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Women in the Catholic Church

Women in the Catholic Church    Gerry O'Shea

The Synod on the Family was held in two sessions in Rome in 2014 and 2015. It was convoked by Pope Francis to consider the many problems faced by Catholic families in today's world.

Knotty issues were discussed, including the treatment of divorced Catholics who wish to receive communion and the status in the church of the LGBTQ community.

The recommendations that emerged were voted on by 279 participants - all of them male, all with a vow of celibacy and most of them over the age of 50.

There are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but not even one woman had a vote on what emerged as the final document on the contemporary family, which, by the way, ducked any decision on the controversial topics regarding divorced and gay Catholics.

 It is hard to believe that a serious organization that preaches the equality of all its members uses such a ludicrous and demeaning system of decision-making, showing clearly that  power resides completely with celibate males in the Catholic Church.

One of Francis's major innovations was to appoint nine cardinals to advise him how to administer the various Roman  departments. Seemingly,  no qualified women administrators could be found among the 600 million female members of the Catholic Church to provide their input and leadership. Women draw their own conclusions from this cozy male arrangement.

In a recent study published in the prestigious Jesuit magazine America, only 25% of Catholic women in the United States currently attend weekly mass. If the survey was limited to women under 40, the numbers attending Eucharistic services would be much lower.

The church's ban on women's ordination to the Catholic priesthood is so strongly enforced that parish priests in New York are instructed not to even allow discussion of this topic in any church facility.

Are there good theological reasons for excluding women from leadership positions, including priesthood, in the church? There is a clear history of discrimination, rationalizations dressed up as serious theology, against females being part of the power structures in the Catholic church.

 Attitudes to women in all walks of life have changed over the centuries and never more dramatically than in the last fifty years.

Why hasn't Rome moved with the times and changed its outdated misogynistic rules, as have some Protestant denominations? The power of tradition is very strong in the Vatican. Pope Francis was asked about ordaining women early in his pontificate. His reply indicated that John Paul 11 had pronounced negatively on this matter and that seemingly is the end of that. Former Irish president, Mary McAleese, brilliantly summed up the thinking that excludes women from priestly leadership as "codology dressed up as theology."

No wonder that women are leaving the church in droves. They regularly assume the highest offices in businesses and government all over the world, but their church won't allow them to perform the last rites for the dying, not to mention leading the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday.

Archbishop Martin, who runs the Dublin diocese, commented recently that "the low standing of women in the Catholic Church" has resulted in a feeling of alienation by many female members. That surely is the understatement of the year!

Conservative theologians like to point to practices in the early church, which they claim, show that the priests in those early days were all male. This is a very dubious interpretation of the early evidence of the operating structures in a persecuted church, but surely the sensible and prudent response to new challenges should be found in the wisdom of our time and not in the culture that prevailed two thousand years ago in one corner of the world.

The church's regulation banning the use of contraceptives even by married couples was proclaimed by Pius X1 in 1930. Paul V1, after long agonizing, wrote an encyclical in which he basically agreed with his predecessor that it is immoral for a married couple to use a condom or a contraceptive pill to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. This is bunkum moral teaching from the Vatican, which very few Catholics believe, but Rome is going to canonize Paul despite the fact that his most famous and far-reaching teaching on the use of contraceptives is honored far more, to borrow a line from Shakespeare, "in the breach than in the observance."

It is becoming increasingly common for gay couples - male and female -  to have a family either by adoption or by using modern medical science to achieve their goal. Their family arrangements were mentioned approvingly in the official advertisement for the celebration of Christian families that Francis will attend in Dublin in August. A new welcome mat was laid out for them in what was promised would be an inclusive ceremony. However, the Vatican at the highest level intervened, ordering an end to this kind of inclusive Catholic advertising about welcoming non-traditional families.

About 28.9 million people in the United States identify themselves as former Catholics, and the annual leakage of members from the American church is estimated at 900,000. These huge numbers are related closely to the disdainful attitude to women starting at the highest levels in the Catholic church.

GerryO'Shea blogs at


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