Skirts vs. cas­socks as Catholic women bid for rights


It will be a land­mark re­view of Church teach­ings and women want their say: as bish­ops gather in Rome to re­view at­ti­tudes to mod­ern fam­ily life, the “Catholic Women Speak” net­work is primed for a fierce but up­hill strug­gle.

The Vat­i­can needs to “stop speak­ing about women in or­der to con­cen­trate on speak­ing with women,” says the net­work, the frus­trated cry of women be­ing snubbed by a cen­turies-old in­sti­tu­tion run ex­clu­sively by robed men.

But with thorny sub­jects from ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity to di­vorce on the ta­ble from this week­end, will the red-hat­ted “princes” of the Church and their pink-sashed col­leagues make time to talk about let­ting women into the Vat­i­can’s halls of power?

Of the 360 or so peo­ple tak­ing part in the three-week re­view, only 17 are women, called to speak strictly about their ex­pe­ri­ence as wives and moth­ers — and cer­tainly not el­i­gi­ble to take part in the fi­nal vote on change.

“From si­lence to words, from sub­or­di­na­tion to re­spon­si­bil­ity, from in­vis­i­bil­ity to peace” — this is the bat­tle cry of the­o­log­i­cal pro­fes­sor Cet­tina Militello which has been taken up by women from all walks of life in the net­work.

It was launched last year by Mon­ica Jimenez de la Jara, Chile’s am­bas­sador to the Holy See, and sis­ter Mary Melone, the first fe­male head of a pon­tif­i­cal univer­sity, the An­to­ni­anum in Rome.

Their fight is de­scribed in the book “Catholic Women Speak: bring­ing our gifts to the ta­ble” which editor Tina Beat­tie of Bri­tain’s Roe­hamp­ton Univer­sity is plan­ning to hand out to “each mem­ber of the synod.”

The net­work’s mem­bers

in- clude the­olo­gians, his­to­ri­ans, jour­nal­ists and re­searchers. Most are moth­ers and all are deeply in­volved in the life of their parishes and frus­trated that their skills are only val­ued at a lo­cal level.

But while some hope the Church’s lead­ers will ac­knowl­edge that the num­ber of Catholic nuns and lay re­li­gious in the world far out­weighs that of priests — some 700,000 to 415,000 — oth­ers are more re­al­is­tic about their chances.

Speak­ing at a “Catholic Women Speak” meet­ing this week, for­mer Ir­ish pres­i­dent Mary McAleese said it was an open se­cret that the synod was “the sin­gle most bor­ing coun­cil on the planet.”

“Pope Fran­cis this month said that women are more im­por­tant than men be­cause the Church is fem­i­nine, can you imag­ine that?” she scoffed, adding that the pon­tiff’s ac­tions on this front have so far fallen very short in­deed.

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