Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Pentecost Papacy Would Listen to Women: Church Based on Genesis 1 Misses the Mark

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Pentecost Papacy Would Listen to Women: Church Based on Genesis 1 Misses the Mark

Article excerpt

As the John Paul II papacy winds down, there is a pause in the life of the church. Catholics and others share anticipation of the ferment, energy and change that invariably accompany a new leader's arrival. But nothing happens in a vacuum. Tomorrow's papacy is being forged by the people and events amid which we now live--the next pope is out there this moment, becoming pope.

NCR, beginning this week, presents 11 experts on various aspects of church to look at present circumstances as indicators of future possibilities, and to dream some new dreams for the papacy. Compiled and edited by Vaticanologist Gary MacEoin, these weekly essays begin with that of Sr. Joan Chittister. Other contributors include Fr. Bernard Haring, Paul Collins, Giancarlo Zizola, Ana Maria Ezcurra, Francis X Murphy and Harvey Cox. An expanded version of these collected essays will be published as a book, The Papacy and the People of God, by Orbis Books early next year.

"We used to think that revolutions are the cause of change. Actually, it is the other way around," Eric Hoffer wrote in The Temper of Our Time. "Change prepares the ground for revolution." If this is true, then little or nothing that characterizes this world at the end of the 20th century can possibly shape it in the next century. Change is everywhere and revolution is sure to follow.

This is a step-over moment in human history. It is changing the way we think, the way we see ourselves, the way we relate to others and the way we deal with institutions. Change is not coming; change is here. No institution need consider itself spared in the process -- not the state, not the economy and certainly not the church, whose theology is daily challenged by changing concepts of creation, of life and of human nature itself.

Religion, however, far too often clings to forms that sacralize the system rather than to the values within it that could make change a holy and empowering experience for everyone. Christianity most of all, perhaps, finds itself in a particularly grave situation in the face of changing expectations, understandings and insights.

It would be an inconsistent God indeed who created women and men out of an identical substance, yet supposedly gave one gender control of the other; a God who is all Spirit yet exclusively male; a God who makes both man and woman in the divine image yet defines one as less human than the other; a God who calls us all to knowledge of salvation but gives men alone the right to designate exactly what that means, implies, requires.

Here is a theological problem of mammoth proportions. And in a world where women, too, get PhDs in theology and philosophy, in science and history, past answers do not persuade. The woman question is not going to go away no matter how clearly the church says it must. There is another voice to be heard now, rich in experience, full of questions and very different in its values, goals and perceptions.

Women are intent on bringing their own piece of wisdom not only to the development of the race but to the reinterpretation of a faith that once taught racism, anti-Semitism and slavery with as much confidence as it does sexism today. The question, of course, is how a church can apply one set of principles to the public arena and fail to apply the same set to itself. It calls the rest of the world to justice, human rights, political participation and equality for all, yet closes its synods to women, denies its seminaries to women and reserves its sacristies -- muzzling one-half of its members in God's name -- for men alone.

How can "tradition" possibly be an answer in a church where tradition in every other category is simply the interpretation of the time? The status of women has changed, at least in the minds of women themselves if not completely yet in the structures of society. The church shall not be spared the revolution that comes from that kind of axiomatic change in self-perception. …

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