Roman Catholic women led by former Irish president Mary McAleese demanded a greater decision-making role for women in the Church on Thursday, urging Pope Francis to tear down its “walls of misogyny”.
McAleese was the key speaker at a symposium of Catholic women called “Why Women Matter”, attended by hundreds of people and followed by many others around the world via web-streaming.
The Women’s Day event was held at the headquarters of the Jesuit religious order after the Vatican withdrew permission for it to be held inside its walls when organizers added controversial speakers without its permission.
McAleese, who supports gay marriage and the ordination of women as priests, joked about the change of venue to a location just a block away from the Vatican walls, saying: “I hope all their hearing aids are turned on today”.
She said the Church’s ban on a female priesthood had “locked women out of any significant role in the Church’s leadership, doctrinal development and authority structure”.
The Church teaches that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. Those calling for women priests say he was only following the norms of his time.
“We are here to shout, to bring down our Church’s walls of misogyny,” she said, adding that the Church’s position on keeping women in a subordinate role to men had “kept Christ out and bigotry in”.
“How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership?” she said in her address. McAleese was Irish president between 1997 and 2011.
Many women, she said, “experience the Church as a male bastion of patronizing platitudes, to which Pope Francis has added his quota”.
The pope has promised to put more women in senior positions in the Vatican but critics say he is moving too slowly.
Other women speakers included Zuzanna Radzik, a Catholic theologian from Poland, who described the struggle to make priests and bishops in her homeland take her seriously as an intellectual on a par with men.
Many in the audience were nuns, who cheered on the speakers who demanded more rights for women in the Church.
Last week, a Vatican magazine denounced widespread exploitation of nuns for cheap or free labor in the Roman Catholic Church, saying the male hierarchy should stop treating them like lowly servants.
The article in the monthly “Women, Church, World”, remarkable for an official Vatican publication, described the drudgery of nuns who cook, clean and wait on tables for cardinals, bishops and priests.
The Association of Catholic Priests has said it find it “impossible to understand” why words of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles had been edited out of a promotional video for the World Meeting of Families 2018.
It has called on Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who is hosting the event which will take place at the end of August, to issue a statement clarifying the matter.
Words of welcome from the Cork-born Bishop David O’Connell for gay people raising children and people in second marriages were removed from the video.
“Pope Francis, he gets it. Today there are all sorts of configurations of families – mum and dad; mum or dad on their own; gay couple raising children; people in second marriages,” he said. These have been cut.
A spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families 2018 has insisted however that everyone will be welcome to the event which is being hosted by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the end of August next.
She noted how, in Amoris laetitia, “Pope Francis specifically stresses that ‘every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration’ . . . as is repeated throughout the parish programme.
“The meeting has always been understood as a meeting open to all. This remains the position of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the association, which represents between a third and a half of Catholic priests in Ireland, said it was concerned that “following the earlier removal of photographs from a leaflet, the organisers of the World Meeting of Families have now also removed the words of Bishop O’Connell” from their promotional video.
“His words were such that we find it impossible to understand how anyone who supports the message of PopeFrancis could object to them.”
It was the case that “no clear statement has been made as to why these actions were taken, and on whose direction. Both leave themselves open to interpretations which are very damaging to the WMOF.”
It asked: “Who is making the decisions? Where is the funding coming from? Has the source of the funding anything to do with the decisions being made?
“Without clear explanations, questions like these, and many others, will continue to be asked.”
The ACP concluded: “We believe that it is important that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin makes a statement clarifying why these two alterations were made, who decided on them, and why. Otherwise any further effect to present the WMOF as a welcoming place for everyone will be seen for what it is, empty rhetoric.”
The Vatican’s leading expert on clerical sex abuse wrapped up his fact-finding mission to Chile on Thursday and headed to Rome to brief the pope, concluding one of the most extraordinary months in the Catholic Church’s long-running saga of coming to terms with priests who rape children and the church hierarchy that protects them.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna plans to present not only a report about Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of witnessing their abuse and ignoring it. Scicluna is also bringing back testimony from Chilean victims of other abusers in the Marist Brothers, Salesian and Franciscan religious orders and how their accusations were mishandled, confirmation that the Chilean Catholic Church has a very big problem on its hands, and to date hasn’t handled it very well.
“In those situations that seem pertinent, Monsignor Scicluna will provide the respective background to the Holy See,” said the spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference, Jaime Coiro.
Expectations in Chile are high that something has to change, and that the problem isn’t just about Barros and Francis’ 2015 decision to appoint him as bishop of Osorno, Chile over the objections of many Chilean bishops. Barros had been a top lieutenant to Chile’s most prominent predator priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, but he denies victims’ accusations that he witnessed and ignored their abuse.
Victims say the Barros affair is merely emblematic of a culture in the Chilean church to cover-up for abusers, give them minimal sanctions or move them around rather than adopt the “one-strike-and-you’re-out” policy adopted by U.S. bishops after the sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.
There are currently five Chilean dioceses that need new bishops, including Santiago, where the archbishop, Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati, turned 76 in January and is due to retire. That sets the stage for the potential that a new course could be charted in Chile if Francis chooses to take it.
“This isn’t just about Bishop Barros. This is much bigger,” historian and author Marcial Sanchez told CNN Chile on Thursday. “We can’t continue sweeping the dirt under the carpet.”
Pope Francis dispatched Scicluna and a Vatican expert on abuse in the region, the Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, to Chile on Jan. 30 following Francis’ problematic visit to Chile and even more problematic press conference coming home. Francis had strongly defended Barros, pronounced himself “certain” that Barros was innocent of cover-up and repeatedly said that accusations against him were “calumny.”
Francis gave the impression that he didn’t know that victims themselves had placed Barros at the scene of their abuse and had been denouncing him for years. The Associated Press, however, reported that Francis had received a letter in 2015 from Juan Carlos Cruz, a Karadima victim, detailing his abuse, Barros’ failure to acknowledge it, and questioning Barros’ fitness to lead a diocese as a result.
Francis’ about-face decision to send in Scicluna, the Catholic Church’s most credible figure on fighting abuse, signaled he wanted to get to the bottom of the Barros affair once and for all. But Scicluna’s decision to take testimony from other Chilean victims — made possible thanks to emergency gall bladder surgery that forced him to stay in Chile for an extra week — signaled that there was a bigger problem at hand and that his mandate was expanding.
Cruz said the fact that Scicluna and Bertomeu chose to interview victims completely unrelated to the Barros case “shows that this goes way beyond Juan Barros.”
“I think that if the pope doesn’t do anything, and focuses only on Barros, it will not go over well since the Chilean church needs an extreme cleansing,” he said.
Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org, had actually illustrated the problem facing the Chilean church on the eve of Francis’ Jan. 15-21 trip to Chile and Peru. She and other survivors’ advocates held a press conference in Santiago to unveil research showing nearly 80 credibly accused priests and brothers in Chile, many of them even superiors of religious orders.
One month later, Barrett Doyle said it was “encouraging” that Scicluna had come and had even expanded his mandate to take testimony from other victims. But she said time will tell if Francis and the Vatican act on Scicluna’s findings. She said the bigger problem was the Chilean hierarchy and its approach to investigating abuse, which she said remained “in the dark ages.”
“The Chilean church desperately needs systemic reform,” she said.
She noted that the Chilean church’s 2015 sex abuse policy — mandated by the Vatican in 2011 — “contains no zero tolerance provision, no mandated reporting for clergy, and a rejection of the church’s responsibility to make reparation to victims.”
In fact, efforts by Karadima’s victims to obtain damages from the church through civil litigation accusing church leaders of cover-up have been met with a campaign to discredit the victims. And yet elsewhere, dioceses in the U.S. have paid out millions of dollars in settlements and litigation acknowledging wrongdoing. Dioceses in Europe and Australia have created compensation schemes to help victims pay for the therapy many have needed to cope with the lifelong trauma the church had caused them.
A lawsuit seeking less than a million dollars, lodged by Cruz and two other Karadima victims, was rejected by Chilean courts but is on appeal.
Scicluna and Bertolomeu will return to Rome just days after Francis wrapped up his latest periodic meeting of cardinal advisers, who discussed ways to speed up the processing of cases at the Vatican’s backlogged Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One proposal that has been discussed for years is to create regional tribunals around the world to hear cases.
One of Francis’ key cardinal advisers, who spent three days with him this week in private, was Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who has acknowledged he shelved the initial investigation into Karadima because he didn’t believe the victims.
Sister Marie told of nuns who worked long hours to cook and clean for cardinals and bishops, without being asked to break bread at the same table.
Sister Paule pointed out that many nuns did not have registered contracts with the bishops, schools, parishes or congregations they worked for, “so they are paid little or not at all.”
Sister Cécile said that “nuns are seen as volunteers to have available at one’s calling, which gives rise to abuse of power.”
These stories — told by sisters using pseudonyms — were revealed Thursday in an exposé about how nuns are exploited by the leaders and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. The article, by the French journalist Marie-Lucile Kubacki, was published in the March edition of Women Church World, the monthly magazine on women distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
he stories amount to a distress signal about the unfair economic and social conditions many nuns experience, as well as the psychological and spiritual challenges that many face.
“In the eyes of Jesus we are all children of God,” said the nun identified as Sister Marie, “but in their concrete life some nuns do not live this, and they experience great confusion and discomfort.”
The article was part of an issue dedicated to “Women and Work,” which touched on subjects already familiar to readers of the women’s magazine, like maternity and women in the church, but also the gender pay gap and unpaid domestic work.
It came about after discussions with nuns and observations about how they were treated in the Vatican, where they often provide “subordinate services,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a feminist intellectual and the editor of Women Church World, which was introduced under Pope Benedict XVI.
Though convents also depend on the money generated by the sisters living there, many nuns, unlike priests, are not paid, or are poorly paid, when they attend conferences or when they preach, she said.
But the article, “The (Nearly) Free Work of Sisters,” noted that it was not just a question of money. A bigger problem, the article pointed out, is that many sisters say that while male vocations are valued, the work of women is not.
“Behind all this is still the unfortunate idea that women are worth less than men, and above all that the priest is everything while sisters are nothing in the church,” Sister Paule said in the article.
Still, some efforts are underway to address the problem. The annual Voices of Faith conference, which aims to showcase the “underutilized potential of women to exercise leadership at all levels of the Catholic Church” will take place at the Vatican on March 8.
And a “Manifesto of Women for the Church,” also published in the March issue of Women Church World, calls for giving women “roles that are coherent with our competences and capacities.” The document has circulated on social media and is being shared by women who are active in church institutions and parishes throughout Italy.
Pope Francis, who is said to read the magazine, has raised the matter of women’s roles in the church before, but his concerns have yet to be translated into concrete changes.
At an audience in May 2016, Francis was asked by one of the 900 leaders of female religious orders and congregations who form part of the International Union of Superiors General why the organization was not given a bigger say in the operation of the church.
Francis said at the time that “very often I find consecrated women who perform a labor of servitude and not of service,” and he urged the sisters to “have the courage to say no” when their superiors “asked for something that is more servitude than service.”
Sisters should be in the streets, in schools and with the sick and poor rather than carrying out errands for a parish priest, he said.
The pope has said that his concerns apply to women in the church in general. In its Friday edition, which came out Thursday, L’Osservatore Romano published a preface written by the pope for a Spanish-language book on Francis and women.
The pope wrote that he was concerned about a chauvinist mentality that persists in societies that leads to acts of violence. “And I am concerned that in the church itself, the role of service to which every Christian is called, often, in the case of women, slides into roles of servitude rather than service,” he wrote.
Paola Lazzarini Orrù, a sociologist and one of the authors of the manifesto in the magazine said some parishes had begun to invite women to speak during Mass. “Priest have begun to understand this is an issue that can no longer be ignored,” she said.
In the article, Sister Cécile said it was time for nuns to speak out. “Now when I am invited to hold a conference, I no longer hesitate to say I want to be paid, and how much I expect,” she said.
“It’s a question of survival for our communities,” she added, because she and her sisters live off this income.
But “change is difficult,” Ms. Scaraffia said. “Many prelates don’t want to hear these things, because it is easier to have nuns” who play subservient roles.
Nearly five years into Pope Francis papacy, with its great expectations for a revival of Catholicism among the flagging faithful, a new large-scale survey of American Catholic women finds the flock faithful but disengaged from the rituals of the church and eager for a greater female presence in its institutions.
The survey of some 1,500 self-identified Catholic women was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University for America magazine.
The survey found that while 98 percent of American Catholic women say they believe in God in some way, only about one-third (35%) attend mass even fairly regularly, and just under one-third (30%) say they attend confession once a year, which is a significant repudiation of the bedrock obligations of Catholicism by women who call themselves Catholic.
“While Catholic women remain affiliated with the church, they are disengaged and disengaging,” said Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., editor in chief of America, who called the survey a “wake-up call” for the U.S. Catholic leadership.
“We are at a crisis point” in American Catholicism, Notre Dame professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings told America, noting that historically “it’s always been the women who are more engaged” in the church.
And levels of engagement were even lower for women born after Vatican II, with fewer than 20% attending mass once a week. Overall, only 35% of Catholic women said attending mass weekly was very important to their sense of being a Catholic. The most important factors to respondents’ sense of being Catholic was “helping the poor” and “receiving the Eucharist/Holy Communion,” with nearly half (45%) saying both were very important to their sense of being Catholic.
Despite low levels of regular engagement with the obligatory rituals of the church, 82% of the respondents said they never had considered leaving the church. Twelve percent of the women surveyed had considered leaving the church for a time, while six percent had left but returned—most commonly because they had disagreed with the church’s stance on a particular issue, often regarding sexuality and reproductive rights, and the status of women in the church.
Overall, women were fairly satisfied with their level of inclusion in their local churches. A total of 57% said the priests in their parish did a good job of including women in the parish community and half felt women were well-represented on parish councils and in lay ministry positions. However, the survey also showed that women clearly were looking for greater formal inclusion in the ministry of the church. Sixty percent of the women surveyed supported women being ordained permanent deacons, which had been raised as a possibility by Pope Francis, while another 33% weren’t sure; only 7% of women opposed the ordination of women as deacons.
Women of the Baby Boom generation showed the most support for women deacons, with 65% registering approval, while Millennials showed the lowest levels of support, at 53%. And just over 50% of women who attend mass weekly support women deacons.
In another sign that Millennial Catholic women may be trending more conservative then their mothers and grandmothers—possibly because so many more progressive-leaning women have left the church—one-quarter (26%) report using natural family planning as a method of contraception, which is the second-highest rate following women born before the availability of modern contraceptives.
Politically, the women who responded to the survey trended Democratic. Some 60% were either Democratic (41%) or leaned Democratic (18%), while just under one-quarter (24%) were Republican and 14% leaned Republican. Three-quarters of the Catholic women surveyed said they planned to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections, which the survey notes would be equivalent to 18.7 million voters. More Catholic women said they intend to vote for Democrats (55%) than Republicans (37%).
Republican Catholic women were three times more likely than Catholic Democratic women to say that Catholic social teaching would help them decide how to vote, but even then only 20% looked to Catholic social teaching. Not surprisingly, 38% of Republican Catholic women said “protecting life” was very important to their sense of being a Catholic, while for Democratic Catholic women, “helping the poor” was most important, with 52% citing this value. Neither Democratic nor Republican women pay much attention to the statements of the U.S. bishops, with only 7% saying they were helpful in deciding how to vote.
For Democratic women the specific Catholic teaching that was important to them and likely to effect how they voted was on care for the environment, with 47% saying it affected how they voted. For Republican women, the most important teaching that affected how they voted was on abortion, with 51% citing this teaching, making it the single most salient teaching on Catholic voting behavior. The least important issue across the board was the church’s teaching on artificial birth control.
The survey portrays a church in which not only are many of its followers deeply disengaged from the sacramental life of the church, but as divided as American society in general over key social issues.