Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Service, Yes – Servitude, No!": "Woman's Day," Francis Edition

(Originally published 12 October 2013.)

On a Saturday where the exaltation of woman was already center stage at the Vatican, this morning the Pope touched on the more hot-button side of the perennial issue in ecclesial life, receiving the participants in a conference organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity marking the 25th anniversary of Mulieris dignitatem – the John Paul II treatise which was the first magisterial statement on women ever given by a Pope.

Here, from Francis' address:

There are two ever-present dangers, two diametric opposites that undermine woman and her vocation. The first is reducing motherhood to a social role, to a task, however noble, but one which places a woman with her potential aside, not fully valuing her in the building up of the community. This happens in the civil realm as well as in the ecclesial one. And as a reaction to this, there's the other danger, in an opposite sense, of promoting a type of emancipation that, to occupy the spaces taken from men, abandons women of the precious traits that characterize them. And here I'd like to underscore that woman has a particular sensibility for the "things of God," above all in helping us to understand mercy, tenderness, and the love God has for us. I like thinking, too, that the church is not "il chiesa" [masculine], but "la chiesa." The church is woman, is mother, and this is beautiful. You must think and more deeply reflect on this.

Mulieris dignitatem places itself in this context, and offers a profound, organic reflection within a solid anthropological base illumined by Revelation. Yet from here we must return to the task of deepening and of promoting, for which I have hoped for so long. Even in the church it's important to ask ourselves: what presence does woman have? I suffer – to tell you the truth – when I see in the church or some ecclesial organizations that the role of service – which all of us have and should have – that the woman's role of service slips into a role of servitude [Orig.: "servidumbre" – español]. I don't know how you say this in Italian [Ed.: servitù]. You understand me? Servizio. When I see women doing things of servitude, it shows that they don't grasp what a woman should do. What presence does woman have in the church? Can it be better valued? It's a reality that I hold much in my heart and for this I wanted to meet you – and break the rules, because this kind of meeting wasn't planned – and to bless you and your work. Thank you, let's carry this forward together! May Mary Most Holy, a great woman, Mother of Jesus and all the children of God, accompany us. Grazie.
On a context note, when it comes to an enhanced "presence" for women in the church, a major proof-test of Francis' commitment to his pledge will be what ensues in the reform of the Roman Curia.

With Papa Bergoglio already having named women to the twin Pontifical Commissions he respectively established to advise on the Vatican Bank and reforming the "economic-administrative structure" of the church's central government, as of this writing, well-placed indications remain that it would be more of a surprise if a woman weren't tapped to head a Vatican dicastery at some point during the structural earthquake coming over the next several months.

All of fifty years since the Australian Rosemary Goldie became the first woman appointed to "Superior" level of a Roman office, only three others have since been called into the top rank, but never the top job, and two of the trio were religious. Of the group, two remain in office: the Undersecretary of the "Congregation for Religious," Holy Blood Sister Nicoletta Spazzati, named in 2011, and Dr Flaminia Giovanelli, a specialist in development issues who was elevated to the #3 post at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2010.

On the more general front, the role of laypeople in church governance was termed "fundamental" by Francis in his Assisi talk to representatives of the local church – an event that unusually included the members of parish and diocesan pastoral councils. And what the Pope deems "fundamental" in the trenches won't mean anything less at the Vatican... if anything, by way of example, it might end up being all the more.