Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On the "Lace Ceiling"

A month after John Paul II's letter on the dignity of women marked its 20th anniversary, and a quarter-century after a revised Code of Canon Law green-lighted an enhanced "cooperation" of the non-ordained in church governance, a keen critique of the slow pace of women's integration in the ranks came from an unlikely corner yesterday: a professor at Opus Dei's Roman university...
"There are issues -- and not a few -- in which the church arrives late," says Rev. Philip Goyret, assistant dean of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Before the Second Vatican Council, the church was going one way, while modern culture moved in the opposite direction, Father Goyret told journalists at a seminar in Rome. The council swept away some of the ecclesiastic cobwebs with innovations such as the mass in English, but with regard to women, it has a long way to go. The role of women is "growing, but it should grow faster and higher," he said.

Father Goyret, who lectured on the nature and mission of the Catholic Church, said it is natural to wonder why the government of the church does not reflect its teachings that men and women are equal before God. Catholic dogma holds that only men can be ordained, as all the apostles were men. To elect a woman and break the chain from Jesus to Peter to all the subsequent popes would be to change the very nature of the church itself.

"It's not inertia, or a search for power. The church has no authority to change this," he said. In an interview later, he said, "there are lots of thing in the universities and the Roman Curia that a woman can do, and I think in many matters, they can do it better than men. In the Roman universities there should be more female teachers. Absolutely."

Rev. Brian Ferme, who lectured on canon law, says that the issue of governance within the church is surprisingly complex. For instance, the undersecretary of the Congregation of Religious is a nun. She holds an administrative position, but in practical terms, wields considerable executive power.

Similarly, the most senior staff official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which looks after Catholic dogma, is also a woman, and the position has been held by a woman since Pope Benedict XVI was in charge as Cardinal Ratzinger.
Finally, there are many councils within the Holy See that allow lay members. In general, there are far more women within the church structure than there were even a few decades ago.

The issue of the ordination of women is one of many that underlines how our "supermarket culture" runs against the church's constancy. Father Goyret said people in the modern world want to "believe without belonging. They say, 'Christ, yes, but not the church'; 'God, yes, but not Christ,' and finally, 'religion, yes, but not God.'"

Father Goyret said the relativist may say there is no absolute truth, but, by the same token, neither can he impose that view on someone else and say: "You can't know anything in any definite, complete way."

Why should other people believe that there is an absolute truth, and that it is embodied in the Catholic Church?

"Well, it's true," Father Goyret said. "What I cannot do is, 'I say I have the truth, and you have to agree with me.' I cannot say that. So my job is to find arguments to persuade you."
On a related note, in a mid-2007 interview the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB hinted at plans for an increase the number of women in senior curial posts. Suffice it to say, though, movement on the effort has taken place with Rome's usual expediency.

Goyret's presentation took place as part of Santa Croce's now bi-annual seminar on covering the church; the weeklong program's become an increasingly-popular "Vatican 101" for secular journalists and church communicators both. (Last night's headliner: Charlie Brown.

It's not the program's first brush with the notable quote: it was before the journos that Archbishop Angelo Amato, then secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, scored global headlines for broadsiding The DaVinci Code as a sign of "the extreme cultural poverty on the part of a good number of the Christian faithful" in the weeks before the film based on the controversial novel hit theaters. In July, Amato -- long a close collaborator of Papa Ratzi's -- was transferred from the Holy Office to become prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Speaking of Opus Dei, the personal prelature has already figured into the nascent hustings for next month's Canadian general election, with the leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois raising the movement's specter amid a Work member's standing as a Tory candidate in a South Montreal riding.