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Keynote speech at the Voices of Faith conference by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland 1997-2011
8 March 2018
The Israelites under Joshua’s command circled Jericho’s walls for seven days, blew trumpets and shouted to make the walls fall down. (cf. Joshua 6:1-20). We don’t have trumpets but we have voices, voices of faith and we are here to shout, to bring down our Church’s walls of mysogyny. We have been circling these walls for 55 years since John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris first pointed to the advancement of women as one of the most important “signs of the times”.
“they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons” .[…] The longstanding inferiority complex of certain classes because of their economic and social status, sex, or position in the State, and the corresponding superiority complex of other classes, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
At the Second Vatican Council Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, warned the bishops to stop perpetuating “the secondary place accorded to women in the Church of the 20th century” and to avoid the Church being a “late-comer in [their] social, political and economic development”. The Council’s decree Apostolicam Actuositatem said it was important that women“participate more widely […] in the various sectors of the Church’s apostolate”. The Council’s pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes said the elimination of discrimination based on gender was a priority. Paul VI even commissioned a study on women in Church and Society. Surely we thought then, the post-Conciliar Church was on the way to full equality for its 600 million female members. And yes-it is true that since the Council new roles and jobs, have opened up to the laity including women but these have simply marginally increased the visibility of women in subordinate roles, including in the Curia, but they have added nothing to their decision-making power or their voice. Remarkably since the Council, roles which were specifically designated as suitable for the laity have been deliberately closed to women. The stable roles of acolyte and lector and the permanent deaconate have been opened only to lay men. Why? Both laymen and women can be temporary altar servers but bishops are allowed to ban females and where they permit them in their dioceses individual pastors can ban them in their parishes. Why?
Back in 1976 we were told that the Church does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination. This has locked women out of any significant role in the Church’s leadership, doctrinal development and authority structure since these have historically been reserved to or filtered through ordained men. Yet in divine justice the very fact of the permanent exclusion of women from priesthood and all its consequential exclusions, should have provoked the Church hierarchy to find innovative and transparent ways of including women’s voices as of right and not in trickles of tokenism by tapping, in the divinely instituted College of Bishops and in the man made entities such as the College of Cardinals, the Synod of Bishops and episcopal conferences, in all the places where the faith is shaped by decision and dogma and doctrine. Just imagine this normative scenario- Pope Francis calls a Synod on the role of Women in the Church and 350 male celibates advise the Pope on what women really want! That is how ludicrous our Church has become. How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership, legal and doctrinal discernment and decision-making?
It was here in this very hall in 1995 that Irish Jesuit theologian, Fr. Gerry O’Hanlon put his finger on the underpinning systemic problem when he steered Decree 14 through the Jesuits 34th General Congregation. It is a forgotten document but today we will dust it down and use it to challenge a Jesuit Pope, a reforming Pope, to real, practical action on behalf of women in the Catholic Church.
Decree 14 says:
We have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition that has offended against women. And, like many men, we have a tendency to convince ourselves that there is no problem. However unwittingly, we have often contributed to a form of clericalism which has reinforced male domination with an ostensibly divine sanction. By making this declaration we wish to react personally and collectively, and do what we can to change this regrettable situation.
“The regrettable situation” arises because the Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny. It has never sought a cure though a cure is freely available. Its name is “equality”
Down the 2000 year highway of Christian history came the ethereal divine beauty of the Nativity, the cruel sacrifice of the Crucifixion, the Hallelujah of the Resurrection and the rallying cry of the great commandment to love one another. But down that same highway came man-made toxins such as misogyny and homophobia to say nothing of anti-semitism with their legacy of damaged and wasted lives and deeply embedded institutional dysfunction.
The laws and cultures of many nations and faith systems were also historically deeply patriarchal and excluding of women; some still are, but today the Catholic Church lags noticeably behind the world’s advanced nations in the elimination of discrimination against women. Worse still, because it is the “pulpit of the world” to quote Ban Ki Moon its overt clerical patriarchalism acts as a powerful brake on dismantling the architecture of misogyny wherever it is found. There is an irony here, for education has been crucial to the advancement of women and for many of us, the education which liberated us was provided by the Church’s frontline workers clerical and lay, who have done so much to lift men and women out of poverty and powerlessness and give them access to opportunity. Yet paradoxically it is the questioning voices of educated Catholic women and the courageous men who support them, which the Church hierarchy simply cannot cope with and scorns rather than engaging in dialogue. The Church which regularly criticizes the secular world for its failure to deliver on human rights has almost no culture of critiquing itself. It has a hostility to internal criticism which fosters blinkered servility and which borders on institutional idolatry.
Today we challenge Pope Francis to develop a credible strategy for the inclusion of women as equals throughout the Church’s root and branch infrastructure, including its decision-making. A strategy with targets, pathways and outcomes regularly and independently audited Failure to include women as equals has deprived the Church of fresh and innovative discernment; it has consigned it to recycled thinking among a hermetically sealed cosy male clerical elite flattered and rarely challenged by those tapped for jobs in secret and closed processes. It has kept Christ out and bigotry in. It has left the Church flapping about awkwardly on one wing when God gave it two. We are entitled to hold our Church leaders to account for this and other egregious abuses of institutional power and we will insist on our right to do so no matter how many official doors are closed to us.
At the start of his papacy Pope Francis said “We need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” words a Church scholar described as evidence of Francis’ “magnanimity”. Let us be clear, women’s right to equality in the Church arises organically from divine justice. It should not depend on ad hoc papal benevolence.
Pope Francis described female theologians as the “strawberries on the cake”. He was wrong. Women are the leaven in the cake. They are the primary handers on of the faith to their children. In the Western world the Church’s cake is not rising, the baton of faith is dropping. Women are walking away from the Catholic Church in droves, for those who are expected to be key influencers in their children’s faith formation have no opportunity to be key influencers in the formation of the Catholic faith. That is no longer acceptable. Just four months ago the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin felt compelled to remark that “the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today”.
Yet Pope Francis has said that “women are more important than men because the Church is a woman”. Holy Father, why not ask women if they feel more important than men? I suspect many will answer that they experience the Church as a male bastion of patronizing platitudes to which Pope Francis has added his quota.
John Paul II has written of the ‘mystery of women’. Talk to us as equals and we will not be a mystery! Francis has said a “deeper theology of women” is needed. God knows it would be hard to find a more shallow theology of women than the misogyny dressed up as theology which the magisterium currently hides behind.
And all the time a deeper theology is staring us in the face. It does not require much digging to find it. Just look to Christ. John Paul II pointed out that:
‘we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women. […] Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness….As we look to Christ…. it is natural to ask ourselves: how much of his message has been heard and acted upon?’
Women are best qualified to answer that question but we are left to talk among ourselves. No Church leader bothers to turn up not just because we do not matter to them but because their priestly formation prepares them to resist treating us as true equals.
Back in this hall in 1995 the Jesuit Congregation asked God for the grace of conversion from a patriarchal Church to a Church of equals; a Church where women truly matter not on terms designed by men for a patriarchal Church but on terms which make Christ matter. Only such a Church of equals is worthy of Christ. Only such a Church can credibly make Christ matter. The time for that Church is now, Pope Francis. The time for change is now.
 John XXIII encyclical Pacem in terris, 11 April 1963, n. 41.
 Ibid. n. 43
 Cf. Fr. P. Jordan O.S.B., NCWC News Rome correspondent «Changes proposed in role of women in the Church» posted 12 October 1965. Cf. https://vaticaniiat50.wordpress.com /2015/10/12/ changes-proposed-in-role-of-women-in-the-church/
 Second Vatican Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 18 November 1965, n. 9 in AAS58 (1966), 846-.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 7 December 1965, n. 29 in AAS 58 (1966), 1048-1049.
 It reported in 1976.
 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 230 §1. Cf. Paul VI, apostolic letter, Ministeria Quaedam, 15 August 1972, n. 2-4; 7, in AAS 64 (1972) 529-534. Formerly called the minor orders of acolyte and lector, they are: henceforth to be called ministries. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders. […] In accordance with the ancient tradition of the Church, institution to the ministries of reader and acolyte is reserved to men.
 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 1031 §2. In 2016 Pope Francis set up a Commission to look at the question of ordaining women to the Diaconate. The report is believed to have been on his desk for a year as of March 2018.
 Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, letter Concerning the use of female altar servers, 27 July 2001.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declaration Inter Insigniores, On the question of the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood, 15 October 15 1976.
 Written with the help among others of two Irish laywomen, Cathy Molloy and Edel O’Kennedy. For the background to the Decree cf. M.J. Heydt, «Solving the Mystery of Decree 14: Jesuits and the situation of women in Church and civil society» http://www.conversationsmagazine.org/web-features/2015/12/27/solving-the-mystery-of-decree-14-jesuits-and-the-situation-of-women-in-church-and-civil-society
 Per UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in his opening introduction at the UNGA Seventieth Session, 25 September 2015, UN Doc A/70/PV.3, 1.
 Francis, apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 24 November 2013, n. 103 in AAS 105 (2013) 1019-1137. Cf. Francis interview with Fr. A. Spadaro SJ for America magazine in which he repeated these words, 30 September 2013 (as amended online).
 P. Zagano, «What the Pope really said», NCRonline 25 September 2013 https:// www.ncronline.org/blogs/just-catholic/what-pope-really-said.
 Francis, Address to the International Theological Commission, 5 December 2014. Cf. H. Roberts «Women theologians are ‘the strawberry on the cake, says Pope», The Tablet 11 December 2014.
 From a talk entitled “The church in Dublin: where will it be in 10 years’ time?” at St Mary’s Church, Haddington Road, as reported in the Irish Times, November 16 2017.
 Response of Pope Francis to a question from a journalist: “Will we one day see women priests in the Catholic Church?” on papal plane returning to Rome from the United States, Sept. 29, 2015. Cf. https://www.ncr online.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/popes-quotes-theology-women
 John Paul II, apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 15 August 1988 in AAS 80 (1988) 1653-1729.
 Interview with journalists on board plane on way to Rio de Janeiro 22 July 2013 cf. John Allen «The Pope on Homosexuals. Who am I to judge?», NCRonline https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/pope-homosexuals-who-am-i-judge
 Cf. Manfred Hauke, Women in the priesthood. A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption, Ignatius Press, 1988.
5 March 2018
(First published in UCAN and reproduced with permission)
We Catholics believe the frequent reception of the Eucharistic bread, which is transformed into the body of Christ at the altar of Mass, enhances our spiritual health. But this enhancement is subject to certain conditions, just as material food to benefit our physical health is subject to what we eat and how we eat it. Without fulfilling the essential conditions, the reception of the Eucharist alone will not provide us the "abundance of life" (Jn.10:10) that Jesus has destined for us. There are similarities between the Eucharist and the material food we eat.
As a theologically trained Catholic mother, I see the dining table as having the innate capacity to enhance the Eucharistic experience. The merging of the two tables, as Jesus did on Maundy Thursday, will help us experience wholeness. It will enhance our dining table and build us into people who are socially and spiritually healthy.
Indian Catholic Priest Susai Kannu offers The Holy Eucharist during the Mass of the Lord's Supper celebrated as Maundy Thursday service at St. Anthony's Church in Hyderabad on March 24, 2016. The ceremony commemorates the symbolic example of Jesus Christ washing the feet of his apostles at the Lord's Supper on the eve of his crucifixion. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)
Jesus celebrated the first Eucharistic meal with his disciples at the dining table on the feast of the Passover, when families gather to share a meal in the Jewish tradition. It comprises certain rituals but remains at heart a family meal. Great emphasis is placed on the food and what it symbolizes. Jesus raised the meal to a spiritual fellowship experience when he broke a single piece of bread — his body — and called his disciples to take a piece from it and eat it; and drink from the same cup of wine — his blood. As such he invited his disciples to sacrifice themselves for others, just as he did.
Eating together at home enriches relationships due to the time and care involved in both preparing and sharing a meal. It often involves a degree of self-sacrifice. And if we include the table fellowship of Jesus as part of those special meals shared among the family or community, we are reminded of Jesus' invitation to sacrifice ourselves for others. That poses a challenge for families and communities to accept this invitation and incorporate it into their lives.
Can we begin to look at our dining table as a family "Eucharistic" table, where we share food, conversations and so much more?
The suggestion is not to replace the Eucharist in parish churches with family meals, but rather to enrich the Eucharistic experience by establishing a truly Christian life within communities. This would provide greater meaning to the dismissal "Go, the Mass is ended," which is indeed a call to "go and live the Eucharist" in the world.
Food and gatherings are synonymous in India: They cut across all religious communities and bring people together. For example, the Sikh community has its Langars while Hindus distribute "prasad" at religious functions. Moreover, during the Ramzan month of fasting, Muslims have the Iftaar, when communities share a meal to break their collective fast.
Sadly our celebrations of the Eucharist or Mass have become so ritualized that they remain exclusive and in many ways distant.
The dining table in Indian culture is generally open to all people who are willing to accept an invitation to a meal, with the sad exception of caste and class.
An Indian Catholic Christian receives the Holy Eucharist during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on Feb. 10, 2016. Catholics began the 40-day Lenten season by observing Ash Wednesday, which culminates in Holy Week. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)
However, this can be overcome when we merge the table fellowship of Jesus with the temporal meal, as Jesus gives himself to all. He challenges us to be inclusive. We take extra care to make sure that food on the family table is fresh, tasty and suitable for all those who are gathered to eat. We also take care to respect religious sentiments and the different tastes of all the parties at the table, bringing in an element of solidarity as well. These positive aspects of sharing a meal are valuable in building a sense of community.
Small Christian Community (SCC) meetings often include shared food, and combining the spiritual and material in this way generates a positive feeling. Just as we do at the Eucharist, a fellowship meal can begin by welcoming, then go on to thank those who produced the food, who are almost always inadequately compensated and forgotten — for example, the farmers, vendors, cleaners and cooks. This helps to remind us of our social responsibilities.
A fellowship meal can also bring about reconciliation in the community or family. The sharing of the word using one of various gospel-sharing methods reminds us of our moorings with Jesus' teachings. In this setting, the Word of God is better internalized and implemented when shared with others. Sitting around the dining table, members share their joys, successes, disappointments and failures — and receive support and affirmation. This kind of sharing creates a greater understanding. It helps people bond and be more sensitive to each others' needs. It can truly make the home feel like a domestic church, and this is something that can be done once a day or at least once a week within the family. At special occasions, like feasts and birthday gatherings when extended families and friends or neighbors show up, the fellowship can focus on thanksgiving.
In the Small Christian Communities, a fellowship meal can be celebrated when the neighborhood community gathers to pray and share experiences based on reflections of gospel. The dining table will effectively enhance our celebration at the Eucharistic table when the sharing of a simple meal is tempered with values that flow into us through Jesus.
Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity and a theologian and freelance writer based in Mumbai.
In September 2017, Voices of Faith conducted a flash online survey for young women (ages 18-35) and invited them to share their perspectives on faith and the Catholic Church.
The survey does not statistically represent the views of young women but it offers a frank, authentic glimpse into the spiritual lives of young women from around the world who perhaps have little voice in official Church processes.
Survey respondents come from 22 countries from six continents. 53 percent of the respondents are students, while 68 percent stated that they hold full-time or part-time employment.
An estimated 300 young people from around the world will come to the Vatican March 19 - 24 for a week-long conference to prepare for the October meeting of Catholic bishops on issues facing the young today. But other young people can participate in this meeting via Facebook. The October Synod of bishops will be held between 3 and 28 October 2018 on the theme: "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment." Cardinal Baldisseri, who heads the Vatican's synod office, said the March pre-synod event will help the bishops direct their preparations for the later meeting. "We are not speaking only 'about' them but 'with' them: They will speak to us with their own language, their own enthusiasm, their sensibility....In short, even through the new technologies of communication, the pre-synod meeting wants to broaden as much as possible the audience of young people involved so that no one should feel excluded," Cardinal Baldisseri said.
"This is a step the Church is making to listen to all youth," said Stella Marilene Nishimwe, a participant in the pre-synod gathering. "It will give us an opportunity to say everything that we think. This is an opportunity that we must really take."
A young Burundi woman living in Italy, Nishimwe told journalists that she believes the March gathering is "something that God wants from the Church, to do something new for all the youth of the world."
"Because youth from all over the world, whether they are Catholics or from other religions, have the same questions," she said, adding that she thinks it is important that the Church wants to walk with young people "in this world with so much pain, with so many questions that don't have answers."
The pre-synod meeting will give young people - those present in Rome and those online via Facebook - an opportunity to interact with Pope Francis and ask him some questions. The participants will then be split into groups based on the languages they speak and will be asked to discuss specific topics in view of creating a final document from their meeting.
So, Millennials, don't miss this opportunity of a lifetime. Go now to sign up on Facebook and make your voices heard online at this important meeting. Don't let the Vatican operatives do an end-run around your parents. Take this opportunity to let Church leaders know what you want and need from the Church. Our fear, well founded based on research, is that the deck is being stacked with obedient "yes, father" youth to be the attendees sent by Bishops Conferences worldwide to the Pre-Synod meeting in March and the Synod on Youth scheduled for October 2018. If there is to be any change in the Church, if we are to return to the spirit of Vatican II and the message of Jesus Christ that love is the fulfilling of the law [Romans13: 8-10], we need many more young people to speak up and respond to Francis's outreach. It is crucial that the voices of young people reach the special meeting called by the Holy Father this March in preparation for the Synod on youth in October. Learn more about this meeting and learn more about signing up on Facebook.
In an NCR article, it is reported that a study asks: Why are young Catholics going, going, gone? It is a well-known fact that vast numbers of young people have turned away from the Church. Why? Because they are more open to a rapidly changing world, having grown up in it without the prejudices of prior generations. From this vantage point, they see the grace of God in fresher and more vibrant terms than a Church governed by older generations. Whether it's feelings of being judged by religious leaders who don't know or understand them, or being forced by their parents to attend church, or witnessing the sexual abuse scandal and the hypocrisy of church hierarchy, young people are expressing a desire both to break free from organized religion and to be part of a community. From the perspective of those of us interested in bringing about needed reform in the church, there are certain topics that Church hierarchy noticeably avoids, particularly those directly related to:
This is a time for bringing these and other issues up that represent the wants and needs of youth today.