Editor’s Note: SMA missionaries have seen at first hand the crucial role of women in promoting and fostering the faith in Africa. In our early days, when the Word was but a seed, we watched as grandmothers, mothers and young women took it and, like Mary, pondered it in their hearts. Once there, they became the front line of our missionary outreach, working with deep faith and enthusiasm to nurture the living presence of Emmanuel within their families and communities.
We also have seen the work of our OLA Sisters: strong, determined, focused and compassionate, in making God’s presence real to the African people through the schools, social and medical projects they established and developed.
We know the time is ripe for a new conversation within the Church concerning the role of women in the Church. And there are strong role models to encourage us: Mary, the spouse of Joseph, was chosen to give birth to the Son of God; it was the women, including our Mother Mary, who stood by Jesus in his final hours on Calvary; and it was to the women, specifically Mary Magdalene, that the Risen Jesus appeared sending her to announce the Resurrection to the Apostles.
As it stands, the leadership of the Church is too male dominated. New mechanisms need to be established to ensure the Church is no longer deprived of half the wisdom and intelligence of humanity in making decisions that are for the health and the wellbeing of our collective Faith.
Below we bring news of an initiative seeking new avenues for Women in Church Decision-making. We live in critical times, when the world desperately needs a renewal in faith and fraternity. We must listen with open minds and hearts to what is being said and proposed.
Cardinal Arborelius of Sweden has used the momentum of his elevation to the college of cardinals to call for a creation of a women’s advisory group to the Pope. Voices of Faith welcomes this initiative and feels encouraged in its advocacy work. We share with you a White Paper that a group of Voices of Faith experts created in 2015. We believe wholeheartedly that women have to be part of the institutional design of the Church in the 21st Century. We have to act now because #AllVoicesCount.
Establish a Special Commission to Help Foster a More Incisive Presence for Women in the Catholic Church
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis acknowledges the “indispensible contribution” of women in the Church. Still, he calls for a “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church” (103).
More than ever, Catholic women and men understand that living the Gospel “demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity” (104).
Championing the church’s exhortation that the presence of women must “be guaranteed in the workplace,” Pope Francis makes it clear that this guarantee extends to the Church as well where “the feminine genius” can have an impact as “important decisions are made. “(103).
Affirming the Church’s teaching on the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood, he calls the Church forward knowing it will be a great challenge “to recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church’s life” (104).
In order to meet the challenge of understanding more fully the possibilities for women in decision-making in the Church, it is proposed that a special commission be established to advise the Pope.
The Special Commission for the Protection of Minors established by Pope Francis in December 2013 is a superb model for a specific commission aimed at incorporating women into decision-making roles in the Church. This model could be replicated to study, discern and make recommendations regarding the opportunities for strengthening and extending women’s roles.
Similar to the model commission established under Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s leadership, this special commission would include both men and women; ordained and lay; theologians and pastors from diverse regions of the world.
Undertaking a prescribed scope of work and making recommendations in accordance with the composition and competencies outlined by the Vatican such a special commission could:
- Study and report on the ways in which women have been included in decision-making and where there are gaps
- Formulate suggestions for new initiatives
- Indicate the names of persons suited to the implementation of these new initiatives
Pope Francis is leading the Church forward seeking new avenues for women in decision-making. Establishing a special commission with women and men to help discern what is possible would be an important step toward that goal.