Archive for category Women in the Church
By Svea Fraser, VOTF trustee and chair of Women’s Emerging Voices
Listen. Can you hear the sound of voices getting louder in support of women’s roles in the Church?
For 20 years VOTF has championed the change for women to be fully recognized as equals in the Church. We took advantage of every opportunity to raise awareness of the needs that would be better met when women have a place at the table. Resources on the website included articles, papers, videos, cards, templates for letter writing and books. One book in particular gave us a laser focus for our ongoing efforts.
The groundbreaking work of theologian Dr. Phyllis Zagano published in the book Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future (by Gary Macy, Phyllis Zagano and William T. Ditewig) was a wakeup call for many of us. A free study guide made it possible to hold group discussion groups across the country. We learned things we never knew about women deacons in our faith tradition. Two points were of great significance:
- Women ministered as deacons in the past.
- The permanent order of deacons is clearly distinct from priestly ordination.
With increasing awareness, we began discussing women deacons at webinars, at lectures, and among networking groups. Women began to ask the question, “What can we do?” Our VOTF Women’s Working Group invited others from across the continent to advocate for women and ultimately formed an “advocacy network.” Invested in our faith communities and ministering in diaconal ways, we were buoyed by others who shared our pains and hopes for inclusion. As we shared these stories, we changed the working group title from “Women’s Roles” to “Women’s Emerging Voices” to better reflect our work.
At the same time, other voices were rising in support of women and their status in the Church: at the meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, at the Amazonian Synod, and in a papal-appointed Commission to study the issue.
In Durham, N.C., another voice also attracted our attention. That was the voice of Casey Stanton, the mother of two young children and holder of a Master of Divinity degree with a certificate in prison studies. When Casey encountered incarcerated women in her prison ministry, she came face to face with the reality of abuse and violence leveled against women.
During Mass one day, Casey made a connection: Because only men preach and preside at Mass, could the implicit message that men are more important than women contribute to their treatment as “less than”? What does our Catholic Liturgy say about women?
Casey wondered if other women wrestled with the same issue, and if they shared her strong vocational desire to preach the Gospel. She initiated conversations to find out. Each individual encounter affirmed that she was not alone. Also affirmed was a feeling that women’s stories needed to be told. From this grew a desire for a liturgical service to engage others in praying and sharing and listening together.
Saint Phoebe’s Feast Day on September third provided an ideal opportunity for a Virtual Prayer Service. Phoebe is the only person named a deacon (in Greek) in the New Testament, yet she was unknown to many of us. Her name is unspoken because the passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 16:1-2 is excluded from both Sunday and weekly lectionary cycles. Saint Phoebe also suffers the indignity of her Feast Day having been replaced by Pope Gregory I.
The first prayer service attracted 500 participants. Four women spoke of their heartfelt callings to minister as deacons, and their deeply felt emotions brought tears of recognition. The experience set hearts on fire.
Thus emerged a movement, a defined mission, and an informative website was created, under the name Discerning Deacons.
VOTF found common ground with Discerning Deacons: Our goals and mission statements harmonized. We joined in collaboration and mutual support. VOTF’s “advocacy network” began to call itself a “Deacon Circle.”
The success and spirited activity that followed is a testament to the power of prayer, the value of story-telling, the dedication of faithful disciples, and the overarching belief that the Holy Spirit will not deny what the Church needs.
The second Virtual St. Phoebe Prayer Service on September 3, 2021, registered 1,500 people from around the world.
From this side of the world, we sponsored an international delegation to Rome: five women from Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. With the words of St. Paul in mind when he commended his sister Phoebe to be “welcomed in the Lord as is fitting for the saints,” we sent our group with our prayers and an image of St. Phoebe preaching to the faith community.
I believe that Saint Phoebe is interceding on behalf of women today. The Rome delegation was invited to a front row seat at Pope Francis’ weekly audience. When Ellie Hidalgo (a co-director of Discerning Deacons) presented the image of St. Phoebe to the Pope, he accepted it with a smile. And when Sr. Cira Mees told him about her ministry in the Amazon, he looked at her and said, “Firme! Adelante!” (“Keep going forward with inner strength.”). The women were truly welcomed and received “in the Lord.”
As climactic as that event was for us, the story gets better.
In an unprecedented moment in the history of the Church, Pope Francis in 2021 called for a Synod on Synodality. He wants to hear from all the people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, to discern the Holy Spirit’s will for the Church.
When was the last time a pope asked you for your thoughts?
As ancient as synods are in the Church’s tradition, it is a puzzling word for most of us. Pope Francis explains it as simply journeying together. He invites us to walk together, tell our stories, and listen to the Holy Spirit—just as VOTF and Discerning Deacons have been doing all along! Without naming it, we have been synodal in the process of sharing, listening, and discerning.
An inaugural Mass on October 10, 2021, opened the Synodal path. The window for the laity to tell our hurts and hopes for the Church is open right now. Pope Francis wants to hear from you.
Both VOTF and Discerning Deacons, along with other groups and individuals, are offering listening sessions to share your thoughts. Go to the VOTF webpage “Listening to the Faithful: Synod 2021-2023” to register for the opportunity.
It is time to tell your story.
The Pope is listening
Much of the change has been fueled at the top by Pope Francis, who in his nearly decadelong papacy has repeatedly elevated the work of religious women.By Christopher White, Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter
“When Pope Francis met more than 850 religious sisters attending the International Union of Superiors General plenary meeting in Rome in 2019, the pope insisted that the chair for the body’s then-president, Sr. Carmen Sammut, be seated right next to him.
“At the time, both Sammut, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa, and those in the room were touched by the pope’s deeply symbolic gesture to level the playing field.
“Now, as delegates from around the globe prepare to travel again to Rome for this year’s May 2-6 plenary, a wave of new appointments of sisters inside the Vatican has made it clear that Francis is backing that symbolism up with substantive changes and making room for more women religious to have a permanent seat at the table.
“‘Change takes time,’ said Sr. Patricia Murray, executive secretary of the International Union of Superiors General, which represents 600,000 sisters from around the globe.”
By Christopher White, Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter — Read more ...
Catholic women feel called to be deacons. The church should listen to their stories. / America: The Jesuit Review
“The church has been discerning the question of female deacons for decades. And now the whole church has an opportunity to engage in a discernment about the diaconate.”America: The Jesuit Review
“Is the church being called to receive women into the permanent order of deacons?
“Are women being called by God to serve as deacons in the church? And what role do Sunday Mass-goers, lapsed Catholics and daily communicants play in discerning responses to such questions?
“In the form of theological studies, sociological research and papal commissions, the church has been discerning the question of female deacons for decades. And now, thanks to the synod that begins this October, the whole church has an opportunity to engage in a discernment about the diaconate.
“In the synod, Pope Francis has called the church to consider the shape of our life together and to listen to one another, to ‘plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.’ In the context of the synod, ‘all are invited to speak with courage…integrating freedom, truth, and charity.’ In other words: Every Catholic on planet Earth is invited to join together and ask fundamental questions about how we are to journey as the people of God in the 21st century.”
By Casey Stanton, America: The Jesuit Review, Read more …
Called to Contribute: Findings from an In-depth Interview Study of US Catholic Women and the Diaconate / By Tricia Bruce,
“Women comprise the majority of US Catholics and the majority of lay ministers in the U.S. Catholic Church. While the ordained diaconate remains the exclusive realm of men, women engage in expansive service that overlaps core diaconal functions in word, liturgy, and charity. Many women feel specifically called to be deacons or express an openness to discerning such a call should the vocational path become available to them. Escalating global attention to the question of women and the diaconate compels social scientific research to enhance knowledge regarding how contemporary women experience and fulfill their felt call in the Catholic Church.” By Tricia C. Bruce, Ph.D., author of “Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church”
“We’re looking at the needs of the church today,” said (Casey) Stanton (Discerning Deacons co-founder), who lives in Durham, North Carolina. “Might including women in this order help further the church’s mission in the world?”Religion News Service
“Casey Stanton wanted to offer encouragement, love and healing to the inmates at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, where she served as a chaplain intern a few years ago.
“But as a Catholic woman she could not represent her church there in any official capacity.
“The state of North Carolina requires chaplains in its state prison system to be ordained. And the Catholic Church does not ordain women — neither as priests, nor as deacons.
“Stanton, who is 35 and holds a master of divinity from Duke Divinity School, is not seeking to become a priest, which canon law forbids. She would, however, jump at the chance to be ordained a deacon — a position that would allow her and other women to serve as Catholic chaplains in prisons, hospitals and other settings.”
By Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service — Read more …
“Pandemic permitting, members are expected in Rome for a week of discussions beginning on 13 September.”The Tablet
“Almost two years since Pope Francis announced he would be re-forming a commission on the female diaconate, The Tablet can report it is due to hold its first meeting in Rome in the middle of next month.
“The gathering of the commission comes just ahead of the launch of a global synod process which will bring lay people, priests and bishops in local churches together to discern new pastoral priorities. Women deacons are sure to be on the agenda.
“Covid-19 has delayed the deacons’ commission work and the group have not met remotely. Pandemic permitting, members are expected in Rome for a week of discussions beginning on 13 September. Two members of the commission confirmed the September meeting with The Tablet.
“An analysis of the commission members suggests an even split between those for and against female deacons, and the danger is a re-run of what happened with the first commission, which the Pope said was unable to reach agreement.”
By Christopher Lamb, The Tablet — Read more …
“Yet Christian women did not keep silent or remain enclosed. They spoke up about important ecclesial issues, served the marginalized, taught both men and women, and witnessed freely about the Christ with whom they had thrown in their lot. They are great role models for the women and men of today.“National Catholic Reporter
Women’s History Month is a great time to celebrate the ‘mothers’ of our Christian church. Until recently, few realized that early female believers shaped our church’s future no less than their better-known brothers (aka the ‘fathers of the church’).
“On Feb. 14, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI made the rather remarkable statement that ‘without the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently,’ and that the female presence was not ‘in any way secondary.’
“Some early church mothers are relatively well-known while others are all but forgotten. Early writings and funerary inscriptions testify that women served as prophets, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, deacons, presbyters, enrolled widows, and heads of house churches and monasteries.
“Marcella, Paula, Melania the Elder, Melania the Younger and Macrina exercised considerable authority in ancient Christianity. Marcella founded a sort of urban monastery and study group in in Rome that greatly benefited — and benefited from — Jerome’s biblical erudition. When Jerome left for Jerusalem in 385, Rome’s priests began to seek out Marcella for help in understanding the biblical texts.”
By Christine Schenk, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …
Nun appointed to high-level Vatican post by Pope Francis says the ‘patriarchal mindset is changing’ / Associated Press in America: The Jesuit Review
“A French nun who has become the first woman to hold a voting position at the Vatican said Wednesday (Feb. 10) that her appointment is evidence the ‘patriarchal mindset is changing.'”Associated Press in America: The Jesuit Review
“A French nun who has become the first woman to hold a voting position at the Vatican said Wednesday that her appointment is evidence the “patriarchal mindset is changing” as more and more women assume high-level decision-making responsibilities in the Catholic hierarchy.
“Sister Nathalie Becquart said during a news conference that her appointment as an undersecretary in the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops office was a “brave signal and prophetic decision” by Pope Francis, who has repeatedly stressed the need for women to have a greater say in church governance.
“‘What I hope is that this will be seen also in the field, in the dioceses, in the parishes,” she said. “I hope this act will encourage other bishops, priests, religious authorities, and that all this will include women more and more.'”
By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, in America: The Jesuit Review — Read more …
“It (motu proprio, Spiritus Domini) removes a major excuse that men have used to keep women at a distance from the altar of the Lord. But it doesn’t require them to give us anything we don’t already have. Changing canon law in this way doesn’t force ordained men to get used to working with women. At best, it nudges them toward recognizing that they should want to.”Commonweal (Also Voice of the Faithful webpage “Women’s Roles” — http://votf.org/node/1589)
“It must be difficult for a mainstream journalist covering the Vatican beat on days like January 11, when Pope Francis’s motu proprio, Spiritus Domini, was announced. How to convey the significance of a tweak to canon law that clarifies women’s eligibility to be lectors and acolytes at Mass? Aren’t they…already doing those things?
“Pity the reporter who must quickly explain the existence of ‘stable ministries’ in the Church, and the now-obscure practice of formally instituting lay men into those roles. Even the most committed American Catholics were perplexed when the news broke because, as Anthony Ruff, OSB, wrote at the Pray Tell blog, ‘Up until now, females couldn’t be installed in these ministries, but they could do these ministries anyway.’ It’s no wonder so many outlets framed the news in terms of what hadn’t happened: ‘Pope says women can read at Mass, but still can’t be priests’ ran a typical headline.
“‘The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,’ Pope John Paul II declared in 1994 in an attempt to shut down that debate. Francis quoted that pronouncement in a letter accompanying Spiritus Domini, but he also wrote that he hoped the change he was making to canon law would help men preparing for ordination ‘better understand they are participants in a ministry shared with other baptized men and women.’ Francis’s modification to one canon—changing ‘lay men’ to ‘lay persons’—eliminates a long-standing excuse for discrimination against women, although you won’t find him or any other Vatican official putting it in those terms.”
By Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, Commonweal — Read more …
Francis changes Catholic Church law: women explicitly allowed as lectors, altar servers / National Catholic Reporter
“Francis’ new letter, titled Spiritus Domini and issued motu proprio (on his own initiative), changes the Code of Canon Law to explicitly allow women to be installed in the Catholic Church as lectors and acolytes.”National Catholic Reporter
“Pope Francis has changed Catholic Church law to make explicit that laywomen can act as readers and altar servers in liturgical celebrations, effectively removing a previous option for individual bishops to restrict those ministries only to men.
“In an unexpected apostolic letter published Jan. 11, the pontiff says he is making the change to recognize a ‘doctrinal development’ that has occurred in recent years.
“That change, the pope says, ‘shines a light on how some ministries instituted by the church have as their foundation that common condition of baptism and the royal priesthood received in the Sacrament of Baptism.’
“Francis’ new letter, titled Spiritus Domini and issued motu proprio (on his own initiative), changes the Code of Canon Law to explicitly allow women to be installed in the Catholic Church as lectors and acolytes.
“Lectors are ministers who proclaim readings at Mass and other liturgical celebrations. Acolytes are ministers who typically assist priests in preparing the altar during the Mass or in distributing Communion. Acolytes are often known as altar servers or Eucharistic ministers in common parlance.
“Laypeople who serve in those ministries are not ordained but can be formally instituted into the roles during a church ceremony.
“Although women in many U.S. Catholic dioceses already serve as readers and altar servers, the church’s canon law had technically only allowed for their service on a temporary basis and according to the whim of the local bishop.”
By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …