Friday, August 26, 2016

Francis, Jesus and women

By Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
O Globo (em português)
August 6, 2016

Pope Francis has named a commission to analyze whether women should have access to the diaconate, as already occurs with single and married men. In the hierarchy, the deacon occupies a grade below the priesthood. He can preside at marriages and baptize, but he can't celebrate Mass. There were women deacons in the early Church.

In many countries, including in Brazil, there are already women religious who, authorized by the local bishop, preside at marriages and celebrate baptisms, although they aren't women deacons.

Francis is very clever. Instead of imploding the building with dynamite, he prefers to demolish it brick by brick. It's what he's doing by fiddling around with issues that, for centuries, have been frozen by the taboos surrounding traditional Catholic doctrine -- remarriages, access of the divorced to the sacraments, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy, corruption in the Roman Curia, strict punishment for pedophiles, etc.

There is no biblical basis for excluding women from the priesthood or even from the right to be bishops and popes. The big obstacle is the patriarchal culture that was predominant in the early centuries of Christianity and is still in vogue in the Catholic Church.

Matthew points out five women in Jesus' genealogical tree: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary, and, implicitly, Solomon's mother, the one "who was the wife of Uriah." It isn't quite an ancestry of which any of us would be proud.

A widow, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law and beget a son of the same blood as her late husband. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabite, i.e. a pagan in the eyes of the Hebrews. The one "who was the wife of Uriah," Bathsheba, was seduced by David while her husband was at war. And Mary, mother of Jesus, didn't escape others' suspicions either because she appeared pregnant even before she married Joseph. As you see, the Son of God entered human history through the back door.

Jesus was accompanied by the Twelve and some women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's procurator, Susanna, "and several others," says Luke (8:1). Therefore, Jesus wasn't a chauvinist at all. And in Bethany, he used to frequent the home of his friends Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters.

The first apostle was a woman: the Samaritan who dialogues with Jesus by the side of Jacob's well and then goes out to proclaim that she has met the Messiah. The first witness to the resurrection was Mary Magdalene. And by healing Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus showed that the priesthood and celibacy are not associated. Peter was married and that didn't keep him from being chosen as the first Pope.

Misogyny is, in the Catholic Church, an unjustifiable syndrome, especially when we consider that in rural communities and those on the urban outskirts, it's mainly women who lead the pastoral activity. Today, fortunately, a number of married women, including in Brazil, hold the title of doctor in theology.

The theology of my confrere Thomas Aquinas dates from the thirteenth century and still serves as the foundation for official Catholic doctrine. Today it requires updating, like on the aspect of women, considered to be ontologically inferior beings to men. Which is why the freed slave can be a priest, but not women.

There is not one case in the gospels where Jesus repudiated a woman -- as he did with Herod Antipas -- or uttered curses upon them, as he did with the scribes and Pharisees. With them, he showed himself merciful, warm, and affectionate, and he extolled their faith and love.

The time has come for the Church to assume its feminine side and open all of its ministries to women. In the end, half of humanity are women. And the other half are children of women.

Frei Betto is a writer, author of "Um homem chamado Jesus" ("A man called Jesus" -- Rocco), among other books.

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