Friday, November 15, 2013

The Need For the Genius of Female Perception

Pope Francis repeatedly has called for stronger roles for women in the church, obviously wanting to kick-start a conversation about what those roles might look like. Two of the voices he's most likely to listen to on this front recently appeared on the front page of the Vatican newspaper,L'Osservatore Romano, with some interesting things to say.
On Monday, L'Osservatore carried a front-page piece titled "Women in the Church." It was penned by Lucetta Scaraffia, a widely respected correspondent and columnist who often writes on women's issues, concerning a recent interview with Maria Voce, president of the international Focolare movement.
As Scaraffia notes, the Focolare, founded by Italian laywoman Chiara Lubich, have made it a principle of their statutes that the president must be a woman. For that reason, and because the Focolare are among the largest movements, Scaraffia describes Voce as "the most eminent woman in the Catholic world."
Scaraffia argues that for too long, women were willing to accept a "subaltern" status in the church, but that today, "the situation is changing rapidly." She quotes with approval Voce's line that the church needs not only to appreciate what have been traditionally defined as "female gifts," such as the capacity to form loving relationships, but also that it must "seek out, and listen to, the thinking of women."
Three possible new roles for women emerge in the L'Osseravtore piece:
  • A "not too small" entrance into "organisms of consultation, thought and decisions" in the church. Presumably, though Scaraffia doesn't quite say this out loud, this implies in part more women at decision-making levels in the Vatican.
  • The creation of a consultative body to the pope similar to the Council of Cardinals but composed of both laywomen and men. Such a group, Voce says, "would make me enthusiastic."
  • Allowing movements such as the Focolare to incardinate priests who have been ordained elsewhere. Up to now, Voce reports, permission has been denied -- perhaps, she says, because someone is afraid of putting a priest under the authority of a woman.
"The words of Maria Voce make clear that legitimate requests for true recognition of the feminine presence in the church don't come just from groups of radicals demanding women's ordination, but from authoritative and moderate figures," Scaraffia writes.
"Behind those requests," she adds, "is certainly the majority of women who belong to the church."
Of course, the conversation about what "stronger roles" for women means won't end with this piece. As a beginning, however, it puts some interesting possibilities on the table -- and coming from the likes of Scaraffia and Maria Voce, those possibilities seem likely to be taken seriously.
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