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Should Women be Silent in the Church?


Address to a Meeting of the

National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, October, 1982

(The Baltimore Catholic Worker, Viva House)

When we begin, as I have, to become very sensitive to the understanding of feminism and women's liberation, it is a profound experience for us because it basically says to me that we have been looking at life with only one eye open. When you open the other eye, you have to look differently at everything, not just ordination, or not just women in ministry.

I think it is important, especially for priests and other men, to understand what the issue is and to know how important it is before we begin to talk about it.

First, its a question of faith and revelation. We believe that in creation and in redemption women and men are both equal. They were created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the story of the 5th. grade girl who wrote a letter to God and said: "Dear God, I know that you are a man, but please try to be fair".

Secondly, the Church as an institution and a community has to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus. The Church has developed a social teaching based on 'uniqueness of the human person. This is the basis of all our social teaching.

Thirdly, therefore, it is an issue of justice and equality. It is an issue for the Church's credibility as a sacrament of unity. We do not have a right to tell society how to structure its policies on women in the work force if we do not put into practice our own teaching. I think this is the nub of the issue.

 Fourthly, the question of women is an issue of the mission and ministry of the Church. If we are to fulfil the beautiful idea of the Church in the modern world, we no longer can rely on the male celibate priest to a take all the responsibility; or secondarily to share it with women religious in the traditional sense.

Fifthly, there is the issue of profound alienation in the loss of gifts to the Church's mission and ministry. We know, of course, that we are not talking about all women. There is a real debate among women themselves on what equality means. Yet we believe the truth is leading us to see that serious discrimination has been practised in the Church.

(Bishop Murphy died in 1999)

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