African Catholic women and leadership
The continent of Africa has 150 million Catholics, half of whom are women. Among these women we find professors, doctors, politicians and others with important social responsibilities. Catholic women provide valuable services to their own communities, but no woman in the Church may receive sacred ordination or exercise spiritual leadership.
There are 100,000 Catholic religious women in Africa, of whom many administer schools, hospitals, universities and other institutions. But in the Church they may only perform secondary ministries, like this African nun who distributes communion in a priestless parish. They may not preside at eucharistic worship, preach, hear confession or take decisions.
The Church provides education to 6 million girls in primary schools, to 1.2 million girls in secondary schools and 13,000 girls in Catholic universities.
- What image of womanhood do they acquire?
- Are they being formed to creative responsibility and leadership?
- What principles of social ethics and morality of marriage are they taught?
Women and AIDS
One relevant example is the question of AIDS in Africa. It is an enormous problem. During the last two decades 24 million died of AIDS, 2.3 million in 2003 alone. In some countries 40% of the population is infected. In a patriarchal society it frequently is the women and their children who are the innocent victims.
It is tragic that the official teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, still declare the use of contraceptives ‘intrinsically evil’ in any circumstances, including during an epidemic like AIDS. According to official Roman Catholic teaching, women may not protect themselves against the advances of their husbands, even if they are infected with AIDS.
The origin of this misguided prohibition lies not only in a wrong interpretation of Christian principles, but also in the fact that women have no say in these matters. Everything is decided by men.
In the West, most thinking Catholics ignore such moral prohibitions which they recognise to be flawed. 80% of Catholic couples in Europe and North America have adopted the responsible use of contraceptives in their marriage. But where does that leave uneducated people who depend on their local leaders for guidance?
If women were given access to the thinking and decisionmaking in the Church, many accents would shift. More attention would be given to the protection of women in families, to family planning and the prevention of AIDS by a responsible use of contraceptives, to fighting exploitation and traffic in prostitutes.
The undervaluation of woman in the African Church cannot be solved just locally. It requires a thorough reform of the whole Church which legitimizes that undervaluation. Please, help us do just that!