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Non-reception by the faithful of teaching on exclusion of women

Non-reception by the faithful of teaching on exclusion of women

From Woman and Man:
One in Christ Jesus
, Report on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia; published by Harper Collins Religious, Australia 1999, pp. 375, 382-384. The book is available from Harper Collins in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA.

“The findings of the research from the written submissions, public hearings and targeted groups indicated that the question of the ordination of women has not been resolved in that it had not been received by the faithful of the Church as expressive of their Catholic belief.” (p. 384)

This is a very important research project, sponsored by the Australian Bishops’ Conference. Its subject was: The Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia. Information was gathered from all the dioceses, religious congregations, schools, Catholic organizations and movements, and from individuals. The outcome shows that the faithful have not received the official teaching by Rome on the exclusion of women from the ordained ministries.

We just publish here some short excerpts from this large and detailed 496-page study.

Feelings of Pain and Alienation Expressed by Participants in the Written Submissions, Public Hearings and Targeted Groups (9.4.4)

The dominant feeling of participants in the written submissions, public hearings and targeted groups was one of pain and alienation. A dichotomous relationship with the Church was experienced by both individuals and groups characterised by such feelings as love and commitment yet anguish and alienation. Pain, alienation and often anger resulted from a strong sense of women’s marginalisation, struggle, disenfranchisement, powerlessness, irrelevance and a lack of acknowledgment within the Church. The frustration yet persistence of both women and men in trying to stay in the Church despite their dissatisfaction with the Church’s treatment of women was evident. The frankness and sadness of those who had left the practice of the faith and of those who have considered “unbecoming” a Catholic as a result of the Church’s treatment of women were obvious. It was clear that many people have hope but in many cases it is faint. There was a heightened sense of frustration at the blockage of the much-needed gifts of women from service to the Church.

The sense of alienation and anguish resulting from the issues concerning women and the Church was shown by all categories of individuals and groups such as the young and elderly, women and men, laity and religious, and was not characteristic of any particular group. It was reported that many of the Australian Catholic women, involved in the ecumenical movement, both within Australia and internationally, experience quite acute frustration and anger with the Catholic Church today. Unlike their counterparts in other Christian churches where all roles of ministry and witness are now available to women, they feel consistently debarred from participating in any significant decision-making, leadership or consultative roles within their own Church. For them, the Catholic Church, in stark contrast to most other Christian churches in Australia today, continues to pursue a policy of gender discrimination and inequality. This situation they both lament and deplore.

Patriarchal and Hierarchical Nature of the Church Seen as the Fundamental Barrier to Women's Participation (9.7.3)

The fundamental barrier concerned patriarchal attitudes and traditions, which were seen to be iinconsistent with the person and message of jesus Christ, and which failed to take into account developments in the social sciences and changes in the role of women in the wider society. It was felt that such attitudes had been reinforced by Pope John Paul II and the Vatican bureaucracy in recent times to the detriment of the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The structures óf the Church were experienced as male-dominated, hierarchical and authoritarian. Authoritarian attitudes and the misuse of power and position were seen as serious barriers to women’s participation.

A fixation on rules and regulations, a rigid and unbending manner, and a lack of compassion and openness to dialogue were frequently-cited characteristics of a Church in need of renewal. The negative attitude towards women on the part of some of the clergy, especially parish priests, was also experienced as a significant obstacle.

Discrimination in the Church on the Basis of Gender (9.7.4)

The failure of the Church to grant equal roles and status to women was experienced as a most significant barrier. The lack of gender equality and the exclusion of women from some areas of the Church’s ministry and governance, sometimes described in terms of the “sin of sexism”, were a source of alienation for both women and men. Many areas of Church life, whether in teachings or actual practice, were seen to exclude women’s views, experiences and involvement either directly or indirectly. The issue of gender equality was raised in terms of both theology and justice. Fundamental issues concerning the theology of personhood and the theology of sexuality were seen to underpin the Church’s position on the role and status of women. It was felt that basic theological principles, such as the true and equal dignity of all men and women, made in God’s image and likeness, and the goodness of sexuality, receive inconsistent treatment in the teaching and practice of the Church. For many people in the Church, the exclusion of women from leadership and decision-making roles meant that women were treated as second-class citizens. Within Catholic organisations in Australia, a lack of mentoring for women and a lack of affirmative action policies were identified as barriers. Further, it was considered that the Church was not reflecting sound advances in society. This gap between the ecclesiastical and secular worlds was experienced as a scandal, as it was felt that the Church should be leading the way in the recognition and promotion of the true equality of all people. The absence of young women in the Church was evidence of a disparity between the attitudes of society and Church towards women.

Exclusion from Decision-Making and Leadership (9.7.5)

The exclusion of women from the decision-making processes of the Church was seen as a most significant barrier to full participation of women and a serious impediment to sound decision-making in the Church. Decisionmaking and leadership were generally seen as being concentrated in the hands of the clergy and Bishops, who are all male and celibate, ìn a hierarchical leadership model. This situation effectively excluded all women and married people from mast decision-making in the Church. It was strongly felt that women were excluded from decision-making even concerning issues which directly affected them, especially moral teachings on issues such as sexuality, contraception, marriage, divorce and abortion. Because of the gender barriers to leadership, the Church was thought to be deprived of both the views and approaches of women. Even where women are present in such roles, the processes were still seen to be male-oriented. Further, it was felt that current leadership in the Church was not exercised in a collaborative or accountable manner. Not only were there few opportunities for input but there was also no forum for appeal against decisions.

Overall findings of the survey of Catholic organisations and theological institutions revealed that the participation of women as employees or students of these Catholic organisations is high, but at the senior level for both branches, that is, participation in leadership roles and in doctoral degree studies respectively, the percentage of women declines significantly. A cultural view was perceived that some positions, especially senior positions, must be held by men. The data from employer organisations highlight the structures and processes in Catholic Church organisations needing change to improve women’s participation, particularly in management-leadership roles.

Exclusion of Women from Priestly Ordination (9.7.6 )

The exclusion of women from ordination and from other crucial ministry roles such as the permanent diaconate was experienced as a major obstacle to the full participation of women. The exclusion of women from the priesthood was seen as a denial of women’s right by Baptism to full participation in the Church, as well as a denial of their gifts and talents in the service of Christ and the Church at a time a# great need. For many, the nature of ministry was viewed as the broader and more fundamental issue which needed to be addressed. It was stressed that what was important was the centrality of the Eucharist rather than an exclusively male priesthood. In various aspects of the research, it was noted that respondents were reticent to speak about the ordination of women, believing ìt to be “off limits” for the Project. Others took the pragmatic view that change was unlikely and therefore it would be more constructive and effective in the short term to turn one’s attention to other issues and strategies.

The ban on the discussion of the ordination of women was seen as a barrier and a matter of justice in the Church. There was much agreement, even among people who took differing positions, that the issue of women’s ordination be discussed. While views differed on the question of whether women should be ordained, there was support for an open discussion the issue.

The Question of the Ordination of Women Has Not Been Received by the Faithful as Expressive of their Catholic Belief (9.7.7)

The findings of the research from the written submissions, public hearings and targeted groups indicated that the question of the ordination of women has not been resolved in that it had not been received by the faithful of the Church as expressive of their Catholic belief. (bold print ours; editor)

This finding is supported by the results of the CCLS concerning respondents’ acceptance of the Church’s teaching on the ordination of women. Only 42 percent of Church attenders accepted the teaching with no difficulty. A particular characteristic of the response to the question on the ordination of women was the high number of respondents (27 percent) who stated that they do not accept the teaching that women cannot be ordained priests. Younger adults were most likely to reject the teaching on the ordination of women (34 percent of women and 28 percent of men aged 15 to 39) and these figures are only marginally higher than for women and men in their 40s and SDs. What is particularly noticeable is the quite high proportion of older respondents aged 60 or more who also reject this teaching - 20 percent of women and 23 percent of men. This contrasts sharply with the fact that only 3 percent of this age group do not accept the Church’s teaching authority in general.

Need for Action to Flow from Research Project

There were many expressions of gratitude to the Australian Bishops for the Research Project. It was seen as a sign of hope and a gesture of goodwill towards women in the Australian Church. However, there was also an accompanying concern about action flowing from the Project. The comment was frequently made that if there is no follow-up action from the Project by the Bishops, it would have been better if there had been no inquiry. (p. 375)

For more details of the findings see:

  1. Patriarchal and Hierarchical Nature of the Church Seen as the Fundamental Barrier to Women's Participation
  2. Dominant Common Characteristics of Perceptions Concerning the Participation of Women in the Church
  3. Two contrasting Perceptions of Women in the Catholic Church of Australia

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