Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Brazilian Theologian Ivone Gebara on Pope Francis and "Theology of Women"

Ivone Gebara

In an interview with Instituto Humanitas Unisinos helpfully translated into English by Rebel Girl at her Iglesia Descalza site, Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara reacts to the statements made by Pope Francis about women's role in the Catholic church following the recent World Youth Day events in Brazil:

The answer he gave to the journalists on the way back to Italy when asked about women's ordination surprised me. The surprise wasn't the "no" regarding ordination, but when he stated the need for a "theology of women" in the Church. With that answer, he showed an ignorance of women's struggle and theological production for decades. This is what is worrisome for a pontiff who's at the head of a mostly female Church. I don't know whether the ignorance is real or where it's a political stance in relation to the women's movement in the world and in the Church. In that sense I would evaluate the visit as leaving something to be desired, especially since most of the young people attending World Youth Day were women.

Gebara also maintains that "the official sexual theology and ethics of the Catholic Church still refer to a pre-modern world where scientific advances hadn't affected the culture and morality of the people" and notes, as an example, that the church's "insistent advice against condoms and contraceptives reveals how that advice is anachronistic in relation to today's world."

Where does hope lie for those who want to see their church engage the contemporary world more effectively, more dialogically, with more respect for the truth that comes to us from all quarters and not merely from magisterial pronouncements? Here's Gebara's concluding (and hopeful) summary:

I'd like to reinforce the idea that we are the Church too. That means getting out of a clerical or papal concept of the Church. In other words, the Church isn't just the bishops or just the Pope. They aren't the ones who deliver faith to us. They aren't the ones who give us Jesus Christ. They aren't the ones who lead us to adhere to the values that sustain life. They have a function, no doubt, but the reality of faith is inscribed in every person, then it is sustained in the community of people of faith who are able to be justice, mercy, compassion, and mutual aid in the maintenance of life for one another. Getting out of valuing hierarchical schemes and seeking collective responsibility in great and small acts is a real challenge for all of us.

And I think she's absolutely correct. This is the kind of theology of women to which Pope Francis and other top Catholic hierarchical leaders need to listen, and from which they stand to learn. It has been going on for some time now in the Catholic tradition, they may be surprised to discover--if they only unstop their ears.

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