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Once again, women are being cast out of the Catholic Church

Once again, women are being cast out of the Catholic Church

by Angela M Cornyn, Sunday Independent 15th Oct. 2000.

The Irish Catholic bishops have now made their position on the role of women in the Church very clear. You are not wanted because you are female. No fine words, or vague inanities on the dignity of women, can cover up the misogynistic, male-dominated caste system it seeks to maintain at all costs.

On Wednesday last, the Irish Catholic bishops announced plans to introduce the permanent diaconate to Ireland whereby married men aged 35 and over and single men aged 25 or over could apply to become deacons. These men would be ordained ministers in the Church and thus belong to the clerical order.

This move by the bishops has been described by, it must stated, men as innovative, long overdue and to be welcomed unreservedly. Perhaps these are ‘’knee-jerk’’ reactions to a monolithic hegemony, which seems to move at a snail’s pace in implementing any change and responding to ‘’the signs of the times’’ as Vatican II urged.

As a lay Roman Catholic woman, I am appalled, angry and deeply saddened by the bishops’ decision. It is a black day for women who are theologically educated. It heralds the death knell for even the possibility of women’s ministerial involvement in the Church in the foreseeable future.

What is so different about this decision by the bishops? In the recent past, women have been told by the bishops that they cannot enter into dialogue on the issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood because Rome has ruled that not only is it not a possibility, it may not even be discussed.

On this occasion the bishops had a choice. They were free to act independently of Rome, for they were not under pressure to implement the permanent diaconate. However, they chose to reinforce the caste system in the Church by strengthening the clerical order. They could have chosen to open their doors to lay women, to employ them in parishes where already the priest shortage is beginning to hit. Yes, it would be done out of necessity rather than desire, but better that than not at all. In doing so, they would be recognising women’s talents and putting these at the disposal of the Christian community they purport to serve.

It cannot seek refuge in Rome or in the twin homes of scripture and tradition on this issue. It has laid its soul bare. One can only admonish them as a group for their lack of courage and vision at this time in our history.

At present in Ireland, there are hundreds of lay women who have filled the empty seminaries, which would have had to close but for their support. These women have studied theology for several years, at their own expense. They do not enjoy the cosseted environs of the seminarian; rather they incur great hardship, living often in rat-infested flats, working in part-time jobs and borrowing from family in order to survive; they are making a huge commitment to their faith and graduating with fine degrees but have no place to go but the dole office.

The bishops’ response to these women is that we are sorry but we do not have the money to employ you. Yet these bishops have no problem with funding the training of men for three years to become deacons.

I call on the women and men of Ireland to stand in solidarity with theologically educated women and refuse to accept male deacons. Do not collude in your own oppression. Let your voices be heard loud and clear, stop your financial support, vote with your feet and withdraw your presence and labour from an organisation which treats women as invisible. This is of discrimination against women. Justice must be done now.

* Angela M Cornyn is a lay Roman Catholic catechist, theologian and writer .


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