1. The Malaysian Situation
We are a religiously pluralistic society. Our culture has been moulded by the many religions, all of which come from male-dominated traditions that uphold the male as the only recognised authority in the family and society. This has resulted in a culture where:
a) Boy babies are preferred to girl babies
b) Boys are given preference in education
c) Girls are brutally raped and murdered
d) Women are abused in the family
e) Women are forced into prostitution to provide for the needs of the family
f) Women are expected to sacrifice for the family
g) Women are rarely consulted or involved in decision-making
h) Women participation is dismally low in government
i) Organisations and facilities for women are sadly lacking.
Such a culture where one half of its members are less worthy, less privileged and less holy is unacceptable to us. We desperately need the change in mindset of both men and women to bring about a just society. Just as the Catholic Church is recognised for its leadership on issues of justice and solidarity with the poor, it is in a similar position of leadership and influence for the eradication of oppression of women. The Catholic Church would once again be able to assume such a position of leadership with the ordination of women to the priesthood. When women are admitted into the priesthood in the Catholic Church, its teaching that women and men are both equally made in the image of God would be credible. By this move, the Catholic Church would finally give due recognition to the dignity of women, and their role in society. In our society, this will go far in its impact on changing our culture, as a change in one religious community is likely to have an effect on the other communities.
2. The Malaysian Catholic Church
From our many years of interactions with bishops, priests, religious, lay leaders and laity, we realize that the Catholic Church is dissonantly silent, disinterested, and even evasive when it comes to women’s issues. While some of the other religious communities have begun to accept and recognise women in positions of leadership, the Catholic Church instead restricts the role of the women and ignores their significant contribution to the life of the Catholic community. Our bishops, priests, religious, lay leaders and laity must be made aware that there are strong and valid counter arguments for the ordination of women; and that when women are admitted to the priesthood,
a) we need not have communities that are not able to celebrate the Eucharist once a week
b) we need not have priests who cannot be effective pastors because they have more than one community under their care
c) we will have a more holistic ministry drawn from the experiences of both men and women
d) we will have more effective pastoral care
e) we will not have women’s issues (e.g. single mothers, sexual discrimination, violence against women, domestic violence, etc.) sidelined
f) we will have decisions that take into consideration the effect on both men and women
3. Importance of the Internet
Every member should be knowledgeable on current issues and developments in the Catholic Church. We should be encouraged to take an active interest in such issues and participate in discussions and the exchange of ideas to ensure that our faith will continue to be relevant in our lives. However, the Catholic Church in Malaysia seems to operate along the principle that we only need to know what the Church has to say. It is generally too expensive for most of us from Asia to subscribe to journals and magazines or purchase books and documents. Furthermore, this is severely hampered where local policies and conditions restrict the availability of literature of a religious nature.
With significant developments in telecommunications technology, more and more people have access to the Internet, which is fast becoming an inexpensive means of getting up-to-date information. Many of us have found significant and useful information available on the Internet, and have even exchanged ideas, perspectives, viewpoints and experiences with the larger community. We have come to realize that many around the world hold opposing viewpoints and perspectives from that of the official Church, and these have spurred us to discern and critically reflect on the teachings of the Church and our faith in relation to our situation.
On the issue of the ordination of women, the position taken by the Vatican is very clear. As such, it is left to a website like www.womenpriests.org to give the avenue for expression to those who sincerely believe that women have a substantial role to play in the growth, and indeed the survival, of the Church, especially in Asia. In the light of the above narrative, we the undersigned support the application for funding for the building up and maintenance of www.womenpriests.org.
18 August 2002
The 22 Catholic and 5 Protestant signatories of this letter were members of
Malaysian Women in Ministry and Theology (MWMT)
The Asian Women’s Resource Centre for Culture and Theology (AWRC)
Fostering Inter-Religious Encounters (FIRE)
All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Coordination of Action Research on Aids and Mobility in Asia (CARAM) and
Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC).