican.

In his letter of apostolic exhortation of the November 26, 2013, however, there is hardly any mention of the role of women in the Church, except to say that "the priesthood is reserved for men (...) it is a question that can not be discussed."


In order to see exactly what role he intends to give women, we need to look closely at what has been said over the past few months. On 6th August 2013, Pope Francis praised women: " A church without women is like the apostolic college without Mary . (...) You can't understand a church without women -- but we need women who are active in the Church, and who, with their traits, carry it forward." “We have not yet made ​​a profound theology of women in the Church. A profound theology must be made of woman."

He also said, "They (the women) can do this, they can do that, now they're altar servers, now they're lectors, the president of Caritas ... But there's more ! We must make a profound theology of women. That's what I think."

On October 19th 2013, he confessed : "I suffer, I tell you the truth, when I see in the Church or in some church organizations, (...) that the role of service given to women slips into the role of servitude."

At the risk of seeming like a spoilsport by not singing in unison and not applauding the papal speeches, we can safely say that up unitl now, the Pope’s words have been only that; words. No action has been taken. Women, nuns and theologians also expect gestures. To say that it is necessary to study a file in depth going any further, is often the type of response that a boss gives to his employees before placing that same file in the bin.


A theology of women

A theology of women. It exists. For almost 60 years, women, and more specifically female theologians, have been developing their own vision of the Scriptures, their own vision of their role in the Church, their own vision of how things should be. Why say that the first step is to create a theology of women? If this really is a prerequisite for advancement, then all it needs is for a small group of theologians (notably Americans) to be given three months to prepare a persuasive text.

Alas, after two thousand years of existence, only single men, according to the Vatican, are able to put together a theology of women.


The example of St. Paul and his collaborators

If the Church had had pusillanimous leaders in the first century, it would never transmitted the message of Jesus to the Greco-Roman world. Let’s take Saint Paul as an example. He is thought to be chauvinist because he wrote sentences like: "Women should remain silent in the churches," and "Women are submissive to their husbands." (meaning that they should  respect their husbands, not that they should  obey them in the same sense as Saint Paul directs children to obey their parents). These statements corresponded to the times.

But wasn’t it St. Paul who accepted that female prophets speak out in public (1 Cor 11.5 )? Didn’t he also advocate mutual submission (again in the sense of respect) between men and women (Eph 5:21)? Did he not also order men to love their wives just as Jesus gave himself over to the Church (Eph 5.25 )? If Saint Paul had ordered women to love their husbands and be prepared to die for them, we would have considered him more than macho, in fact we would have thought of him as a chauvinistic tyrant. But the opposite is true. Today, men are told to forget these injunctions. Surely we should think of Saint Paul as a feminist, rather than as a chauvinist. Didn’t he also declare that there was neither male nor female (3.28 Ga)?

At the end of the day, it is the facts themselves that are important. Saint Paul worked with many collaborators - he quotes twenty-six in his epistles - including a dozen female collaborators. Over a third. What more can we ask? These included Damaris, Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Nymphaeum, Evodia and Synché, among others. Affectionate things were written about them: "Prisca and Aquila - my colleagues in Christ." (Rom 16:3) ; "Persis, the beloved." (Rom 16,12 ) ; "Phoebe, our sister, deacon of the Church of Cenchrae….. protector." (Rom 16:1-2 ); "Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you." (Rom 16,6 ), "Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa who labour for the Lord." (Rom 16,12 ); "Euodia and Syntyche have assisted me in the fight for the gospel." (Philippians 4:2); "I recommend Phoebe to you, our sister, a servant of the Church Cenchrae : in the name of the Lord give her a welcome worthy of saints, (...) she was a guardian for many Christians and for myself." ( Rom 16:1-2 ).

He finished many of his epistles with: "Greet one another with a holy kiss." Saint Paul spoke to the Greco-Roman world who gave no role in the city to women. He was able to write what he did because he dared  go against the tide. St. Paul macho? You’re kidding! Simply by studying the epistles, one realizes that he was a revolutionary, as was his Master.


When will we see the changes?

If the Pope has to develop a theology of women before appointing close female collaborators, we are far from witnessing radical change. When will the Church admit that it is up to women to define the doctrine of contraception, in vitro fertilization, abortion in cases of rape or serious and irreversible fetal malformations? When will the Church admit that it is up to women, as much as it is up to men, to determine the theology of those divorced who then remarry, the way in which life is ended...

The 20th century was the one where women conquered their rights. Many women are Prime ministers or Presidents of their countries. The Church, rather than being a beacon in the field of women's rights, has extinguished the light. Let’s hope  that Pope Francis can reverse the trend and embrace many female collaborators. We wish him luck.

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