Friday, January 8, 2016

Virginia Azcuy: "Women in the diaconate is a matter of justice"

By Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 28, 2015

Consecrated in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Virginia Azcuy assumes her theological work as a ministry of the Church. Her reflection seeks to help establish a dialogue based on what the Bible and tradition tell us, highlighting the importance that women have in the life of the Church and society.

Is it hard to be a feminist and a Catholic theologian?

It's demanding, because some consider them to be two opposing visions. However, in the view of many feminist theologians what we want is a dialogue, which is not only a priority but also an urgent need in our time. Feminist critique seeks greater justice and dignity of life for women and for everyone.

In that sense, the search for greater dignity, for respect for human life is a quest that can be rooted in the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus who promised us a full life and in abundance. So feminist theology, or theological feminism, are understood as a search for roots in the Gospel of the Good News not just for everyone in general, but also for women in particular.

Not just in the Bible but also in the Documents of Vatican II...

I speak of the Bible in the first place as a source of Christianity, but certainly we find in the Tradition of the Church -- also in the Magisterium, especially starting in the twentieth century -- positions that go in this direction. In this regard, a recovery of the foundations for this dialogue between feminism and Christianity based on the Second Vatican Council is very important, since some separate -- improperly from my point of view -- the vision of the Church and the vision of feminism or the dignity of women as if they were different things, when in fact they aren't opposed.

What is seen here in this attempted dividing of the waters -- dignity of women yes, feminism no -- is an attempt to domesticate the issue of the dignity of women and their advancement, in the sense that it tries to take on advancement in its discourse, but on the critical aspects of a deeper transformation of the Church and of the cultural and anthropological vision, no steps are taken decisively. And in this sense, despite the openness of Vatican II, there needs to be acceptance and much greater depth in terms of Church, theology and cultural transformation.

It's a fact that in the Catholic Church, the majority are women and they're on the back burner. What would be the reasons for this situation?

It's similar to the presence of the poor in history, who are a majority. However, they're in a place of subordination. Also in the Church, women are a majority, but their access to participation in decision-making, in theological reflection, in the structure of the Church is very limited. In that sense, although there are exceptions of course, one can still speak of a subordinate, unequal participation, that fails to value, to make room for what is proper, specific and different to women in the different levels and forms of integration and incorporation.

Therefore we hold that indeed this dignity is given through baptism, but in the real and concrete forms of participation, we see that a higher level of cooperation, reciprocity, integration isn't achieved. That, from my point of view implies that the actual recognition of the experiences and voices of women and baptismal ministries of women isn't where it ought to be. And that means that, even if there's a majority presence, it remains a minority presence, which makes many women, who aren't willing to wait forever, seek other places to live Christianity outside the institutional framework of the Church. And this is really serious, because women end up being strangers in their own home.

But it's something that Pope Francis is demanding from the Church itself. Although we don't know if that will be taken up by the bishops, the priests ... To what extent has the Pope's position been enough? Should these different words of the Pope be more incisive?

It's a good start that he's demanding a more effective presence of women in the Church, especially in the areas of decision-making. If only that were implemented, we would be facing a revolution of unpredictable magnitude. What happens is that, as with other reform terms he is proposing, even though they're only the beginning of what needs to be done, there is no translation to the bases.

One example is the fact that in Vatican II there were women auditors present, which was an unprecedented, unheard of event. What would happen if at all the bishops' conferences there were women theologian auditors present? The conferences don't dare to talk with the women theologians. The bishops have male theologians as expert advisers, but no women theologians, with a few exceptions.

We women theologians are making a very solitary way within the Church, and I really think the grace of our vocation could contribute effectively. Something similar is also happening with other ministries of women in the Church, which have to fight for space and sometimes have a hard time finding openness to their contributions.

So I think that yes, it is indeed good news that the Bishop of Rome is opening the way, but the bishops all over the world, of every country, should do it. Every Conference should take those steps, give those signals, and I think there still isn't a perception, an awareness of this urgency, of this need. We're talking about the majority of women in the Church in service roles, who aren't provided with sufficient space for a voice of their own, for a specific contribution, for a critique that should be welcomed in terms of difference.

What is missing to bring about an ecclesiology of greater shared responsibility and participation?

You have to acknowledge that we're taking steps, but all this ecclesiology of the People of God, of equal dignity of the sons and daughters of God must translate into structures and possibilities of space for new voices, in new places and recognition for ministries of lay men and women, new places for the prophetic in not just male but female consecrated life, always very involved with projects in difficult places and critiques of our culture and society, and this too should have a space within the church institution, not just on the margins.

Why this fear, this apprehension about giving prominence to women in the Church?

That's what I'm wondering. I think in part it's fear, conscious or unconscious, of difference, otherness, of accepting criticism, of the demands or challenges to change that are going to come up. But all these fears are paralyzing us, and the way the Spirit is precisely the reverse: Don't be afraid! The Spirit of the Lord is the one that moves to transformation, openness, otherness, dialogue. A path of transformation in fidelity to the Spirit and the times, from our tradition and roots, can not be paralyzed in fear, because fear closes us down and the Spirit opens us to what's new. That's a challenge, in fidelity not only to the Gospel, but also to history.

Pedro Casaldáliga says that whoever has faith and lives in faith, can not be afraid.

In that sense, there is a strong challenge of conversion. Fear is human, but it puts the brakes on the dynamics of the Spirit.

In the last Synod, the Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher proposed the ordination of women deacons, which is something that already exists under another name in many base ecclesial communities, where there are many women community facilitators, ministers of the Word, ministers of the Eucharist ... who really have become the leaders of the community, guiding it day to day. Why isn't this recognized? Why is it always on the shelf?

Women in the diaconate is a matter of justice. There tends to be a separation, which is artificial, between charisms and ministries. Ministries are proper to priests and are identified with the ordained ministries and the laity and consecrated life are part of the charismatic dimension of the Church. But that's an artificial division.

It's important that lay ministries and charisms of the consecrated life, of prophecy, of the lay diversity, be recognized at the structural level of the Church and that they have a place of visibility, that charisms of men, of women be able to have their place. This lack of recognition also means a block or closedness to a greater plurality and diversity within the People of God and the institutional structure of the Church.

It's very important that this step is being taken, not only that in fact the services and ministries are being done, but that there be an official recognition of them, because that means that not only are they being done, but that by the will and choice of the institution they are being recognized, not remaining confined to the margin or invisibility, or mere gratuity -- which is a good thing, but puts these ministries at a lower level, if the step of recognition is missing.

That it be an ecclesial choice and not just a response to a need.

Exactly. That it's not just something free, that it's a gift of the Church, recognized and supported by the Church. A ministry and commission imply a blessing, a gift of grace that is accepted, appreciated, valued and promoted. All that is missing.

But in fact this is something that exists in some dioceses, where the bishops send forth women ministers of the Word, of the Eucharist, through a rite of commissioning which is an ecclesial acknowledgment.

That's important, but it's not widespread. That must be taken into account further. Here fear appears again, when they say that by giving ministries to laypeople, it clericalizes them, which isn't true, because ministry means service, a role and we must recognize that diversity. If not, we are tending towards a church that is still very hierarchical and isn't able to be open to this diversity and plurality.

It's very difficult to preach the equality of the baptized, if we don't come to a recognition of this ministerial diversity. And I'm saying this from my ministry as a theologian. I have no pretenses to ordained ministry personally, nor do I aim to be ordained a deacon. It's not me who's at stake in this issue. I simply see that there's a diversity of lay ministries and women who have no recognition, and in fact are being performed within the Church.

Do women trust women in the Church?

That's a very important element. There is great solidarity and cooperative networking among women and there are also differences, because we don't all have the same view with reference to incorporation, the way of working. I think in general, the ability we women have to work in relationship, cooperatively, reciprocally, is highlighted in our way of doing theology, carrying out the work in networks or with various organizations, promoting other women. Here I want to highlight the work that has been done for many years by women in the consecrated life with their dedication to education and various kinds of support, hospitality, advancing the dignity of women.

In this sense, steps are being taken, such as the Congress of Women Theologians that will take place in March in Argentina. What are they looking for with this Congress?

It's the 2nd Congress of Latin American and German Women Theologians, the result of cooperation between two groups of women theologians -- in Argentina, "Teologanda" and, in Germany, AGENDA, the Forum of Catholic Women Theologians. Within this collaboration, our goal is also to include Latin American women theologians who are already working, or who are getting started and want to be strengthened in their academic training, their employability.

It's a Congress that has this accent on women theologians, although it's open to male theologians, and seeks to emphasize the aspect of visibility and the need for more advancement in our context and also to give a sign in academia, so it will take place in the arena of the School of Theology at the Catholic University of Argentina, since many women have their academic training that they develop in areas of education, pastoral work, and catechesis and we also feel strongly that women theologians with preparation can work in the field of academia and the training of future priests and various pastoral agents of the People of God.

The theme we'll be taking up is "Spaces of Peace: signs of the times and women's stories," and we want with this theme also to contribute to an urgent issue of our time, very necessary and not worked on much at the theological level, to make a specific contribution to dialogue between different cultures and experiences, also with male colleagues -- peace-building in a world threatened by war.

The participation of women theologians in the formation of future priests, shouldn't it be fostered more to teach priests to be more maternal and a better presence of this God who is Mother?

This is what we talked about earlier, about the difficulty of taking on the issue of women, their dignity, feminism. It has to do with the fact that there is still little presence of women theologians in the formation arenas who can transmit and communicate this vision, this need, this perspective. Therefore, the presence of women in the formation of future priests should be further deepened, as it doesn't always find sufficient reception. There is resistance in some cases from a different perspective. It's a necessary contribution, virtually essential for a more inclusive vision and ministry within the Church. Yes, women can contribute the maternal aspect especially.

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