Journalists (and former journalists) are often not afraid to weigh in on issues when they really have no expertise. Sometimes the need to fill a newspaper column or to stand on a soapbox can be too tempting to turn down when there’s a topic that’s calling for commentary to be shared.
I’m going to exercise some restraint, though, on the topic of the “theology of women” that Pope Francis spoke about last week on the flight that became famous for the comments on homosexuality. Within the Catholic Church, the role of women is a hot-button issue, revolving mostly around the Church’s teaching that ordination is reserved for men only, following the example of Jesus when selecting his apostles.
On the flight, Pope Francis underlined that understanding, but said there was a need for a deeper theology of women. Here’s the transcript that Vatican Insider shared:
“A Church without women is like an Apostolic College without Mary. The role of women mirrors that of the Virgin Mary. And the Virgin Mary if the most important out of all the apostles. The Church is female because she is a wife and mother. The Church cannot be understood without the women that serve it. Here’s an example that has nothing to do with the Church: I see Paraguay’s women as glorious human beings. After the war (Here Francis refers to the bloody war between Paraguay and Brazil which took place between 1864 and 1870, Ed.) there were eight women for each man. And they chose to have children, save the homeland, their culture and their faith. This is how women should be conceived in the Church. We still do not have a theology of women. We need to create one. The Church has discussed the ordination of women bishops and has decided against it. John Paul II gave a definitive answer to this so that door is closed. But let us remember that Mary is more important than the bishop apostles, so women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests.”
So, I’m not about to analyse what that all means. I’ll leave that to the outstanding Pat Gohn, who reflected on the Pope’s words in a column for the Washington Post. Readers should digest the whole article, but here are some nuggets of wisdom:
In my recent book, Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, I introduced some of the church’s message to and about women. Reflecting on what Blessed John Paul II described as the “feminine genius”, I introduce readers to what the church says to women in terms of their blessed dignity, beautiful gifts, and bodacious mission. From where I stand, the Catholic Church has a theology of womanhood that can be gleaned from a variety of sources.
As Francis points out, church teaching already embraces the ultimate icon of femininity.
For a deeper theology of womenhood, theological precision must also be based upon sound anthropology. Again, the work of John Paul II on the theology of the body, the common phrase for his corpus of written and preached ideas about the nature of man and woman, their relationship to God and each other, is certainly is a place to deepen our awareness of the feminine genius.
Finally, we cannot fail to mention that the Catholic Church has a powerful social doctrine whereby the dignity of the human person reigns supreme, and the dignity and vocation of women is attendant to that. It is perhaps here that we may find hints of Pope Francis’ future contribution.
A theology of womanhood can be gleaned from these many sources, if people only have time (and the inclination) to do the gleaning.
Is perhaps what we really need is a deeper reception of our existing theology of womanhood, and work toward making its claims more universal? The whole purpose of my book was to introduce these basic theological musings about women.
Somewhere, within Francis’ words on the plane the other day, I heard echoes of Paul VI at the close of Vatican II extolling women to come to the aid of humanity for love’s sake.
But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which the woman acquires and influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment…. Women impregnated with the spirit of Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.
We, indeed, have a sure foundation for a theology of women.
Francis, let women assist you in rebuilding the church, and bringing new life to the world!
Indeed, women have a great deal to offer the Church and we need to tap into their wisdom as much as possible. And when the discussion moves past what women can’t do in the Church, i.e. be ordained to the priesthood, we’re more equipped to talk about how great their contribution can be.