Overcoming Visible and Not So Visible Barriers to Women's Leadership in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States

By McNicholas, Colleen | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Overcoming Visible and Not So Visible Barriers to Women's Leadership in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States


McNicholas, Colleen, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Abstract

In the 21st century, Catholic women and the Roman Catholic Church are finding themselves meeting at a crossroad that is fraught with ambiguity. It is a challenging crossroad full of both potential and frustration. The women gathering at this crossroad are questioning the Church structures into which they were baptized. These questions focus on the fundamental issues of leadership, ordination, decision-making, gender and language. Women view these issues as visible, and not so visible, barriers to their full participation as leaders in the life of their Church. Currently, Catholic women are speaking out, talking back and answering questions that they have not yet been asked because they believe that their voices are missing from the discourse on these and other significant issues which affect them.

This paper will discuss two of the major barriers, both visible and invisible, which are preventing Catholic women from assuming leadership roles within today's Catholic Church. The final section of the paper will focus on new models of ecclesial leadership currently being implemented through the efforts of Catholic women. A quiet revolution is underway within the Church. The revolution is flourishing despite current barriers.

Introduction

As they move through the first decade of the 21st century, numerous Catholic women in the United States are questioning the Church structures into which they were baptized. Their questions focus on the fundamental issues of leadership, ordination, decision-making and gender relationships. These women perceive such issues as a piece of the visible and invisible barriers to their full participation in the life of the Catholic Church. This paper will discuss one major invisible barrier and one visible barrier preventing Catholic women from assuming significant leadership roles within the Church. These two barriers are the traditional anthropological view of women and the understanding of power and authority which flows from that anthropology. In addition, I will cite examples of women who, collaborating with other women and men, are chipping away at these two barriers. In this paper, leadership is defined as the ability to articulate a vision and create an environment in which others may identify themselves with the vision in order to achieve common goals.

Barriers to Women's Leadership in the Church: Traditional Anthropological Understandings

The conflict that surrounds women's status in the Church is based on the invisible barrier of an obsolete anthropology that regards women as deficient beings lacking the fullness of human nature. Classical Greek philosophy divided all reality into spirit, the realm of light, and matter, the realm of darkness. (1) Spirit was prized over matter. Greek thought identified men with spirit, women with matter. Thus, for over a thousand years, society advocated the idea that men were to be leaders in the public domain, while women were to nurture and care for children.

This traditional anthropological vision influenced Church theology as far back as Augustine, who while agreeing that women were equal to men in their soul, denied women were created in the image of God. (2) Thomas Aquinas defined women as "defective male". (3) This denial of women's dignity and full equality with men remained a part of the Church tradition from the 4th century until the Second Vatican Council. (4) A major Council statement calling for a recognition of the equality of all persons appeared in the Council document entitled Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World. The document states "Since all persons possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin.... the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition". (5) Following the Council, many women were hopeful that their status and role within the church would change. However, almost immediately after the close of the Council, Catholic women began to experience the ambivalence of Church officials in regard to changes promoted during the Council.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Overcoming Visible and Not So Visible Barriers to Women's Leadership in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.