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.

Reinstituting women deacons

By Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Sol de México
August 11, 2016

SEEING

"After intense prayer and mature reflection, His Holiness has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women," the Holy See press room announced. Thus he fulfilled what he had offered to the International Union of Superiors General, who made the proposal to him. What does this mean and what does it imply? Will it be a path for women to be able to be ordained priests?

In the first centuries of the Church there were women deacons. Saint Paul mentions one: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. Receive her well, as should be done among Christians and holy brothers and sisters, and help her in everything she needs, since many are in debt to her, and I as well." (Rom 16:1-2)

What did they do? As the baptism of adults by immersion was the custom and they would go down into the water without any clothes to dress in a white tunic afterwards, it wasn't proper for this celebration to be performed by the bishop, the priests, or the male deacons, therefore women deacons were established to baptize the women. Also, when there were complaints from the wives that their husbands had hit them, the women deacons would have to check the women's bodies to prove the wounds and bruises. It wasn't prudent for the men to make such a review. Moreover, it was customary to anoint the sick on the parts of their body that were hurting. It was appropriate for such service to be given by the women. Over time, these customs changed and women deacons disappeared. There is no evidence that they received sacramental ordination, but it was a service that they gave in the community.

THINKING

Is it appropriate for them to be instituted again today? Before Vatican Council II (1962-65), the diaconate was only for celibate men being prepared for the priesthood. The Council re-established the permanent diaconate "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service" (LG 29), to provide some services such as administering baptism, assisting at weddings, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass, giving the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, celebrating the funerals of the dead, giving various blessings. This diaconate was conferred on married men and there are currently thousands throughout the Church. They don't celebrate Mass or hear confessions or anoint the sick sacramentally. Whether the diaconate can also be conferred upon women is being studied.

What could they do? The same thing as male deacons. However, for these celebrations you don't need women deacons. The bishop can authorize women catechists, the wives of permanent deacons, nuns, and other adequately prepared women to perform them. In compliance with the norms of the Church, I have delegated two indigenous women to baptize and preside at marriages in remote places where the presence of a priest is rare and there are no male deacons.

The potential women deacons getting to be ordained priests is completely excluded. That has been finalized since 1994 by Pope John Paul II: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).

ACTING

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten the Pope to decide what is most appropriate. Meanwhile, let us continue giving women their rightful place in the Church and in society.

Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico