Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Women cardinals?

The online world is buzzing about an article by journalist Juan Arias, respectfully suggesting to Pope Francis that if he wants to give women a greater role in the Church, the method of least resistance would be to open the diaconate to women and then, since Canon Law allows deacons to be cardinals, promote a woman to cardinal. Here is Arias' article, followed by a response from Italian church historian, journalist, and contributor to L'Osservatore Romano, Lucetta Scaraffia.

A woman cardinal?

By Juan Arias (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País
September 22, 2013

It's not a joke. It's something that has crossed Pope Francis' mind: naming a woman cardinal. Those who know him, in and out of the Society of Jesus, before coming to the Chair of Peter, say that the first Jesuit pope is called to surprise us each day not only with his words but also, and especially, with his gestures. He's been doing that in the first six months of his pontificate.

Those who think that Francis, with his provincial priest's simplicity, plain language and a smile always on his lips, is a simpleton or naive, are wrong. This pope, who doesn't seem like a pope, has come to Rome from the periphery of the Church with a very specific program: to change not only the rusty apparatus of the ecclesial bureaucracy but also to resurrect original Christianity.

The symbolism of his gestures started the moment he appeared on the center balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, dressed in white, calling himself "bishop" and asking the people in the square to bless him. Since then, he hasn't missed a minute in sowing his first months of papacy with unexpected gestures to the consternation of many, in and out of the Church.

And he'll go on doing it. For example, with this plan to make a woman a cardinal. He knows that the women's issue in the Church has yet to be resolved and can't wait. He made it clear in two soundbites in his last interview in Civiltá Católica: "The Church cannot be herself without women." It's not just a statement. It's an accusation. The sentence could also be interpreted this way: "The Church is not yet complete because it lacks women."

Francis deems that solving the issue of women in the Church is no longer something that can be postponed. How to introduce into the Church this essential piece without which the Church "cannot be herself"? He said it in the same interview: "We need a profound theology of women."

And that theology, the pope implied, caninot be built in the laboratory of the Vatican, sponsored by power. Women are already building it within the Church. "Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed," he says.

Francisco wants to solve that problem during his pontificate because he is convinced that the Church today is one-handed and one-legged without women in their rightful place, which would be neither more nor less than the one they had in early Christianity, where they exerted a huge role. At least until Paul coined his theology of the cross, masculinized the Church, and turned it into a hierarchy.

The pope knows that to carry out the revolution he has in mind, he needs to "listen" to the Church, not only the one on top, but also the one below, where women are asking "deep questions."

He could, however, open the way himself with some gestures that would force the Church to put women's issues urgently on the table or, if you prefer, on "the altar." And one of those gestures would be to appoint a woman cardinal. Which is impossible? No. Today, according to canon law, there can be cardinals who aren't priests; it's enough for them to be deacons.

But it's that women, some might say, can't even be deacons today like they were 800 years ago and especially in the first Christian communities. Well that's also one of the reforms Francis has in mind. It's not about some dogma. Women could be admitted to the diaconate tomorrow.

As Phyllis Zagano of Loyola University in Chicago, the greatest expert in the Church on this issue, has written, "the female diaconate is not a concept for the future. It's a present topic, for today." And she says she broached the subject with Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope and that he answered that it was "something that is being studied." With Benedict XVI, it was in the pipeline, but Pope Francis could accelerate the process. Today, the Armenian Apostolic and the Greek Orthodox churches, both linked to Rome, have women deacons.

Once women have reached the diaconate, he could then, without changing current Canon Law, make a woman cardinal with the title of deaconess. Moreover, one would just have to change the current rule to allow a lay person, and, as such, a woman, to be chosen as cardinal, since there have been at least two cases in the Church in which two laymen have been named cardinal: the Duke of Lerma in 1618 and Teodolfo Mertel in 1858. [Translator's note: The names of some additional lay cardinals can be found here.]

Cardinalship does not imply priestly or episcopal consecration. Cardinals are the pope's advisers and their main function is to elect the new successor of Peter. Is there anything unsuitable about a woman being able to give her vote in the silence of the conclave? Would her vote be worth less than a man's?

One Jesuit told me, "Knowing this pope, his hand wouldn't tremble while making a woman a cardinal and he would even be delighted to be the first pope to allow a woman to be able to participate in the election of a new pope."

When Francis, in his long interview, stresses that he doesn't want to make changes abruptly and that before doing so, he prefers to "listen" to the Church, it's because he already has those changes -- some of which are surprising -- in mind, maybe well enumerated. He just wants to present them not only with the support of the hierarchy but of the people of God.

With this pope, as Federico Fellini would say, "the ship sails." With Francis, the pillars of the Church begin to move. And many begin to tremble. From fear. Inside, not outside the Church. Outside, notes of amazement and even disbelief are resounding. "With this pope, I almost want to become Catholic," one reader wrote yesterday in this newspaper.

Something is moving, perhaps irreversibly, in the Church just at the moment when in the secular political world, in the field of modernity, all the clocks seem to have stopped at once.

A woman cardinal: Pope Francis grapples with the last taboo

by Lucetta Scaraffia (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Il Messaggero

Appoint a woman cardinal: the hypothesis-proposal in El Pais is not entirely new. Other voices have spoken up over the years -- personally I want to remember the great British anthropologist Mary Douglas, a Catholic -- to point out this main way to give power and thus increase the authority of women in the Church. The appointment would have the great advantage of being possible, without involving the thorny problem of the priestly ordination of women. It would constitute a powerful and significant act of change, of the sort we have gotten used to expecting from Pope Francis. And it would not be very surprising, in the end, after listening to the challenging words pronounced recently by the Pope about the role of women in the Church.

Certainly, it would be a revolution strong enough to shake the position of distrust and disinterest that much of the clergy take against women -- religious and lay -- because it is now clear that the exhortations, advanced by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to take into account the presence of women in various ways, have only borne modest fruit. Pope Francis has spoken bluntly of women in important positions, but it's not easy to achieve a decisive reform. Sure, to everyone - that is, to the world outside of the church hierarchy - it seems very strange, and in particular clearly wrong, that there are no women in leading positions in the decision-making bodies such as the pontifical councils that deal with issues that affect them personally. There are no women, in fact, in the institute that regulates the issues of men and women religious - even though women make up two-thirds of the total number of religious, or on the Pontifical Council for the Laity, of which, of course, at least half are women, on the Pontifical Council for the Family, where their presence should be obvious. But even in the institute that regulates health care, largely handled - and well - by women's congregations. And we must not forget that women should participate in the decisions of a cultural nature, and those regarding communications. In both areas, outside of the Church, but also within it, women now hold important roles, demonstrating great skill.

And again, why, in the congregations preceding the conclave, could the cardinal electors not have had the opportunity to even listen to a woman, religious or lay? Today, women refuse to be represented by men on every occasion, and demand, quite rightly, to be heard. What is missing in Church is just that: a willingness to listen to women, who are regarded only as obedient executors of the directives of others, or providers of domestic services.

Forgetting that the Church really owes a lot to women who have been -- and still are -- a part of it. What would mysticism be without Teresa of Avila? And who brought the most widespread devotion in the world by far, that is, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, if not a French nun, Marguerite Marie Alacoque? And how much does it owe to all the founders of the 800 active life congregations that have created a network of schools, hospitals, orphanages, providing the Church - at a time of great anticlerical tension - a positive and useful image to society that has ensured the loyalty of many believers now in the balance? Even today, women religious are in the heart of all difficult and painful situations, and they know how to act with courage and common sense, neither seeking nor expecting any recognition. And what about the cloistered nuns, who sustain the faith of all of us, and the purity of the Church, with their incessant prayer? And the many catechists who assist the increasingly overworked and often depressed pastors?

It seems incredible that the church hierarchy thinks that these women have nothing to say, nothing interesting to suggest. That they are not, that is, indispensable interlocutors to create a viable future for the Church.

But Pope Francis, who wants above all to "warm hearts", knows that women are masters at doing so, and that a different, more alive future cannot be achieved without their active contribution.

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