By Jamie O’Brien
It is beyond question that we have to do much more in favour of women, according to Pope Francis.
The Holy Father was speaking during his general audience in February 2015 on the Difference and complementarity between men and women.
“Making sure that women not only are listened to more, but that their voices carry real weight, and are an acknowledged authority in society and the Church,” he said.
In echoing the words of Pope Francis, Archdiocese of Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe says the role of women is important because the role of everyone is important.
“St Paul reminds us in one of his letters that there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, because we are all one in Christ Jesus’.
“Because of our Baptism, every single one of us has both the privilege and the responsibility of being disciples of Christ and witnesses of His presence and action in our lives.
“We have been given the gift of faith and the Lord now asks us to allow Him to work through us to bring that gift to others. We do so by making all our gifts and talents available for this great task. One of these precious gifts is the gift of our own identity, including our sexual identity.”
A 1999 report on The Participation of Women in the Catholic Church, undertaken for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, found that the dominant issue affecting women’s participation in the Church in Australia was gender equality.
This understanding of equality, the report said, did not imply the sameness of men and women but, rather, their complementarity and mutuality.
The report found that the Church was seen to be lagging behind the wider Australian society in recognising the changing role of women as one of the “signs of the times” and affirming the equality of women.
Archbishop Costelloe says that for him, women are well placed to understand and evaluate “from within” many of the challenging issues of today.
“Women will, for example, have a better instinctive grasp of both the strengths and the weaknesses of the feminist movement (in all its manifestations). Because of their intimate involvement in the bringing forth of new life, they will be able to offer unique insights into the complex issues surrounding such matters such as abortion, IVF, contraception and other ‘life’ issues.”
It would be a mistake to suggest, said Archbishop Costelloe, that women’s voices should primarily be heard only in relation to women’s issues, or that men’s voices have nothing to contribute to these discussions.
“What we need to hear are ‘voices of wisdom’ on these and all important issues,” said Archbishop Costelloe.
“To the extent that we have created a society, or a culture, or even a Church, in which the voices of women are excluded or disregarded, we have foolishly limited our access to the wisdom we need to confront the many challenges we face,” he said.
The importance of the role of women in society also featured as a central theme, entitled Women’s cultures: between equality and difference, at a Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, held in February 2015.
In his speech for the occasion, the Holy Father reiterated the importance of finding “criteria and new ways to enable women to no longer feel like guests, but instead to be full participants in the various areas of social and ecclesial life”.
With reference to the first theme considered in the Plenary Assembly, Between equality and difference: the quest for an equilibrium, Pope Francis remarked that this equilibrium must be harmonious, not merely a question of balance.
“Equality and difference of women – like that of men – is best perceived from the perspective of ‘with’, in relation to, rather than ‘against’,” Pope Francis said.
The Holy Father also spoke about the indispensable role of women in the family, and highlighted the importance of “encouraging and promoting the effective presence of women in many areas of the public sphere, in the world of work and in places where the most important decisions are taken”, without prejudice to their role in the private domain.
“We must not leave women to bear these burdens and take all these decisions alone; all institutions, including the ecclesial community, must guarantee freedom of choice for women, so that they have the opportunity to assume social and ecclesial responsibilities, in harmony with family life”.
So what can we do – as followers of the Gospel – to help encourage, grow and strengthen the role of women in the Church?
The first and most important thing we can do, says Archbishop Costelloe, is make sure our priorities are right.
“I have said often, and am more convinced than ever, that all the challenges we face in the Church will remain intractable unless we return Christ to the heart of everything we are trying to do and be in the Church and in the world,” Archbishop Costelloe said.
“We have to take seriously the words of Christ that He is our way, our truth and our life. “Christ must be at the centre of our efforts.”
The above article is an abridged version from three articles. For the full series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
From pages 4 to 5 of Issue 16: ‘Celebrating Women’ of The Record Magazine