Critical remarks and related expectations 

„Many responses treat ‚the subject of women in society and the Church‘, noting the real progress which has taken place in various ecclesial communities, very meaningful and courageous in some, less advanced and modest in others, in correcting misconceptions and promoting the equal dignity of women, the idea of equal rights and duties of men and women in the various sectors of family and social life, and the specific contribution of the Church's women in her life and evangelising activity. It is to be readily admitted, however, that, in some particular Churches, there is still much to be done in this regard.“ (IL, 48)

This is all there is in the 46 pages of Instrumentum Laboris for the European Bishops Synod in relation to the theme ‘woman’. In any case, it can hardly be expected that the bishops present in Rome will occupy themselves with actual equalisation of women in the Roman Catholic Church.  That is why our voices are needed, and we invite men and women to express their opinions in order that this synod does not stick to the usual glib pronouncements about women in church and society. 

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1. “… the subject of women in society and the Church” -  It sounds remarkable that bishops – finally – seem to gather up courage, when nowadays the equality of women in politics and society is taken for granted for all laws and regulations. In particular, a community of faith which preaches a God of Compassion especially directed to the afflicted, the children and the poor, and which rightly expects this same attitude from Christian men and women, ought then to be the forerunner when it comes to equality of men and women, instead of reluctantly dragging behind. 

  • Therefore, Roman Catholic women expect from the European Bishops Synod clear statements on what is self-evident nowadays in respect of ethnic and social groups: that being of female gender is no hindrance for belonging completely to Christ, to be one with Him, and that women also are “Heirs According To The Promise”. (See Gal 3, 26-29). 
2. “ … in correcting misconceptions” -  An (almost) impossible undertaking as long as men, by virtue of their office, are the only ones who define women’s dignity, being and mission, and as a consequence make them objects of spiritual care, to whom can be dictated “what’s good for her”.
  • Therefore, Roman Catholic women expect from the European Bishops Synod a clear renunciation of all talk about women and definitions of her being and her dignity, as long as women themselves are not able to broach the subject of what moves them, and as long as they are being forbidden to speak of their manifold vocations and live thereby. 
3. “…the specific contribution of the Church’s women in her life and evangelising activity” - Church practice is to a considerable extent practice of women. Nowadays women are active in all working spheres of the Roman Catholic Church and they have their own responsibilities. They are engaged, both on a voluntary and a salaried basis, in functions that nobody would have entrusted to them in former years. They are theologically developed and are predestined to embody goodness, love, salvation, and mercy – directed to human beings according to God’s image.
  • Therefore, Roman Catholic women expect from the European Bishops Synod a definite surrender of the traditional attitude, which is to reduce women to their role as mothers, and to entrust them only with responsible tasks concerning life and evangelisation within the confines of the family. 
4. “… It is to be readily admitted that in some particular Churches there is still much to be done in this regard” -  This honest confession requires to be followed at long last by concrete acts. After all, it concerns mainly the Roman Catholic Church. Sister churches have preceded us on this road and have shown how enriching it can be when men and women work together in God’s image and experience, and unfold and expose this encompassing humanity also in the churches.
  • Therefore, Roman Catholic women expect from the European Bishops Synod with regard to Ecumenism, not only a one-sided orientation towards the orthodox churches and consideration with their sensitivities regarding the women’s issue (considering that rules of these churches regarding divorced and remarried people and married priests is not taken as a yardstick). The practice of other churches e.g. to ordain women and confirm them in their office, ought to carry the same weight as the rejection of this by the orthodox churches.  Only when women have the same possibilities as men to follow God’s call, will it become visible and tangible that all are One in Jesus Christ; that there is no East and West, no slave and free man, no man and woman but fullness of life – people who as man and woman are called to be humans in the image of God. 
5. “…It is my fervent hope that Mary, who together with the disciples, was present at the Last Supper, will lead these final preparations, and will support the Synod’s participants in their deliberations” -  This sentence from the prologue of Instrumentum Laboris,  written by Cardinal Jan P. Schotte, fills one with astonishment. Up to now one of the motivations of the Vatican for excluding women from the priesthood was the reference to  Mary not having been present at the Last Supper. 
  • Therefore, Roman Catholic women expect from the European Bishops Synod that Mary is rediscovered as the woman from the New Testament who seeks her way in the faith, has a profound realisation, a limited comprehension, but keeps on striving for enlightenment.  And women expect that female images of God and women from the Old and New Testament, will govern the life of the church as much as biblical men and male speech from God. 2000 years should be long enough for women to have been pushed aside and ignored, in spite of their real contribution to the history of salvation between God and His people. 

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Webpage Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
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Posted 30 September1999
Last revised 30 September 1999
Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer