Women speak about gender reform in the church from the heart of the Vatican

Mar 14, 2015 | 0 comments

“In all my years as a Catholic, I have never heard anyone speak so clearly about gender equality.”   (Deborah Rose-Milavec,  FutureChurch)

The following is taken from an email that Executive Director of  the US Catholic Reform FutureChurch Deborah Rose-Milavec sent to  members about activities at the International Women’s Day in Rome, March 8th  2015.  Reproduced here with kind permission of FutureChurch*.
The event was organised by ‘Voices of Faith‘*.

FutureChurch’s Deborah Rose-Milavec participates in first of its kind event in the Vatican

I am getting ready to board my plane to fly back to the FutureChurch office, but I wanted to share with you some of the exciting and groundbreaking work we participated in over the past week for the 2nd annual Voices of Faith Event (www.voicesoffaith.org). This is just the first installment, a brief overview of the week’s happenings.

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, FutureChurch’s Deborah Rose-Milavec participated in the first of its kind discussion about women’s leadership and roles in the Church and a mass where Archbishop Anil Couto of New Delhi preached an amazingly clear message about gender equality followed by a reflection by Kerry Robinson- right in the heart of the Vatican!

In a first of its kind event within the Vatican, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Ulla Gudmunson, Tina Beattie and Gudrun Sailer all shared aspects of their experiences of working as a woman in the Catholic Church. And they also shared their hopes and ideas for how to expand women’s roles in the Church.

What made this event a first of its kind was the honesty with which each woman expressed her opinion. Unlike the women often chosen to speak at the Vatican because of their orthodox views, these women spoke clearly, respectfully and honestly about their dissatisfaction with the current constraints on women’s leadership and roles and the urgent need for reform in the Catholic Church. Respectful as it was, there was no sugarcoating the situation for women in the Church.

For instance, Astrid spoke about her dissatisfaction with the lack of inclusive language in the liturgy and the lack of ministerial roles for women, especially in the case of deacons, where the husband and wife go through the identical training, but only the man is ordained. She also talked at length about the Gender Policy of the Catholic Church in India and how it was a first of its kind in all the Church because it created a space for women to draft the document, to be subjects in the creation of a policy that would affect women and men everywhere in India. What if all Church teaching and Canon law developed this way?

Ulla observed that, as an Ambassador, she was respected as her male counterparts, but still, she noticed that the Vatican often speaks about women, but rarely do you hear women speak for themselves. What an insight from the inside!

When asked about the history of the problematic concept of complementarity where women’s roles are ascribed based on biology, she sent the whole room into fits of laughter as she pointed out what a high ranking official in the Church once said to her. “At first some practice is prohibited. Then it is allowed by exception. Then the Church sees it works pretty good, and it becomes normalized. Finally, it becomes mandatory.” We look forward to the day when women’s full participation in every facet of church life, ministry and leadership is mandatory!

Gudrun spoke about her research work on women and gave some facts about the growth in the number of female employees the in Vatican. In the Holy See the percentage of women employees is about 17%. In Vatican City, it is 18% although many of these jobs are service type jobs. But Gudrun was also quick to point out that women’s roles at the highest, decision making levels are extremely limited. Speaking to my question about the oft-heard criticism by bishops that the laity are prone to secularization and that this push for women’s equality is just a raw grab for power, Gudrun responded that this was just not true. She noted that the Church has always learned from the secular world and that it should listen to the “signs of the times” today when it comes to women’s roles.
Tina spoke about the need for new symbols that embrace women and men as equals before God. Brilliantly, she said that if the magisterium holds to its position that women cannot be ordained, then it was beholding on them to make sure women were in every high ranking position in the Church. Astrid supported this commenting that governance in the Church should be delinked from ordination.

The Opening Eucharist

The day began with another “first” in the Catholic Church, a mass in Chiesa di Santa Maria Regine della Famiglia where Archbishop Anil Couto (New Delhi) gave an amazing homily on the sin of sexism and the urgent need for equality between women and men. In all my years as a Catholic, I have never heard anyone speak so clearly about gender equality.

Even more astounding was the invitation he extended to Kerry Robinson to share her reflections.

Kerry spoke eloquently and without any script about Jesus turning over the tables of the moneylenders. She said that Jesus shows us that there is such a thing as a holy anger and that we should never become cynical, but use that holy anger for good, for change.

She reminded us that we are called as God’s people to reverence those things that are precious to God and to own our holy anger and use it to correct those injustices we see in the world.

It was an amazing beginning to an amazing day.

Time to board the plane! So much more to say!
Deborah Rose-Milavec
Executive Director, FutureChurch 


*Voices of Faith: provides a place in the heart of the Vatican for women to share their stories of strengthening the Church’s mission.  In the spirit of Francis the focus is to accompany the poor, relieve human suffering, advance peace and extend mercy.

*FutureChurchWorking so that all Roman Catholics have the opportunity to participate fully in the life and leadership of the Church!

Read National Catholic Report article on this event: Women speak up about equality in the church from the heart of the Vatican (NCR) 




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