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!

The other F word

By Angela Mary Griffin

When I taught in a Catholic secondary school in Ontario, some older colleagues who had come of age during the 1960s and who taught in the school’s Religion department lived in a Catholic commune of sorts in the poorer area of the downtown core.

In their cluster of small, East-end homes, they helped one another raise their children. Some of these families had no car, choosing public transport instead. They did not attend Mass in any of the churches in town. Rather, they invited female, Catholic priests into their homes to celebrate Mass. They also used female clergy, gay clergy, or married clergy, not recognized by the Catholic Church, to perform family wedding, baptismal, and death rituals.

Once their daughters became young women, they chose to no longer celebrate any aspect of their Catholic faith. My colleagues had raised their daughters to be feminists and activists. These young women told their parents that until the Catholic Church decided to no longer treat women as second class citizens, they could not participate in that religion. Their parents, Catholic Religious Studies’ teachers, fully supported that decision.

A writer of historical romantic novels interviewed on the CBC last summer said that she was not a feminist. The two writers on the panel with her assured her that she was. She simply didn’t know what a feminist was, they told her. They said they would define it for her after the panel discussion. Hopefully, they did so.

I’ll define it for everyone here: A feminist advocates for the social, political, educational, and financial equality of women and men. That’s it. We’re not lesbians, though some may be. We do not hate men, though some feminists might. Being a feminist doesn’t mandate that you be a lesbian or a man-hater. Those attributes are not characteristics necessary to define oneself as a feminist.

The word feminist is the other f-word. It gets a bad rap.

I always teach a lesson about feminism on December 6, the anniversary of the Montréal massacre. On December 6, 1989, a gunman (whom I choose not to name here) stormed into Montréal’s École Polytechnique (Engineering School) and ordered all of the men from a Christmas examination room. He then told all of the women that he hated them because they were feminists and opened fire murdering all fourteen young women. He killed them because they were women studying to become engineers, a traditionally male profession. The Montréal police later discovered a death list in the killer’s apartment that targeted prominent Montréal women holding down traditionally male occupations.

With the Me Too and Times Up movements, it is past time to accept that women are equal. We are equal in the eyes of God and we should be equal in the eyes of men and women everywhere. It is no longer acceptable for anyone, especially a learned women, to profess that she is not a feminist. I can assure you that she is. If she is educated, votes in elections, earns a wage equal to men, she is a feminist and she has all of the women who came before her who courageously fought for her right to be educated, employed, well-paid, and have an electoral voice to thank for her life, which in this great nation is one steeped in freedom and equality.

As for young women refusing to participate in the religion of their parents because of antiquated, misogynistic policies, who can blame these learned females? Time’s up for every faith to embrace women as equals, and to open its doors and windows to the winds of equality.

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!