Archive for October, 2013

Is There a Place for Women in the Church?

October 8, 2013

Jamie Dance

The Church has made things very difficult for women. Publicly, women are denied ordination and positions of authority and power in virtually every area of Church life, whether at the parish or curial level. Privately, the Church has denied women the right to make decisions regarding sexual, marital, and maternal issues as matters of conscience. In consequence, many women have left in protest, but, despite this, women still make up more than half of the Church’s members. In parishes across America, women are the backbone of liturgical, educational, and charitable work that defines the face of the Church to its members. Besides that, women are most often the administrators of parish offices and schools. It is obvious that women’s participation, particularly at the parish level, is fundamental and foundational to the survival of the Church as we know it.

On a theological level, women, both lay and professed, have made great strides in reclaiming the early history of women’s contributions to the Church, and integrating this heritage into a new vision for women in the Church. Premiere among them is Elizabeth Johnson, a professed nun who authored Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007), a well-received and academically esteemed volume that examines notions of God across the centuries in many cultures and religions. In 2011, Johnson was rewarded for her efforts by the doctrinal committee of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops with an official rebuke that questioned her loyalty to official Church teaching. Catholic theologians across the country roundly criticized this attempt to embarrass and demean one of their own.

In the face of clerical and hierarchical absolutism regarding the role of women, how much longer will empowered and educated Catholic women tolerate this inequity that strangles their perceived gifts for sacramental service and diminishes their right of conscience? The answer is not yet clear, but hopefully its resolution will be on Pope Francis’ agenda.

The Tension Between Obedience and Conscience

October 3, 2013

Jamie Dance

Today, adult Catholics are hard pressed to find common ground between the expectations and demands of the hierarchical Church and their own commonsense reasoning on critical issues that beset modern life. When questions regarding contraception, remarriage of divorced Catholics, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and therapeutic (life-saving) abortion are raised, they are generally met with a withering barrage by ordained naysayers for whom life’s most troubling issues have been reduced to an orthodoxy that denies the more subtle realities of life. Informed Catholics who desire full relationship with the sacramental Church find themselves in dire straits when met with an ethical dilemma that defies the certain confines of a hierarchically accepted tenet.

But living in the world, tossed about by the vicissitudes of life, is quite different from abiding in the hallowed halls of seminaries and curial offices. Everyday life has a way of making us face inconvenient truths that challenge traditional wisdom. It is in addressing these issues that our hearts and minds become engaged in struggles that force us outside our religious comfort zone and into a consideration of “What would Jesus do?” As the French Dominican theologian Yves Congar once wrote, “Experience and history have taught me that one must always protest when motives of conscience or conviction call for it.” Philosophically speaking, a religious or societal ethic is only effectual when its teaching has been received and accepted by those to whom it is addressed. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae is a perfect example of such a case. The papal teaching notwithstanding, pastors across the world, beset by troubled couples, instructed women and men on the value of their informed consciences in issues related to family planning and familial well-being. Today, parents of homosexual children are using those same moral compasses in deciding to welcome partners and spouses into their children’s lives.

While the tension between obedience and conscience regarding church-related moral questions always will be present in the Catholic sensibility, people of faith, with good hearts, will continue to make their decisions based on the loving example of the Jesus who disdained the Pharisaical rubrics of his own day.