Sunday, October 2, 2016
Women deacons and subordinates
September 28, 2016
Pope Francis has created a commission, formed by six men and six women and presided by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Spanish archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, to study the female diaconate in the Catholic Church. Four continents have been excluded from the commission -- Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania. There are 12 European members and one woman from the United States.
My opinion is that it is a commission as unnecessary as it is ineffective. Unnecessary because the study has already been done by exegetes, men and women theologians, and historians of Christianity. The conclusions have broad consensus among the researchers: Jesus of Nazareth formed a counter-hegemonic egalitarian movement of men and women who accompanied him along the roads of Galilee, sharing his itinerant lifestyle and assuming responsibilities with no discrimination whatsoever.
In the first centuries of Christianity there were women priests, deacons and bishops who exercised ministerial functions and leadership tasks until the Church became hierarchical, clericalized, and patriarchal and they were reduced to silence. Theologian Karen Torjesen's book, When Women Were Priests (HarperCollins, 1995) demonstrates it with all kinds of arguments -- archaeological, historical, theological, hermeneutical. The commission seems ineffective to me if the will is lacking to incorporate women into leadership roles, into direct access to the sacred without patriarchal mediation, and into the elaboration of doctrine and morals. And that will is lacking today. I am referring to the facts. In his encyclical, Inter Insigniores, Pope Paul VI shut and bolted the door to women's access to priestly ministry, alleging that Jesus Christ only ordained men.
His successors have repeated this very fallacious argument like a mantra. John Paul II, advised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, radicalized that closure by stating that the matter was settled definitively. Benedict XVI, knowledgeable as the theologian he was, about the existence of women deacons, priests and bishops in early Christianity, showed himself equally obstinate and followed the same path of obstruction to the priesthood of women. Pope Francis has ratified it again by citing John Paul II's forceful exclusionary statement.
SUBMISSION AND HUMILIATION
I am against the female diaconate because, if it is put in place institutionally, women would continue to be subordinate and at the service of the priests and bishops, not of the Christian community. I think it's time to move from the subordination of women to equality, from their submission to empowerment, from their dependency status to autonomy, from being decorative objects to active players. And that is not what is achieved with the female diaconate, but the opposite -- women's status as minors continues under the illusion that an important step forward is being taken and that they are being given prominence, when what is being done is perpetuating their state of humiliation and servitude. For a real change in the inferior status of women to occur, they need to be recognized as religious, ecclesial, ethical and theological players, which isn't happening now.
For that to happen it is necessary to look to the past, certainly, but not with the yearning to uncritically reproduce tradition, but rather with the aim to creatively recover the role that women played in Jesus' movement and in the early centuries of the Church. But, above all, we must look to the present and future to implement within the Church the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination that rules, however imperfectly, in society. One man, one woman, one vote; one Christian man, one Christian woman, one vote. All are equal through the common dignity that we men and women have, and that makes Christian men and women equal through baptism.
Any gender discrimination is contrary to human rights and the principle of brotherhood-sisterhood that should rule in the faiths. Without equality, the Church will continue to be one of the last -- if not the last -- bastions of patriarchy remaining in the world. In other words, it will remain a perfect patriarchy. And for that, it will not be able to appeal to Jesus of Nazareth, its founder, but to religious patriarchy, based on sacred masculinity, which appeals to the manly character of God to make man the only representative and spokesman of the Divine. As the feminist philosopher Mary Daly states,"If God is male, then the male is God." Pure patriarchy!