One hundred years since brave women won the vote, Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels rightly attempts to achieve gender balance in the College of European Commissioners. She has acted. She is convinced that the rich and complementary talents of women and men are needed everywhere. We all heard the old saying that a bird never flew on one wing. She is on the right road – more power to her. The oft-derided “secular world” seems way ahead of Catholic Church leaders on this crucial moral issue of justice and equality for women. It is truly depressing for us Catholics to contemplate that the Catholic Church may be the last big institution to concede that gender balance is wholesome and that there must be justice and equality for women. It is galling to listen to the official fake news that the Roman Church never changes – or may do in 1000 years if you wait around.
The pandemic of patriarchy and male supremacy has plagued the world for too many millennia. There is too much macho imbalance in some dysfunctional institutions of State and Church worldwide. There is too much war, greed, violence, dictators, misery, and injustice. There is too much patriarchal entitlement and ongoing domestic violence. Official reports and films over the past decades in Ireland about child abuse and Magdalene laundries have shamed us and have shown that, perhaps unwittingly, we had served as silent sheep within a totally unbalanced, patriarchal system. While there was a veneer of prayers, novenas, devotions and some good works, there was also much harshness, cruelty, injustice and abuse of women and children. In many ways, the God of Love was absent. The crucial female dimension was missing and is still deliberately excluded by a small group of men. In the Catholic Church today, unelected clerics refuse to share power in a meaningful way and, sadly, double down on their suppression policy of apartheid for women. They retain complete control of the words, rules, rituals, doctrines, and narrative. Under a code of obedience, we are expected to turn a blind eye once again to nonsense and abuses. Pastoral priests and lay people who dare to question are abused or subject to inquisition. With all the above in the mix allied to total gender imbalance, it is very difficult to present a credible and wholesome Good News of Jesus Christ narrative or church institution to people in the developed world.
Pope Francis in Rome has rightly urged Catholics to say “no” to clericalism. He has proclaimed that he wants us all to play our part in much needed reform and to challenge those who insist on remaining in the cul de sac of an old boys’ club. While there have been many pious words, he has been unable as yet to back that up with concrete actions in response to the extremely urgent needs of overburdened priests and Eucharist deprived people worldwide. Since the Amazon Synod, he seems to have backtracked and frozen into traditional papal mode. A recent Vatican directive about future parish reorganization continued to advocate clerical control even in a situation where there is a growing shortage of men prepared to submit to the abuse and injustice of enforced celibacy. We can surmise that he has come from a culture with strong elements of machismo as well as long years of strict clerical training. He is constrained within the rulings of his predecessors and the morass of creeping infallibility. He is confronted in the Vatican and beyond by fierce resistance from career clerics, vested interests, slow learners, and people who wish to revert to the pre-Vatican II life of the Holy Roman Empire. Clearly, many old boys do not get it and they remain implacably opposed to any move towards gender balance. This is a tragedy and serves to deprive people today of meaningful Good News. It is not possible to evangelise people today in the language of sexism, misogyny, negative sexuality, homophobia, patriarchy, apartheid, and refusal to share power. People today are less fearful and while they cherish the basic Good News of a loving God, they are increasingly reluctant to collude in any institution with the abuse of women, children, homosexuals, priests, or power.
Look at the global power for good example if the hierarchy of the 1.3 billion Catholic Church repented and openly admitted to having been on the wrong road for centuries with ancient church fathers as they proclaimed their mistaken misogynistic doctrines. This huge and influential Church has millions of people and priests doing wonderful works of love, care, and action for justice. But, tragically, there are many others touched with the patriarchal virus causing societal damage and daily domestic abuse. All of that evil might be lessened if the official Church confessed the ancient sin of sexism and then proclaimed that there must be gender balance and full participation by women in the leadership, governance, teaching office and ministry of the Catholic Church. This could also be a step on the crucial road to reunion.
It seems that most Irish Catholics have seen the light for gender balance, justice for women and the urgent need for power sharing so that all baptized persons are equal and proudly hold a stake in building up the Kingdom of God. Irish Catholics have voted for female presidents and women in all roles. Polls over the past decades show that Irish Catholics who value Eucharist and vibrant parish communities want married priests and women priests. Just as the official teaching on slavery and antisemitism was wrong for too many centuries with disastrous consequences, so, now, the official clerical teachings on apartheid for women, contraception, homophobia and enforced celibacy/eucharistic famine are rightly being challenged by some Catholics. Sadly, the hierarchy seems deaf to the wisdom and charisms of lay people and, we the people, are powerless without a vote to introduce the much-needed reforms. We are ashamed in front of our young people and have few answers as to why we continue to collude with elements of patriarchal codology apart from the fact that we cherish the core Good News of Jesus Christ and the good people/priests around us.
Faced with the intransigent refusal to reform as a matter of urgency, many Catholics are resorting to variants of the following understandable options. Some people opt for basic Sunday attendance with minimal personal involvement or financial contribution. It appears that the pandemic may exacerbate financial problems and bring about unwanted and negative change to the detriment of parish communities. While leadership is deaf and in the absence of a vote, money withheld may have some influence for better or worse. Very large numbers have walked away in despair from regular practice and the potential benefits for their daily life that are contained therein mixed up with the outdated stuff. Undoubtedly, they will encounter God elsewhere in Her great world. Some Catholics take the very logical option of joining one of the other Christian Churches. However, all of the above options mean that the serious systemic problems bearing huge societal repercussions within the largest Christian Church are not confronted and remedied in a massive program of reform and positive change. It is utterly disheartening for us that the intransigent institution doubles down and refuses to reform while very serious issues are covered up under the carpet. The important objective of Christian Reunion is rendered more difficult. A further difficult option for some Catholics who resist being bullied into a refugee situation from their family church of origin is to remain in local parish practice as well as working with individuals and groups who continue to cry out in the wilderness for reform.
Some say that it may be a much-changed world and church post the COVID-19 pandemic. We all pray for an end to the COVID-19 disease and the poisons arising from the patriarchal virus. It will be great to congregate freely again for worship, remembrance, thanksgiving, and celebration of life milestones. However, we will also need much open conversation, dialogue and active listening in every parish leading to consensus, change and significant reform in Vatican III. It will be crucial for us Catholics to confirm Pope Francis once again on his reform agenda by speaking out in every possible way to our priests, bishops, and papal nuncios. Top of the agenda should be our demand for justice for women and gender balance in all healthy institutions.
Dundrum, Co. Dublin.