Gay priests ask Pope Francis to reconsider banning gay men from priesthood

Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors warns scapegoating gay priests will not solve the causes of recent sex abuse scandals

An organization of gay Catholic priests has written a letter to Pope Francis asking him not to endorse efforts to ban gay men from becoming priests.

The letter, a copy of which was released Wednesday, comes a week before bishops from around the world are expected to convene a meeting in Vatican City to address the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Unfortunately, conservative interests are expected to hijack the meeting to push their own agenda: banning all gay men from the priesthood, based on an outdated stereotype that a person cannot experience same-sex attraction and be celibate.

The letter, signed by the chair of the Netherlands-based Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors on behalf of the group’s members, objects to Francis’ past statements and a recent papal document advocating a continuation of policy (in place under Francis’ predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI) that prevents openly gay men from being ordained as priests.

“Although the document states that the Church deeply respects the persons in question, it also makes the arbitrary and unfounded statement that: ‘Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating appropriately to both men and women,’” the letter reads.

The group then enumerates and explains the reasons why it believes there should not be a ban on gay priests, noting that there are already countless numbers of priests who are gay, and that their sexual orientation alone does not disqualify them from living a celibate life or being able to provide religious guidance to their congregations.

“Heterosexual and homosexual seminarians and priests who are aware of the nature of their sexuality, who accept it as given by God, who are not ashamed about it, who can (learn to) speak about it in an appropriate and meaningful way, and who (learn to) deal with it properly in their role as a priest (or seminarian, are not the problem in our opinion,” the letter reads. “On the contrary, they can and do function well and have a valuable role to play within our Faith and Church.”

In contrast, the group argues, it is priests who “deny, disown, or suppress” their sexuality who are more likely to have problems, which can manifest themselves in the form of abuse or sexually inappropriate conduct.

“We have the distinct impression that the Vatican and the Congregation for the Clergy and perhaps even you yourself, tend to suggest that those priests who are openly gay are the ones responsible for the sexual abuse of children and minors. We disagree with this,” the letter continues.

“We believe that the current major crisis with respect to this context is primarily the result of the disapproval, suppression, denial and the poor integration of sexuality, and especially homosexuality, on the part of many individual priests and within our Church as a whole. One is simply unable or unwilling to discuss it, or banned from mentioning it, except within the sacrament of confession. In our view this is detrimental to the Church as a whole and to the priests themselves in particular.”

The priests also thank Pope Francis for showing consideration and compassion to gay and lesbian Catholics, but the current policy banning gay priests is in conflict with that consideration. As such, they ask Pope Francis to “review and correct the stipulation in Il dono della vocazione presbiterale that by definition disqualifies homosexual candidates to the celibate priesthood.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBTQ people and the Church, says that, after a summer of headlines exposing several major abuse scandals, it has become apparent that the church hierarchy — and particularly conservative elements within it — are positioned to blame the presence of gay priests as one of the roots of the sexual abuse crisis.

Cardinal McCarrick’s case, which received the most attention, was not a case of pedophilia. It was a case of adult non-consensual sex,” DeBernardo says. “So it quickly got labeled that this was not pedophilia, but a problem with gay priests. And a lot of the anti-gay forces in the Church quickly glommed onto that, and saw it as an opportunity. And it has since snowballed to becoming one of the issues that will be discussed [at next week’s meeting].”

DeBernardo says that, even though Catholic Church teaching is not to condemn homosexuality, but only homosexual acts, there has been a deliberate conflation of being gay with being sexually active.

“There are anti-gay advocates in the Church who have, since a long time ago, believed the myth that if you are gay, you are sexually active, which is a totally ignorant and irresponsible definition,” says DeBernardo. “While there are some gay priests who have not been able to live up to vows of celibacy, there are many heterosexual priests who have not as well. And there are many more gay priests who have lived up to that promise.

“The other reason I think they’re trying to rid the Church of gay priests is that they do not want to admit that gay people have lived holy lives and lives of service to the Church,” he adds.

DeBernardo worries that the Church risks failing to address the underlying causes of the sexual abuse crisis if they are obsessed with scapegoating only gay priests. Instead, he says, bishops and clergy should be looking at the secretive culture of the church, its treatment of priests as better or holier than they lay people in their parishes, a lack of support systems for priests — including discussions of what healthy celibacy looks like — and the lack of a screening process that might raise warning flags about would-be abusers.

DeBernardo also adds there may be more sinister motivations behind the scapegoating, including a desire to push the Church in a more authoritarian or conservative direction.

“The ones calling for scapegoating of gay priests are same ones who want to bring down the papacy of Pope Francis, because they see him as too liberal,” he notes. “Making the charge that he’s protecting gay priests is a way of weakening his authority. And it’s effective, because how do you prove there aren’t gay priests? It’s like the bogeyman in the closet. If you bring it up, it’s assumed that it’s real.”

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Pope Acknowledges Nuns Were Sexually Abused by Priests and Bishops

Pope Francis boarding his plane on Tuesday to return to Rome from Abu Dhabi after a trip to the Middle East.

By Jason Horowitz and Elizabeth Dias

Pope Francis said on Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church had faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and even bishops, the first time he has publicly acknowledged the issue.

Catholic nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in recent years in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy, and a Vatican magazine last week mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests. But Francis has never raised the issue until he was asked to comment during a news conference aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from his trip to the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”

The pope’s admission opens a new front in the long-running scandal of sexual abuse by priests, recognizing nuns who have tried for years to call attention to their plight. With the #MeToo movement going strong, and Francis under pressure for neglecting the victims of child abuse, the nuns’ pleas have gained traction.

In November, the organization representing the world’s Catholic women’s religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that contributed to abuse, and urged nuns to report abuse to law enforcement.

A top official in the Vatican office that handles sexual abuse allegations resigned last month after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession. The official, the Rev. Hermann Geissler, chief of staff in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, denied the allegation, the Vatican said.

An article last week in Women Church World, the women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, blamed the abuse on the outsize power of priests.

“The abuse of women results in procreation and so is at the origin of the scandal of imposed abortions and children not recognized by priests,” wrote the article’s author, Lucetta Scaraffia, a feminist intellectual and the editor in chief of Women Church World.

Asked about these developments on Tuesday, Francis said that it was a continuing problem and that the Vatican was working on the issue. Some priests, he said, have been suspended.

“Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”

Francis recalled that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, had been “a strong man” who he said had sought to remove priests who committed sexual abuse and even “sexual slavery.”

Francis spoke about a case in which Benedict dissolved an order of nuns “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder.”

A Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said later that Francis was referring to the Contemplative Sisters of Saint-Jean, a small group in France that confronted a variety of problems.

Even though the abuse of nuns gets less attention than the abuse of children and young men, it is not new. In the 1990s, as the child sex abuse crisis was starting to emerge in the United States, leaders of women’s religious orders wrote several reports calling attention to cases of priests abusing nuns.

Many examples came from Africa, where priests were said to have turned to nuns for sex during the spread of AIDS. One sister at the time, Maura O’Donohue, wrote of a case in Malawi where priests impregnated nearly 30 sisters in one congregation. When they complained to the archbishop, she wrote, they were replaced.

Last year, a nun in India accused a bishop of repeatedly raping her between 2014 and 2016. The bishop was arrested after she reported him to the police, a decision that divided the local Catholic community. Many priests celebrated when the bishop, who faces trial this year, was released on bail.

In a high-profile case in Chile, the Vatican is investigating reports that priests abused nuns. Current and former nuns said the women had been removed from the order when they reported the abuse.

Last summer, an investigation by The Associated Press found cases of abuse of nuns in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and reported that the Vatican had not adequately punished offenders or supported victims.

At a conference in Pakistan recently, Sister Rose Pacatte, who is based in Los Angeles, spoke to leaders of women’s religious orders on how to prevent abuse.

“Don’t report to bishop or priest as the first step to deal with the situation,” warned one slide in her presentation. “They may be the abusers or may protect them.”

Last year, Mary Dispenza, a former nun who works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group, helped popularize the hashtag #nunstoo on Twitter. She intended to gather stories of people abused by nuns, but started to hear from nuns about abuse by priests.

“I’m really angered by the words of the pope just now,” Ms. Dispenza said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I am angered by the Pope not standing up and really speaking out about the tragedy, and actions he will take.”

The majority of the pope’s visit to the United Arab Emirates was focused on interreligious dialogue with the Muslim world, and it culminated with the signing of a sort of manifesto for brotherhood with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s influential Al Azhar mosque.

Asked on the plane home about conservative criticism that he had been Pollyannaish in his approach to the Middle East and been taken advantage of by the Muslim sheikhs, Francis joked, “Not only the Muslims,” and noted that his critics felt he had been manipulated by just about everyone.

But he said the document he signed was on strong theological footing.

“I want to say this clearly, from a Catholic point of view, the document has not moved a millimeter” from church teaching codified in the Second Vatican Council. He said he took the extra step of having the document vetted by a tough Dominican theologian, who approved it. “It’s not a step backward,” he said. “It is a step forward.”

He also made it clear that he had continued to voice his concerns about the persecution of Christians in the region — which he said his flock knew all too well — but that either “me or another Peter,” meaning a successor pope, would surely visit more Muslim countries.

Earlier Tuesday, the pope celebrated Mass at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi before roughly 135,000 Catholics, many of them migrants from India, the Philippines and South America, who had come to the Emirates to work.

The Mass, also attended by 4,000 Muslims, was the largest public celebration of a Christian rite in the history of the Muslim country, where the worship of other faiths is tolerated but is not typically done in such a public way.

The next major event on the pope’s schedule is a meeting with presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences at the end of February in Rome to focus on a response to the global sex abuse crisis that is threatening the pope’s legacy and the moral capital that is the currency of his pontificate.

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Women strive for larger roles in male-dominated religions

By DAVID CRARY

Women have been elected heads of national governments on six continents. They have flown into space, served in elite combat units and won every category of Nobel Prize. The global #MeToo movement, in 15 months, has toppled a multitude of powerful men linked to sexual misconduct.

Yet in most of the world’s major religions, women remain relegated to a second-tier status. Women in several faiths are still barred from ordination. Some are banned from praying alongside men and forbidden from stepping foot in some houses of worship altogether. Their attire, from headwear down to the length of their skirts in church, is often restricted.

But women around the world in recent months have been finding new ways to chip away at centuries of male-dominated traditions and barriers, with many of them emboldened by the surge of social media activism that’s spread globally in the #MeToo era.

Millions of women in India this month formed a human wall nearly 400 miles long in support of women who defied conservative Hindu leaders and entered an important temple that has long been off-limits to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50.

In Israel, where Orthodox Judaism has long restricted women’s roles, one Jerusalem congregation has allowed women to lead Friday evening prayers. Roman Catholic bishops, under pressure from women’s-rights activists, concluded a recent Vatican meeting by declaring that women, as an urgent “duty of justice,” should have a greater role in church decision-making.

Many feminist scholars are challenging the rightfulness of long-standing patriarchal traditions in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, calling into question time-honored translations of verses in the Bible, Torah and Quran that have been used to justify a male-dominated hierarchy.

Social media is seen as a big catalyst in boosting activism and forging solidarity among women of faith who seek more equality. The #MeToo movement has been evoked — even in the ranks of conservative U.S. denominations — as a reason why women should expect more respectful treatment from male clergy, and a greater share of leadership roles.

“Women are looking for opportunities to have their voices heard and be more effective in their religious traditions,” said Gina Messina, a religion professor at Ursuline College in Ohio who describes herself as both a feminist and a Catholic theologian. “Using social media is an opportunity to say what they think.”

She co-founded a blog called Feminism and Religion that has scores of contributors around the world and followers in more than 180 countries. She also co-edited a collection of essays by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women explaining why they haven’t abandoned their patriarchal-leaning faiths.

“The perception seems to be that it is a feminist act only to leave such a religion. We contend that it is also a feminist act to stay,” the three editors write in their foreword.

Here’s a brief look at the status of gender equality in several of the world’s religions:


ROMAN CATHOLICISM

Catholic doctrine mandates an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus’ apostles were men.

A decades-long campaign for women’s ordination has made little headway and some advocates of that change have been excommunicated. Women do play major roles in Catholic education, health care and parish administration

While the recent meeting of bishops at the Vatican produced a call to expand women’s presence in church affairs, no details were proposed. The seven nuns who participated along with 267 male clergy were not allowed to vote on the final document.

Earlier this year, a Vatican magazine published an expose detailing how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean with little recompense.

At the University of Dayton, a Catholic school in Ohio, religion professor Sandra Yocum says some of the young women she teaches “are having a hard time seeing where they fit in” as they assess the church’s doctrine on gender roles and its pervasive clergy sex-abuse scandals.

“They have a deep concern for the church,” she said. “They want to respond in some way and take a leadership role.”

Messina sometimes engages in “small acts of dissent” to show displeasure with patriarchal Catholic traditions. At the recent funeral for her grandmother, she changed a Bible reading to make the passage gender-neutral.

“We have to continue to push — regardless of whether it’s in our generation or five generations from now.”

Rose Dyar, a senior at the University of Dayton, says she’s determined to team with other young Catholics to help the church overcome its challenges. The ban on female priests isn’t enough to drive her from Catholicism, but it dismays her.

“I absolutely support women’s ordination,” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon, and that breaks my heart.”


ISLAM

Some of the most important traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad were preserved and carried forth by the women closest to him— his wives and daughters. But as with many other major faiths, women in Islamic tradition have largely been relegated to supporting roles throughout recent history.

Women in Islam do not lead prayer or give traditional Friday sermons. In larger mosques where women are welcome, they are almost always segregated from men in the back or allocated spaces on other floors with separate entrances and exits.

In Saudi Arabia, a male-dominated interpretation of Islam bars women from traveling or obtaining a passport without the consent of a male guardian. Only this year did the kingdom allowed women to drive.

Changes are happening elsewhere. In Tunisia, President Beji Caid Essebsi has proposed giving women equal inheritance rights with men — a much-debated topic around the Muslim world. In the Palestinian territories, Kholoud al-Faqih became the first female Shariah court judge in 2009, in part to help women beset by domestic violence.

Some women are challenging interpretations that state only men must attend traditional Friday prayers. A few have chosen to create their own prayer spaces, like the Women’s Mosque of America in California where women lead the services and female scholars share their knowledge.

The bylaws for that mosque were drafted by Atiya Aftab, who teaches Islamic Law at Rutgers University and is chair of the board at her mosque — a first for a woman in New Jersey. She says moves in the U.S. to expand women’s roles in the Islamic community have sometimes been met with conservative backlash, but the momentum for change seems strong.

In Texas, Muslim women recently formed a group that has investigated and publicized instances of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse committed against women by Muslim community leaders.


JUDAISM

The gender situation within Judaism is markedly different in Israel and the United States, which together account for more than 80 percent of the world’s Jewish population.

The largest U.S. branches, Reform and Conservative, allow women to be rabbis, while the Orthodox branch does not. In Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements are small, and Orthodox authorities hold a near monopoly on all matters regarding Judaism.

One major source of contention: the Orthodox-enforced policy of prohibiting women from praying alongside men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Numerous women protesting the policy have been arrested, and several American Jewish groups were angered last year when Israel’s government backtracked on plans to expand a space where both men and women could pray.

However, there have been moves to expand Orthodox women’s roles in religious life. A Jerusalem congregation, Shira Hadasha, has adopted a liberal interpretation of Jewish religious law that incorporates women’s involvement in services, such as leading Friday evening prayers and reciting from the Torah on the Sabbath.

An Orthodox organization called Tzohar is trying to advance women in roles where social custom, not religious law, has excluded them — such as teaching Jewish law or certifying restaurants’ compliance with kosher standards.

“If Jewish law does not say that something is prohibited, but just because of social or cultural reasons women were not involved, we see no reason that they should not be involved, said Tzohar’s chairman, Rabbi David Stav.


MORMONISM

Women in the Mormon church are barred from being priests, leading local congregations or holding the top leadership posts in a faith that counts 16 million members worldwide.

The highest-ranking women in the church oversee three organizations that run programs for women and girls. These councils sit below several layers of leadership groups reserved for men.

The role of women in the conservative religion, officially named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been a subject of debate for many years, with some members pushing for more equality and increased visibility for women.

The church has made some changes in recent years; women’s groups say they mark small progress. In 2013, a woman for the first time led the opening prayer at the faith’s semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City. Later that year, a conference session previously limited to men was broadcast live for all to watch.

Mormon women are still expected to wear skirts or dresses to worship services and inside temples, but the religion has loosened its rules in recent years to allow women who work at church headquarters to wear pantsuits or dress slacks and to let women serving proselytizing missions to wear dress slacks.

The church shows no signs of budging on women’s ordination. Kate Kelly, the founder of a group called Ordain Women that led protests outside church conferences, was expelled from the faith in 2014.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Lorie Winder Stromberg, 66, a member of Ordain Women’s executive board. “I think women’s ordination is inevitable — but I have no sense of the timing.”


HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM

The gender-equality situation in these two Asian-based faiths is difficult to summarize briefly. Neither has a single supreme entity that enforces doctrine, and each has multiple branches with different philosophies and practices.

In Buddhism, women’s status varies from country to country. In Thailand, a Buddhist stronghold, women can become nuns — often acting as glorified temple housekeepers — but only in 2003 won the right to serve as the saffron-robed full equivalents of male monks, and still represent just a tiny fraction of the country’s clergy.

India’s Sabarimala temple had long banned women and girls of menstruating age from entering the centuries-old house of worship. Some Hindus consider menstruating women to be impure.

The Supreme Court in September lifted the ban, and violent protests broke out after women entered the temple. Earlier this month, women formed a human chain spanning than 600 kilometers (375 miles) to support gender equality.

“The Hindu temples at present have almost 99 percent male priests,” said women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, director of New Delhi-based Center for Social Research. “Things have to improve.”


SOUTHERN BAPTISTS

While many Protestant denominations now ordain women, the largest in the U.S. — the Southern Baptist Convention — is among those that don’t. It advocates that women submit to male leadership in their church and to a husband’s leadership at home.

Southern Baptist leaders say this doctrine aligns with New Testament teaching. One passage they cite quotes the apostle Paul as writing, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”

A recent statement from SBC leadership insisted that Southern Baptists “are not anti-woman.”

“However, because Scripture speaks specifically to the role of pastor, churches are under a moral imperative to be guided by that teaching, rather than the shifting opinions of human cultures.”

Cheryl Summers, a former Southern Baptist who has challenged the church to improve its treatment of women, describes this gender doctrine as “tortured logic” — especially given the accomplishments of SBC women in the secular world.

“There’s tremendous cognitive dissonance for a woman of faith who is leading professionally or through volunteer efforts when she experiences the glass ceiling and walls in her place of worship,” Summers said via email.

For the past year, the SBC has been roiled by a series of sexual misconduct cases involving churches and seminaries, prompting some activist women to demand new anti-abuse policies.

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Lucetta Scaraffia Is Trying to Fight Catholic Patriarchy from the Inside

The editor of Women Church World, a monthly magazine published by the Vatican, believes that change is coming to Catholicism.

Pope Francis “is not a feminist,” Scaraffia said. But he is, she believes, a “good politician,” an adaptive realist who can see that the Church, in its present form, is disappointing and wounding many of its members.

By

This past March, a small Catholic magazine called Women Church World ran an article titled “The (almost) free work of sisters.” In it, the journalist Marie-Lucile Kubacki described nuns who, among other menial tasks, serve meals to bishops and then eat in the kitchen, and who are paid little or nothing for the work they do. That institutional sexism pertains in the Catholic Church was not a shock, but the messenger was a surprise: Women Church World is published by the Vatican. The Associated Press ran a piece about the exposé, which was subsequently covered by the Times, PBS, and other outlets. The A.P. and the Times both illustrated their pieces with portraits of the magazine’s founder and editor, Lucetta Scaraffia, a seventy-year-old history professor who wears her white-blond hair chopped short, like a monk with a chic hairdresser, and identifies as a feminist.

Scaraffia lives in Rome, but she spends summers in Todi, about an hour’s drive from the birthplace of St. Francis. In June, I went to see her there. Scaraffia founded Women Church World in 2012. The magazine circulates, once a month, with L’Osservatore Romano, a daily broadsheet that was created more than a hundred and fifty years ago and that has a fuzzy sort of editorial independence from Church leadership. There are boundaries to what Women Church World can publish, too, Scaraffia told me, sitting in her summer home’s living room, decorated with old advertisements for Napoleon, who kept Pope Pius VII in prison for several years.

Scaraffia does not regularly see the Pope, but he has her cell-phone number. He once called it, she told me, to say that he liked a book of hers that criticized the Church for not listening to women. Scaraffia is, by and large, quite conservative: she does not want women to be priests, nor does she want the Pope to upend the Church’s positions on sexual mores, she told me. But she thinks that abortion should be legal, and she believes in a merciful Church, with doctrinal walls porous enough to welcome believers who do not conform to teachings on sex and romantic love.

She also believes that Catholic women can and should take on a larger role in Church decisions—they need to make “concrete political moves,” she told me, and to ask “for things we can actually obtain.” The Vatican is a mostly breezeless state, faithful to a heavy inheritance bequeathed by the Gospels, but Scaraffia is attentive to whatever wind there might be. The magazine’s exposé about nuns was inspired in part by comments that Francis made two years ago to a group of sisters. He said that he was troubled to see them assigned to “a labor of servitude and not of service.” “So we wrote the article,” Scaraffia said. After it was published, she heard from nuns who were relieved to see the Church acknowledge that women’s subservience was a violation of divine prescription. (“The priests said nothing,” she said.)

Acknowledgement, of course, is not the same as change. This past summer brought new disclosures that clerics had molested and raped thousands of children, from Germany to Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, cardinals from four continents were summoned to answer either to the Pope or to the courts for abusing minors or for protecting those who did. One archbishop has accused Pope Francis of knowing about sexual-abuse accusations against Theodore E. McCarrick and elevating him regardless. (McCarrick resigned as the archbishop of Washington in July.) The revelations have led to additional calls for women to take on greater authority in the Church: perhaps if women occupied more positions of power, the argument goes, these men would not have been able to act with impunity for so long.

A few days after our first meeting, I met Scaraffia for dinner on her porch, along with her husband, who is also a historian, and a translator. The lights of the region’s medieval castles, both authentic and faux, were bright in the evening. At one point in our conversation, over pasta and a plate of mozzarella, Scaraffia said, “I would like for women to become cardinals.” After the comment was relayed in English, I paused. A woman who doesn’t think that women should be priests, or take birth-control pills, believes that women should be cardinals, and occupy the rank just beneath the Pope, whom cardinals elect and advise?

Yes, Scaraffia said. It’s true that the Vatican prohibits women from ordination into the clerical hierarchy—though nuns take vows, they are not ordained, and so they are laypeople, not clerics. Priests, who consecrate the host at Mass, must be ordained to do so, but Catholic theology does not mandate that cardinals be ordained. So, theologically speaking, laypeople, including laywomen, can be cardinals. Pope Francis “would have everyone against him” if he named a female cardinal, Scaraffia said. “Everyone.” She laughed. “He might do it just before he dies, or renounces his papacy,” she went on. But “he could do it,” she added. “He might.”

Growing up, in Turin, Scaraffia went to mass with her mother, who took her less out of piety than out of concern for her daughter’s social well-being, Scaraffia told me. Her mother was beautiful, she said. “It became a weakness for her, not a strength. Working outside of the household was a nightmare for her.” She married at twenty years old and resigned herself to a quiet life. Scaraffia would later come to feel that her work, as a feminist, and then as a Catholic, was, in part, “to spare other women of what my mother had endured.”

Scaraffia stopped going to mass during her first year at college. She got married at twenty-three and divorced two years later. While studying women’s history, she met a professor who was separated from his wife; they had a daughter together but never married. When they broke up, six years later, Scaraffia became a single mother. She taught at Sapienza University of Rome and lived behind Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria, in Trastevere. One day, in her late thirties, she saw worshippers carrying an icon of the Madonna into the church. She was struck, she said, by “a very powerful physical feeling of awe.” She went back to Mass.

She began contributing to L’Osservatore Romano in 2007, after Pope Benedict XVI asked its incoming editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, a philologist, to give women more space in the paper, which had no female reporters. “I wouldn’t dare call myself a feminist,” Vian told me, but, he said, in the church, “there has to be more space for women.” When Scaraffia asked Vian for a magazine of her own, for women, he relayed the request to Benedict, who gave his approval. (Scaraffia sees Benedict, who is now the first-ever Pope emeritus, rarely, but more often than she sees Francis, she told me. “As a woman, you really feel like he’s treating you just like a colleague,” she said, of the former pontiff.)

After meeting Scaraffia, I went to a gathering of Catholic women in Rome that was organized by Paola Lazzarini, a sociologist based in Sardinia, who described Scaraffia to me as “a point of reference for all of us.” Lazzarini, together with about thirty other women, co-authored a document called “Manifesto of Women for the Church.” (The authors originally connected on Facebook.) She e-mailed it to Scaraffia, who published it in the March issue of Women Church World, opposite the report on the servitude of nuns. Lazzarini has since begun setting up public forums across Italy, at which she hoped that women, especially in more socially conservative regions like Calabria, where she hosted the first meeting, would become “conscious of their condition in the Church.”

This particular gathering was held in a parochial room behind the Basilica of Santa Maria, the church where Scaraffia had returned to Catholicism three decades before. About a dozen women, and a few men, gathered in a semicircle. A woman in her fifties told the group that she had taught religion in a school until she got divorced, at which point the local bishop ordered her to be fired. A schoolteacher told the group how frustrating it was that Catholic parishes don’t seem to know what to do with women who aren’t sweet.

Lazzarini and I had coffee the next morning. A former nun, she is now married and has a young daughter. She wore pearls, and her hair was buoyantly arranged. She left her congregation after five years, she said, frustrated by how often women were underestimated by the Church’s male leaders. While patriarchal attitudes persist in the secular world, she said, in the Church, women’s obedience “is presented as if it was God’s will.” But what if women felt “strong enough to give the Church what they know?” she said. “What they can do? And not submit themselves in order to please men?” She finished her espresso, then added, “It’s our turn to speak not only for ourselves but to speak for the Church.”

Two years ago, Pope Francis convened a commission to study the possibility of female deacons. A deacon can perform many of a priest’s tasks, including baptisms, but can’t consecrate the host. In October, Women Church World published an op-ed, by the editor of the prominent Jesuit magazine America, reporting that a majority of Catholic women in the U.S. want the Church to ordain female deacons. But Scaraffia told me that she believes Francis will not accept female deacons—that he does not want women to be ordained as clerics of any rank. (This past summer, not for the first time, Francis explicitly ruled out the possibility of female priests: only men can be priests, according to the Holy See, because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.) Other Catholic activists are more optimistic. Kate McElwee, the executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, told me that she finds Pope Francis’s “openness to dialogue” encouraging. “We know there are women who are called by God,” she said.

Cardinals, in any case, need not be called by God—only man. “Cardinals are an invention of the Church, to govern itself,” Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova, told me. In the first millennium, the title was an honorific for respected men, without specific duties or power. In 1059, the Church gave cardinals the exclusive right to elect the pontiff. Fourteen years later, Pope Gregory VII began to reduce the number of laymen in favor of clerics. (The idea was to excise corruption by replacing ethically suspicious laymen with good, and loyal, holy men.)

Still, there was no prohibition, earthly or empyrean, on laymen entering the ranks, and, here and there, they did. But, after the Italian kingdom fully conquered the Papal States, in the nineteenth century, the church became “more priestly,” as Faggioli put it. Cardinals had lost much of their temporal power, so they were increasingly seen less as secular diplomats and more as religious men. Pope Pius IX selected the last unordained cardinal, in 1858, an Italian lawyer named Teodolfo Mertel. In 1917, the Holy See changed canon law, restricting the cardinalate to the ordained. (In the nineteen-eighties, the law was updated to restrict candidacies to bishops alone.) Canon law, however, is not gospel. If the Pope wants to change it, Faggioli said, “he can do that with a stroke of the pen.”

Scaraffia says that the Catholic anthropologist Mary Douglas gave her the idea that women could be made cardinals. The Spanish newspaper El País revived the notion shortly after Francis was elected, speculating that the new pontiff might include a woman’s name in his first selections for the College of Cardinals. Francis’s spokesman at the time, Federico Lombardi, told that press that it was “not remotely realistic.” But, he conceded, “theologically and theoretically, it is possible.” Francis is the first Jesuit Pope and the first Latin American Pope; he has alarmed conservative clerics by suggesting that people who are divorced, and women who have had abortions, might be welcomed back to take communion.

Yet women still hold none of the highest or second-highest positions in the Vatican’s government, the Roman Curia. Pope Francis “is not a feminist,” Scaraffia told me, in June. But he is, she believes, a “good politician,” an adaptive realist who can see that the Church, in its present form, is disappointing and wounding many of its members. In September, Francis’s council of cardinal advisers issued a statement announcing that it would ask the Pope to evaluate “the work, structure and composition of the Council itself.” As Chantal Götz, the managing director of Voices of Faith, another group advocating for women’s rights in the Church, put it to me, when I asked her about Scaraffia’s suggestion, “What a symbolic gesture it would be if the Pope named women to the cardinal slots emptied by cardinals implicated in the coverup of sexual abuse.”

In August, I wrote to Pope Francis’s spokesman, Greg Burke, to ask him if his boss would name a woman to the rank of cardinal. “It is an interesting debate,” Burke replied. “But the Pope is not going to name women cardinals.” I e-mailed Scaraffia and reported his reply. Was Pope Francis’s answer definitive, in her eyes? And what did she make of the summer’s clerical meltdown? She did not regard Burke’s reply as final—and my two questions, she added, are related. “I think we are experiencing a serious and profound crisis of the Church,” she wrote, adding that it would result in real change. Perhaps, she continued, such change might include, “who knows, maybe even women Cardinals!”

On October 3rd, Pope Francis delivered a homily at the opening of the Synod of Bishops, a month-long conference on Church matters. (This one was focussed on the Church’s relationship with its younger members.) “A church that does not listen . . . cannot be credible,” he told the assembled clerics, which included fifty cardinals. At the synod, participants vote on proposals for Pope Francis; this time, the Vatican invited a few dozen women, but they did not have voting rights. Eleven advocacy groups, including Lazzarini’s organization, created a petition insisting that women vote at the synod, which was delivered to the synod’s office with more than nine thousand signatures. The rules were not amended. On Saturday, the synod adopted a sixty-page final document that highlighted “the absence of women’s voices and points of view” and recommended “making everyone more aware of the urgency of an inescapable change.”

Meanwhile, the latest issue of Women Church World includes an article under Scaraffia’s byline. There are those who think that a “ ‘good’ Pope” will eventually “open the doors to women,” appointing them to top positions in church government, she writes. But, she goes on, women can’t wait for that Pope. Women, too, were complicit in the church’s sexual-abuse crisis: made to play the role of “obedient daughters,” they served the clerics who protected one another. “The condition of women in the Church will only change if women have the courage to begin to change it from below,” she writes. Two days before the Synod of Bishops began, a symposium, put on by the group Catholic Women Speak, was held in Rome. There, Scaraffia was even more explicit. “Why don’t we become a nuisance in every place where women are not present?” she said. “I am leading a war against the patriarchy of the Church.”

Complete Article HERE!

Retired UK bishop backs women’s ordination

Crowley said it was made clear to him at the time that he should not express his personal views publicly

Bishop John Crowley, Middlesborough diocese

by Carina Murphy

A retired Bishop has come out in support of the ordination of women priests and says he has felt this way since his own ordination 53 years ago.

Bishop Crowley, formerly Bishop of Middlesbrough but now retired and living in London, also said the time is ripe for further church examination on “the key theological premises regarding the exclusion of women from the priesthood”.

In a letter to The Tablet following Gerald O’Collins’ “measured response to the recent pronouncement from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith which has restated that the Church’s teaching definitively excludes women from the priesthood”, Bishop Crowley wrote that “as far back as 1965” (the year he was ordained): “I had sensed on a purely instinctive, subjective level, that whether someone was married or single, male or female, should not be determinative in admitting someone to the priesthood.”

However he said it was made clear to him at the time that he should not express his personal views publicly but, now that he is retired with no public teaching role in the church, he feels able to do so.

He wrote: “Though there might yet be a shift in the Church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for her priests, on the question of women’s ordination the full weight of the church’s long teaching and tradition sits firmly tight on opening up that possibility”.

He said “a growing number of theologians” and “a number of bishops … would want this burning issue to be at least looked at again in a calm, open and public discussion within the church” in a debate which “is already manifestly happening around the world among many lay people and some priests.”

Pat Brown of Catholic Women’s Ordination has welcomed Bishop Crowley’s comments about admitting women priests.

Ms Brown said: “There’s no theological or logical reason why women can’t become priests. Women and men were made equally in the image of God. If you don’t believe that then you’re not a Christian.” She continued: “Women were present at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and Mary Magdalene. [Not wanting female priests] is based on misogyny and prejudice.”

Ms Brown said: “Sometimes I think the situation [on women priests] is improving, especially in Europe but some people won’t open their hearts and ears to understand that women are called by the Holy Spirit to become priests.”

Complete Article HERE!