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.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Bishops Still Don’t Get It

Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago (pictured) to be part of the organizing committee for the Vatican’s global bishops meeting to address clerical sexual abuse taking place in February

by Timothy D. Lytton

Recent revelations that U.S. bishops are still concealing allegations of clergy sexual abuse made headlines this past summer and again this Christmas season. A grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania found that bishops in that state failed to report abuse committed by 300 priests against 1,000 children. A report by the Illinois attorney general concluded that bishops in the state withheld the names of more than 500 priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

The U.S. Catholic hierarchy is once again asking forgiveness and promising reforms to earn back the trust of parishioners and the American public. Bishops from across the country are meeting north of Chicago during the first week of January for a spiritual retreat of quiet reflection to “seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit” and to “pray for the survivors of sexual abuse.” A few weeks later, in February, the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world will gather in Rome for a Vatican summit on the crisis to launch “a worldwide reform.”

This pattern of periodic revelations of coverup followed by expressions of remorse and promises of reform is a familiar one – and it is likely to persist so long as the Catholic hierarchy continues to blame the scandal on the sexual misconduct of priests rather than the lack of accountability for their own duplicity.

History of Coverup

Personnel files in dioceses around the U.S. contain allegations of sexual misconduct against priests dating back to the 1930s. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops discussed the problem in closed-door meetings starting in the 1970s. Every U.S. bishop knew about the problem, but not one of them reported it to criminal justice authorities.

The scandal first came to light when a lawsuit against a Louisiana diocese filed by victims of a serial child molester Father Gilbert Gauthe made national headlines in 1984 and prompted other victims to speak out. In response, the bishops dedicated an entire day of their semiannual conference to examining the psychological, legal, and moral aspects of clergy sexual abuse. They issued public apologies, expressed empathy for victims, and instituted reforms.

The crisis flared up again eight years later in 1992, when sexual abuse victims publicly exposed Father James Porter, who molested more than 100 known victims between the ages of 6 and 14, and whose predations were well known among his colleagues and superiors within the Church. Again, the bishops dedicated a day of their annual conference to the issue and adopted a nonbinding set of Five Principles to respond to the crisis, pledging prompt response to allegations, removal of accused priests, increased reporting to law enforcement, victim outreach, and greater official transparency. An ad hoc committee issued a three-volume report called Restoring Trust.

In 2002, the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reports again

Cardinal Bernard Law became a symbol of the Catholic Church’s systematic protection of pedophile priests.

shined a spotlight on the bishops’ coverup of clergy sexual abuse. The most egregious offender in this round of revelations was Father John Geoghan, who reportedly abused more than 800 victims over a 33-year period. His crimes were concealed by no fewer than six bishops, including Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston and arguably the most powerful figure in the U.S. Catholic Church. Once again, the bishops issued apologies and published new reforms in the Charter for the Protection of Children & Young People, a binding policy that proclaimed “zero tolerance” for clergy sexual abuse within the Church.

Fathers Gauthe, Porter, and Geoghan were merely poster children for the scandal. By the bishops’ own reckoning, diocesan files contained sexual abuse allegations against 4,392 priests by 10,667 victims between 1950 and 2002. Lawsuits forced the bishops to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to victims, and ongoing revelations of coverup eroded the U.S. Catholic hierarchy’s moral authority.

Bishops Deflect Blame

Through it all, and still today, the bishops have attempted to deflect blame for the crisis onto others -portraying themselves as the victims of unfair media coverage and a popular culture that has corrupted the Church.

In response to the Illinois attorney general report, Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, issued a statement expressing “profound regret for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse” followed by a reminder that “the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago.” Translation: we’re very sorry for the misdeeds of our predecessors.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, issued a statement in response to the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation explaining that “I do not see how we can avoid what is really at the root of this crisis: sin and a retreat from holiness” – by which he meant disregard of “our Church teaching [that] it is a grave sin to be ‘sexually active’ outside of a real marriage covenant.”


 
He went on to lament that “contemporary culture in our part of the world now holds it normative that sex and sexual gratification between any consenting persons for any reason that their free wills allow is perfectly acceptable,” and he called for “a culture of chastity” to “drive the evil behaviors among us from the womb of the Church.” Translation: the real sin here is not the misconduct of church officials but contemporary attitudes towards sexuality that have eroded traditional values and corrupted the clergy.

To be fair, children are safer as a result of reforms implemented by Church officials in response to the scandal. The Church no longer provides a safe hunting ground for predators like Gauthe, Porter, and Goeghan, who abused dozens or hundreds of victims over decades.

However, so long as the bishops continue to focus on the failings of others and on fighting culture wars, rather than removing bishops who conceal crimes and transforming the culture of impunity within the Catholic hierarchy, the clergy sexual abuse scandal will not go away.

Complete Article HERE!

Senator criticises pope’s ‘no room’ for gay clergy in church comment

‘Being gay is not transient, it’s not a phase,’ says former seminarian Jerry Buttimer

‘In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable,’ says Pope Francis.

By Barry Roche

Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer has expressed disappointment at Pope Francis’ declaration that there is “no room” in the Catholic church for gay priests.

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” Pope Francis says in a book released in Italy on Saturday.

“In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church.”

Writing in The Strength of Vocation, Pope Francis says some priests did not exhibit any homosexual inclinations when they joined the priesthood only for it to emerge later but he reminded the faithful that the Catholic Church views homosexual acts as sinful.

“In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life

Mr Buttimer, who is gay and studied for five years as a seminarian in Maynooth in the 1980s, said the Pope seemed to be delivering a very traditional message with regard to people from the LGBT community which was at odds with some of his initial comments regarding gay people.

Pope Francis was now adopting “ a very hardline” approach to the LGBT community and to say that homosexuality was about being fashionable failed to recognize that people’s sexual orientation was a fundamental part of their being, he said.

‘In god’s image’

“Being gay is not transient, it’s not a phase, it’s not a passing stage of one’s life – I’ve always made the point that, as a Christian, as a Catholic, I was born and am born in the image of the god who created me and the god that I pray to and worship,” said Mr Buttimer.

“For me, this is disappointing from Pope Francis whom I thought, given his initial statements that he would not judge people, would have travelled a journey of being more open, and understanding and accepting of LGBT people but obviously I was wrong.”

Mr Buttimer said one of the fundamentals of the priesthood was that it was a celibate ministry but to say that applies to just homosexual priests without stressing that similar principles should apply to heterosexual priests was “wrong and deeply unfair”.

“The church would be a better church, a more enhanced church by having a ministry that is open to all and it just baffles that the Pope, on one level seems to be a welcoming man and then in the next breath shuts the door completely to members of the LGBT community,” Mr Buttimer said.

“There are many committed Christians and Catholics who are gay, some of them are afraid to come out but they make very fine contributions in the liturgy as lay readers and lay ministers of the Eucharist and they do a wonderful job in our churches, in our classrooms, in our choirs and as part of parish councils.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why LGBT Catholics want to change attitudes in Italy

 

Coming out can be challenging for young people across the globe – but in Italy many young Catholics are struggling with negative attitudes from both their communities and their churches.

While some churches offer support for the LGBT community, others are still asking young people to see a psychologist or stop attending Church events. Sometimes even celibacy is expected.

Giulia is in the committee for an informal LGBT Catholic association that supports people up and down the country. Listen to her chat with her friend and fellow group member Edoardo about the challenges they’ve faced.

You can find out more about issues concerning young people and the Catholic Church by listening to the World Service’s Heart and Soul programme here.

The Catholic Church proves incapable of exorcising clergy sex abuse — again

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks in Baltimore on Nov. 12.

IT IS EVIDENT that the Catholic Church is incapable on its own of exorcising the scourge of clergy sex abuse. The scandal raged unchecked for decades and, even after it was exposed in 2002 by the Boston Globe , has been met by the church hierarchy with denial, temporizing, stone walling and half-measures.

Even as the bishops of America’s 196 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses gathered in Baltimore Monday to grapple with the latest major revelations — a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report from August detailing decades of abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and at least 300 priests — they were stopped in their tracks by an abrupt message from the Vatican, which asked them to hold off. That intercession arrived along with a warning from Pope Francis’s ambassador in the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who seemed to scoff at the proposal, which the bishops had been set to vote on, to establish a lay commission that would assess bishops’ misconduct — “as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves,” as he put it.

That remark crystallized the arrogance that has often characterized the church’s stance even as countless exposés have laid bare the culpability of its leaders. From high and low, the church has broadcast its conviction that its own transgressions are no worse than that of other institutions; that state statutes of limitations that shield dioceses from lawsuits should be preserved; that no foothold may be allowed for mechanisms to discipline bishops who have enabled abuse by transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish.

Voices of moral clarity have been heard from within the church, urging genuine change. “Brother bishops, to exempt ourselves from this high standard of accountability is unacceptable and cannot stand,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a speech to the gathered bishops Monday following that of Mr. Pierre. “Whether we will be regarded as guardians of the abused or the abuser will be determined by our actions.”

Yet, more often than not, those voices have been ignored.

The pontiff has summoned bishops from around the world to the Vatican for a meeting to address the scandal in February; this summit, we are urged to believe, will once and for all set the church on a path toward surmounting the blight of abuse. The fact of that pending event was the proffered pretext for the church’s request that the U.S. bishops put off two items on their agenda this week in Baltimore: establishing the lay commission to review complaints against bishops, and adopting a code of conduct for themselves — the first such codified ethical guidelines.

The agenda was modest, and Rome’s intervention is telling. Again and again, the Vatican pays lip service to the suffering of victims. Again and again, it undercuts its own assertions of contrition.

Complete Article HERE!