Seminaries perpetuate gender inequality in church

Seminaries such as Maynooth perpetuate unjust rule of church men over women

Soline Humbert

Irish Times

The poisonous thing about Maynooth seminary is that, like all Roman Catholic seminaries, it is a patriarchal, hierarchical institution.

Seminaries perpetuate the unjust rule of men over women in the church. They are an integral part of a culture of institutional violence, of spiritual abuse, blind to women’s dignity, spiritual gifts and callings.

Seminaries are where the clerical leaders of the church have been formed and where future leaders are trained. They are exclusively male. This is based on the belief that while both women and men are in the image of God, men are more fully so. So they can represent Christ the head, while women can only represent Christ the body.

Men can exercise authority in the church, women can only obey. Men decide what limited roles can be given to women. Men know the mind of God, who after all, can only be addressed officially as “He”.

Churchmen claim to have divine knowledge as to what God can’t be and do in women and through women. It’s called DMA: Divine Male Authority. It’s more important than our common humanity and the one Baptism, the one Spirit we all share, women and men.

The gospels show us quite clearly that Jesus didn’t live, die and rise from the dead to divinise oppressive patriarchal structures. However, the liberating power of his love was too radical, and still is. Life-giving authority quickly got replaced by abusive power. Patriarchy and hierarchy became defining characteristics of the community of disciples, the church, undermining the equality of all the baptised.

After centuries of being considered inferior and subordinate to men, women are now considered “equal”, but not so equal that churchmen would forgo their DMA. Women are equal but different. That difference apparently renders women unfit to minister in a myriad of ways. So, only men can have a divine mandate to govern and to teach: no women had a vote at the recent synod on the family.

Somebody who knows a lot about the toxicity of “equal, but different and therefore separate” is Patricia Fresen.

Fresen was a Dominican sister in South Africa at the time of the apartheid struggle. She fought against it, and broke some of its unjust laws, allowing black children in school with white children.

Later, when she taught in a seminary, her eyes were opened to the church’s gender apartheid. While she taught homiletics (preaching) to the male seminarians, she could not preach at their community Mass. Discovering a call to minister, she was ordained: unjust laws sometimes need to be broken before changed.

Another woman who was led to break these unjust, oppressive rules was Australian Sr. Irene McCormack, who was executed 25 years ago by the Shining Path in a small village in Peru, and is remembered as a martyr. There were no priests left in that village: she was the one who had chosen to stay with the people God had entrusted to her.

She was baptising and praying with them, but there was no Eucharist. They came to her and said “give us Eucharist”. She did not want to but her eyes were opened and she wrote: “They freed me to exercise Eucharistic ministry among them . . . It seems to me, therefore, that the preoccupation of our church leaders with power and control over who can celebrate the Eucharist, who can and who can’t receive the Eucharist, is right up the creek.

“Not only is it a contradiction to the proclamation of Jesus that there is no distinction between male and female, but it shows a lack of appreciation of the plight of villagers like ours all over the world that our church continues denying its official ministry, that it is by nature communion.

“As we in our little Christian communities high up in the Andes gather in memory of Jesus, there is no power or authority on Earth that can convince me that Jesus is not personally present. I feel grateful that these months on end without the official Mass and in a culture where I’m experiencing new symbols has gifted me with a new appreciation of Eucharist.”

In Ireland and throughout the world, communities gather regularly in memory of Jesus and celebrate Eucharist on the fringes of the official clerical church, daring to “obey God, and not men”. The Spirit blows where s/he wills. S/he is not limited by gender, sexual orientation or marital status.

As patriarchal hierarchical structures die, new communities and ministries are born, witnesses that, in the risen Christ, there is no longer male and female. We are one.

Soline Humbert ministers as a spiritual guide with a special interest in gender, sexuality and church reform

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  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    I really stumble on illicit ordinations and eucharistic celebrations, and I don’t think they have helped the cause of ordaining women one bit.
    There is such a thing as spiritual communion, and there is the reserved sacrament which extends the Eucharist to those who cannot be present at the Mass itself.
    I think the church is unhealthily obsessed with eucharistic routines. Less frequent celebration would not, in my opinion, bring any spiritual loss.
    There may be situations of emergency where rules can be broken — as when the unbaptized under an impulse of grace approach the communion table (St Ambrose was involved in one such incident).
    But if we treat the order of the sacraments (of ordination and eucharist) as a political football, in order to break the male-only hold on them, we may end up breaking all faith in the sacraments themselves.
    In the world of secular politics such procedures would not be countenanced. Illegitimate voting or improperly warranted assumption of public roles would be punished by law. This is really necessary for the functioning of a community, and I do not blame the Vatican for talking about “crimes against the sacraments”.
    Now that the Pope is opening the door to female ordination in the tried and trusted Catholic way of consultation and reflection and dialogue, I think it is time to renounce the tactics of ecclesiastical anarchy.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    I would agree with Joe O’Leary in this. “I think the church is unhealthily obsessed with eucharistic routines. Less frequent celebration would not, in my opinion, bring any spiritual loss.”
    I am afraid, however, I had to suppress a hearty chuckle at his assertion that “the Pope is opening the door to female ordination in the tried and trusted Catholic way of consultation and reflection and dialogue…” Come again?? Dialogue, eh? Consultation, eh? It is over 2000 years since the Nazarene walked on Earth, the Nazarene who saw no difference in male or female, who treated each and every human being with equal love and respect. We are a long, long way off from truly following in His footsteps and the pain and suffering of those shut out from being allowed to follow their true vocation is heartrending.

  3. Elizabeth O'Donnell says:

    With Pope Francis we have the opportunity to hear more clearly the message of Christ. Pope Francis is speaking to us in a language that we understand. We all have to be proactive and support the many changes that are necessary to fulfill the words of Jesus at the last supper when raising the cup he said “Take this all of you”. Sadly so many, of all ages have abandoned the Mass/church from their lives. Why? Why is that? Something has gone wrong over time. I firmly believe that our churches will be filled again if women are ordained to the Priesthood. Jesus is working through us to being about this change, let us not falter or abuse it.

  4. I have always seen the “Real Presence” as a touchstone.
    When this is eventually redefined, along Protestant lines, at least one of the obstacles to women’s ordination to the priesthood will be weakened. There will then be no need for authorised male magicians.

  5. When I read Joe O’Leary’s assertion that “The Pope is opening the door to female ordination in the tried and trusted Catholic way of consultation and reflection and dialogue”I didn’t give a hearty chuckle. I squirmed. I have been a priest for over 53 years and for 19 of those years (1970 to 1989) I was blessed to work with Cardinal Arns in the archdiocese of São Paulo where we did live and work on the basis of consultation, reflection and diologue, with all sectors of the Church lay and clerical on an equal footing. As part of the anti-Vatican 2 purge the archdiocese was chopped up with the creation of four new dioceses.I was part of one of the chunks condemned to never again hear of consultation, reflection, dialogue or Vatican 2. That was my life for 27 years. However hope never dies and last year a new Francis-style bishop was appointed. We are beginning to breathe again and are confident that as we comemorate its 50th anniversary what Vatican 2 started will be brought forward. The last words of Helder Càmara, barely audible, were ” Não deixe a profecia cair– don’t let the prophetic voice fall silent”. That prophetic voice is always creative, new wine in new bottles, and courageous. New times demand new forms of ministry. Do we always have to be dragged squealing into this new world?
    Tony Conry, São Paulo.

  6. Josie O Reilly says:

    Joe O Leary’s assertion that“the Pope is opening the door to female ordination in the tried and trusted Catholic way of consultation and reflection and dialogue…Begs the question, with whom is Pope Francis consulting, reflecting, and dialoguing re opening the door to female ordination? Certainly not women as no women had a vote at the recent synod on the family.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Make-up of pope’s commission on women deacons: 6 men and 6 women, including Phyllis Zagano.

  8. Eddie Finnegan says:

    But Joe, the commission is weighted 7 men to 6 women. It includes the Jesuit Secretary of the CDF (Archiepiscopal rank), two other Jesuit heavyweights, an Augustinian, a Salesian, a Monsignor and one other ordained priest. Not even a permanent deacon, not to mention a mere layman, among the sacred seven. Yes, they’re all meant to be scholars of some repute – but had anyone, let’s say in Ireland or England, ever heard of any of them before the list was announced? Is Phyllis Zagano meant to neutralise all these big players as soon as the game starts.
    Strikes me that when “those who spoke Greek” asked for seven deacons to make sure that their widows and deserving members did not continue to suffer discrimination in the daily distribution, both they and the “Hebrew” members were well acquainted with the Seven they chose to serve “epi tais trapezais”. They didn’t need yet another tiresome commission to faff around and kick the motion or the notion into the long grass for the next generation to deal with. They just got on with it, appointed the seven nominated Greek speaking viri probati to serve that same day or weekend – and confidently let diaconal “mission creep” take over. Or “mission gallop” in Stephen’s case. Ordained priesthood was a century or so down the road at the time – as I doubt that any pious ordination cards were printed at the Last Supper. The Twelve made it clear to the full gathering of disciples that they themselves had bigger fish to fry, rather than waste their time on ‘trapezai’ – whether that meant doling out food or running the credit union, I’m not sure. So why can’t Rome and the local bishops’ conferences for Christ’s sake get out of the womens’ way and let them get on with it. They’ll work out for themselves (as those Hellenists did) whither they want their diaconal mission creep to lead them and us eventually.

  9. Maybe my Grandaughters aged 4,5,6 will live to see women taken their rightful place as ordained priests ,not because the are women but because they have a vocation. Far from opening a door ,I think Pope Francis is still trying to find the key to the locked door. Now where could it be I wonder ?.Procrastination is the thief of time and time is something he hasent got at his age.

  10. The church institution is a petrified oligarchy, monolithic, a dictatorship like the medieval monarchies it once existed alongside and it’s run by a small circle of conservative, rigidly ideological old men who make all the decisions and choose their own successors.
    It uses its wealth and centuries of accrued political power to cover up the sexual, physical, and mental abuse of children, discriminate and exploit women and marginalized groups and vulnerable people, and oppose social progress and positive change all over the world.
    Its sole purpose is power and money – not its flock! It has moved away from the teaching of Jesus and lost is way and is now an institution beyond reform. It was born out of patriarchy and it will die the same way.
    This is not a church that I want to be part of. I ask all to stop supporting it with your money or your time or charities funded by it until justice and true teaching are served to include women as equals or just let it implode.
    When there is an injustice, our silence is the voice of complicity! We are created all of equal worth and dignity.

  11. Mary Vallely says:

    Ecclesia semper reformanda, Louise, but it is painfully, painfully slow. Some of your criticism is justified but only some. I don’t think anyone could accuse Pope Francis of being interested in power or money and he has a lot of supporters! Maybe you are right however to challenge us in the way you have but I still feel that we must struggle on to try and change it from within. Evolution, not revolution, as my late father used to remind me. However, I admire your courage and hope that you use that courage and your gift for expressing yourself for the benefit of us all! Certainly giving us food for thought. ?

  12. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Louise@10, now that you’ve had your Old-Testament-Prophet epiphany (Amos? Hosea? Ezekiel? Habakkuk?) and lacerated all the old clericalist male rogues for stitching up Jesus and women, apart from appealing to our pockets and bank accounts and spurring us on to burn our weekly offertory envelopes and starve out the fat-cats of Trócaire, Cafod, Sciaf, Caritas and Vincent de Paul, how exactly would you like us to practise justice and resurrect Jesus’ true teaching in our daily lives? Like, how do you do it yourself?

  13. Willie Herlihy says:

    I agree with a lot of what Louise @ 10 says and I quote “The church institution is a petrified oligarchy, monolithic, a dictatorship like the medieval monarchies it once existed alongside and it’s run by a small circle of conservative, rigidly ideological old men who make all the decisions and choose their own successors.”
    In my opinion the rot set in, when Charlemagne gave control of the lands of the Lombard’s to Pope Leo the 111.
    Charlemagne was rewarded on Christmas eve in the year 800, as he knelt in prayer is St Peters. when the Pope placed a crown on his head and proclaimed him the new Roman Emperor,
    From that moment on, the Pope ceased being solely a spiritual leader.
    In my life time there have been two liberal Popes elected, John XX 111 and Francis.
    John xx 111 was hardly cold in his grave, when the purge against his reforms began.Those purges continued on, until the election of Pope Francis.
    I am fearful,  the same will happen to any reforms Pope Francis succeeds in bringing in.
    The deck is stacked against him,because as the old adage says “culture eats change”

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