WHAT CHURCH DO WE WANT
& HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE
(Parity for women and men)
By Maria Pau Trayner Vilanova
Colectiu de Dones en l'Església i per la paritat
& translated by Hugo Castelli Eyre
Without forgetting the past history of women in the Church, today the Col.lectiu de Dones in this Church only want to talk about the present, which we see as a strategic point of orientation for the future, and which time will quickly become the past.
1.- The novelty of Jesus with regards to women
The biblical reflection about how Jesus treated the women of his time drives us to strengthen, with our daily activities, that emerging and alternative example in which we have a privileged place.
One day we decided to stand up straight, motivated by the words which Luke (13,19-17) puts in Jesus's mouth in front of the woman hunchbacked by so much social and mainly religious exclusion: “Woman, rise up!”. We have all felt that command within ourselves. We also remember that expression addressed to us in the account of the resurrection of Christ: “Don't be afraid. Go and tell” in Matthew (28,5).
Standing up straight and without fear we do not hesitate to break the silence and make public the marginalisations that we suffer in the Church and also in society. From the experience of exclusion, we fight for liberation to that paradigm shown to us as an alternative for the future; objects of oppression, we have established ourselves as subjects of liberating actions for everyone, and with the real mediation of the continuous creation of God Father and Mother, we are losing our fear and claiming the recognition for our actions wherever we are, whether in political, sociual, economic or religious areas. Like John XXIII said we are and want to be a “sign of the times”.
Too many times the barons of the Church have made a biased and subordinating reading of the meaning of the almightyness of God; they, who considered themselves to be “imago Dei”, have believed they were the heirs of the power and wisdom of God, and from this empowerment, have reduced women to nothingness. They have confused authority with power, and service with domination.
We have to comment, additionally, that the exclusions of the Church are not due just to gender. Contemplating exclusions as a whole we find cases of social class, ethnics, north-south relations, ideology, affective and sexual options... sometimes as harsh as those of gender. This attitude make us think of an internal crisis of faith and deafness to the Spirit.
We could say that the Church is like a mini society which reproduces the same unjust situations as in civil society and, as in civil society, feminist protest and rights movements have sprung up all over the world. Movements supported by anthropological, biblical and theological facts in these areas has opened a path of change without discrimination of anyone and without recourse.
Vatican Council II opened doors and windows, mainly in the possibility of women accessing theological studies. This has given us the strength to walk in areas never explored by us up to then.
In spite of this, the androcentered vision projected on womankind have constituted a great danger for us women, but the fear and marginalisation that we suffer have created the pressure that drives us to strive for liberty. It is time for us to define and state who we are, who we have the right to be and the functions that correspond to us as human beings in the civilian and ecclesiastical worlds. We have to recover our self confidence, and like the strong and valiant women of the First and Second Testament, we must question the Church and society, we must overtake events, monitor the signs of the times and respond with creativity to new situations.
The gospels bear witness to the novelty of Jesus with respect to women, in contrast with the activity of the ecclesiastical status and the magisterium that have not imitated nor followed in the footsteps of their Master. Jesus welcomes men and women without discrimination establishing, between men and women, a personal equality, an identity of status that is reflected by the practice of baptising without any distinction of gender. This revolution that was accepted by the Church in advance of the standards of society, results even more deliberate if we take into account that, in the jewish culture and communities, baptism by immersion caused problems of “modesty” that made it necessary to have recourse to female ministers for the baptism of women.
The attitude of Jesus, his practice and the characteristics of the Kingdom estabished by Him, bear witness that men and women are invited to enter the Kingdom with the same rights.
This novelty of the message of Jesus surprised his enemies and and also his male disciples who obscured this aspect of the evangelical revolution from the start.
Jesus saw women in a new way, he called on them to occupy a new place and have a new role in the community; in this way, he liberated them from within the incipient communities, inviting them, without discriminations, to receive the word and the gift of the Kingdom. They had access to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, to baptism with water and to the eucharistic table in exactly the same way as men (Acts.1-2; cf. 10,44; 11,17)
We must not betray, therefore, the confidence that Jesus deposited in us and not be what He wants us to be. We must obey God before men.
2.- Concrete actions & changes to achieve the Church that we want
Some women and some sensitive men are already making a new Church. The change does not come because the hierarchy wants it but because the People of God are already living in the change. We have to admit, however, that if the hierarchy wants it we will get there quicker.
What Church do we want
-Well into the XXIst century as women we want a humanising Church. A Church that is an assembly of persons who are related horizontally between each other and with the rest of creation. A Church that does not divide but which multiplies, that adds instead of subtracting; open to everyone and in which men and women find welcome, democracy and resonance of their daily problems and where life, in all its richness, its misery and its diversity, are present.
-A community-equality Church, since if there is no community the equality cannot be channeled, where men and women know how to interpret the Scriptures for today's time. A Church, in which the different capacities are celebrated, lived and shared and the union in difference is created. A Church with entrails of mercy, which loves, pardons and does not condemn. And bears an authentic witness of the message of Jesus, that is liberation, cheerfulness, hope, life, confidence, disinterested donation. We are not demanding unilateral comprehension, but equality of expression, spaces for dialogue in parity.
A Church in the style of Jesus's group in which the most important aspects were its mission and the reference to God, to people and to events. A Church truly co-responsible, a community that recognises the different charisms of each man and woman and demands, from this recognition, the authentic service without any kind of discrimination whether by gender, optional status or hierarchical nature. At a time in which the world recognises the intrinsic value of the common participation in the institutions that affect their own lives, it is time to abandon the models of absolute monarchy of a Church, borrowed from secular examples of government and recover our fraternal and sisterly inheritance that goes beyond democracies and should exceed them as Heinz Hanspeters states “we need the co-responsibility and participation of all the baptised” (Selections of Theology 139. Democracy in the Church).
When we speak of democracy in the Church it is not in the rationality of formal democracies (one person one vote) but in the generosity and love that exceeds this model of political democracy. On the other hand, in the absence of this love, we believers are more unprotected than in a formal democracy. Consequently, we have to live, pray and help each other as in a “discipleship of equals”, fulfilling the teaching of Vatican II that recognises the prophetic, priestly and royal nature of the whole of the People of God and not just based on the current democratic requirements. Love must have priority over the whole organization structure.
-We want a Church without fear bold enough to break all resistance to change. Open to the sign of the times. With a preferential option and witness for the poor; that is not locked on the altar, since the “sacred” is much more than worship... We must revise the meaning of “sacred” and grasp it as we find it today and how Jesus interprets it: “The blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers become clean, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor receive the good news ( Luke 7,22; Isaiah 26,19; 29,18;35,5-6; 61,1)
- A Church in which the priesthood is not the foundation of the church structure and which does not favour the division between clerics and lay men and women. The current priesthood, by its very verticality, empowers authoritarianism and excludes women and also the poor for their lack of theological formation.
- In these new models of Church, the women organized in religious congregations must no longer depend, as is frequent, on a parish priest or their corresponding bishops &/or “generals” of male orders, with whom they sometime clash and have problems, especially when the sisters work on projects identified with the preferential option for the poor, frequently performing a very valuable hidden work amongst persons excluded from society. In this Church no one must be considered a minor for life. Work amongst very simple people must not be judged by anyone and least of all by “ecclesiastical” tribunals, completely out of touch with reality.
- A Church that makes no alliance with any political or economic power source. That leads – amongst other things- to the loss of prophetic capacity and moral authority towards the poor and progressive sectors, which do not feel represented when their bishops are too compromised with the dominant “powers”.
To sum up, we want a Church that ministers instead of a hierarchical and clerical Church, where the word that best expresses its pastoral work is “diakonia” and not power. Where any baptised woman or man can accede to the ministry required for the service of the community of believers. This service presupposes following Jesus to teach, sanctify and serve the Church and society, because they are all daughters and sons of that good God who remains amongst us.
A Church where each community can enjoy the joy and right to celebrate the Eucharist instead of being forbidden this right, because a masculine tradition determined this, restraining the power of the clergy (in Jesus's time these dangers already existed: Mc 7,1-13; Mt 15,1-20), and where we women can feel ourselves fully integrated as participants of our ecclesiastic life and no just resigned spectators.
What we can do to achieve it
Originally women were announcing the Good News of Jesus. But in the first centuries we disappeared, we became invisible and dumb. Now we can read the Bible, we resurface and thus we can propose:
-On a personal level. It is important that we feel, humbly, but resolutely, stakeholders in the ecclesiastic work that we carry out in the christian communities (we do 80% of all the work of the volunteers, catechists, Caritas, teachers of religion in the schools, care of the church building..) and empowerment to express our vision in all the areas where we cooperate.
-On a Church structure level. Invite everyone who can to participate in the current ministries in: the parishes, nuns' delegations, pastoral councils, specialised movements, grassroots christian communities, etc., and become positive elements, with ideas reinforced by practice, to start changing from the foundations upwards, that dogmatic pyramidal structure of the Church.
-On an ideological level. We must respect the plurality of options in the Church. The Church “God's People” is inherently a plurality of options. There are many and vary varied trends in christian practice and nobody can judge their intentions. We must reject as far as possible preconceived ideas and support all the changes that bring the Church nearer to Jesus of Nazareth.
-On a political and ecclesiastical level. All human organizations, to work efficiently, need a minimum framework and some inspired persons to drive and stimulate the movement. However, these persons, have to listen humbly to the voice of the commuity before making statements and not try to impose their criteria without dialogue or without taking into account the varied situations that affect people today.
Reject centralism, empower community units with human warmth, where everyone knows everyone else by name and where the male and female animators of the community can listen to and dialogue with anyone without protocol or humiliating unchristian differences.
With respect to the church organization, the persons most committed in their management need to be elected by small communities for a limited period of time and they must be able to be replaced when expedient for evangelical reasons of service and never for power struggles. It would be preferable not to have lifetime appointments.
Know how to be an intelligent, lucid, valerous opposition... without tiring of declaring openly what we think in all ecclesiastical environments since only God is sacred and we must not feel ourselves conditioned by any human being for whatever sacred costume that person is wearing. Respect, always. Submission, never.
Although John Paul II asked women for pardon for the injustices committed by churchmen over the centuries, we women ought to reserve our right of pardon until we see with concrete facts, “the purpose of amendment and the results of the work” in the concrete changes that, we as women, require to be considered as being created in the image and resemblance of God.
-On a community level. Aim to install turnovers of responsibilities in the posts so that each person feels responsibility for the whole organization. That nobody remains set in stone, that each person developes harmoniously the multiple facets of their personality to place it in the service of both the ecclesiastic society as well as civil society.
This functioning could be the alternative for parishes and their renovation. In other words be yeast in the world.
We note that the grassroots of the Church has been moving for a long time but, unfortunately, it is reluctant to accept change. We must remove all fears and open the door to hope.
Women are a universal area of fertility for the Spirit, that acts with and in us.
M. Pau Trayner Vilanova
Del Col·lectiu de Dones en l’Església per la Paritat (Of the Organization of Women in the Church for Parity)