The (Self-) Exclusion of Women from the Roman Catholic Church in Poland: Discursive Practices as Mechanisms Reproducing Models of Femininity in Church Organizations

By Leszczynska, Katarzyna | Polish Sociological Review, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

The (Self-) Exclusion of Women from the Roman Catholic Church in Poland: Discursive Practices as Mechanisms Reproducing Models of Femininity in Church Organizations


Leszczynska, Katarzyna, Polish Sociological Review


Introduction: Methodological and Theoretical Premises

The Roman Catholic Church in Poland, viewed as a social organization and institution, is highly masculinized, meaning that men predominate numerically in positions in key central administrative-evangelical structures: in diocesan chanceries in Poland they occupy 73.8% of all positions, while in the Church's central organization, that is, the Polish Episcopal Conference, they occupy 91.2% of the positions (Leszczynska 2014a, 2016).1 In addition to the statistical horizontal segregation in central Church organizations, there is also vertical segregation. The main positions of power in Church organizations, such as chancellor of the curia or diocesan judge, are also dominated by men, even though formally, according to the Code of Canon Law, they could be occupied by women (see the Code of Canon Law, Cann. 224-231); the lowest positions, on the other hand, are feminized, and woman are excluded from positions of high prestige and power. In diocesan organizations men occupy 95% of all the management positions, and women fulfill no functions of authority in the Polish Episcopal Conference. Moreover, subordinate positions, in secretariats (office employees) are feminized: women occupy 77% of the positions there (Leszczynska 2014a, 2016).

The subordinate place of women in the Church as an organization and institution, and the barriers and restrictions that hinder their activeness, should be seen as the result of complex conditions and interactions. On the one hand, the placement of women is the consequence of official Church norms, legitimized by religious tradition, concerning gender, the laity, the division of labour, relations of power, the symbolic sphere in religion, and the body and emotionality (Casanova 2009; Reali 2006; Stewart-Thomas 2009; Radford Ruether 2008). The source of this placement should be sought in the documents of the hierarchical Church, including in papal encyclicals, homilies, and exhortations, as well as in the theological discourse of the Roman Catholic Church. The documents that set forth the Church's position in regard to femininity and laicism include conciliar texts such as the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam actuositem); the texts of succeeding popes, such as John Paul Il's important apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem of 1988; writings of a legal nature referring to issues of female priesthood (Sacred Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith 1976), including those excommunicating women who have been ordained (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 2002); and texts of a theological nature (for instance, Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World). Femininity-its essence, genealogy, and gender relations-is also an object of interpretation in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994, for instance, sections 369-373 and 2331-2336).2 Although the vision of femininity has changed significantly in Church teachings in the last two centuries, that vision is still interpreted traditionally in the documents of the hierarchical Church: in an essentialist and complementary manner in regard to masculinity. Even though the last pope called attention to various contexts outside the family in which women might be active (for instance, those connected with vocational work), in the writings of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis, femininity is still associated above all with maternity, marriage, sacrifice, devotion, service, and care.3

On the other hand, the place of lay women in the Church is the effect of the expectations, interactions, informal rules, and daily practices not only of men but also of women themselves. In this article, I would like, while emphasizing the latter type of conditioning of women's position in the Church, to answer the question of how lay women themselves reproduce their place in the organizations of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland at the discursive level: that is, how they conceptualize and interpret femininity, normativizing and hierarchizing it, and above all, what models and attributes of femininity they distance, how they exclude and depreciate femininity (or some of its types). …

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