Friday, September 20, 2013

Mary Hunt Responds to Pope Francis: Need for "New Ecclesial Structures, New Forms of Shared Ministry, Leadership, and Authority"

At her WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) blog site, theologian Mary Hunt has published her response to Pope Francis's interview yesterday. Mary's comments were included in the link to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force site I posted in my posting earlier today on commentary about the papal interview.

Since Mary has now published her statement at the latter site as a stand-alone statement responding to the pope's interview, I'd like to highlight it now:

Reflections by Pope Francis on reordering Catholic moral and theological priorities are welcome. Decades of focus by institutional church officials on what Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire baptized "the pelvic zone issues" have rendered the Roman Catholic Church outdated and unhelpful when it comes to dealing with today’s moral dilemmas: war, ecological crisis, poverty, racism, healthcare, and the wellbeing of women and dependent children. Progressive Catholics, especially women, have been working on these issues for a long time. It is good to see some members of the hierarchy begin to join the struggle. 
What needs to happen next is for Francis’ words about the church as "the holy, faithful people of God" to become the basis of new ecclesial structures, new forms of shared ministry, leadership, and authority. Then, rather than applauding a pope for saying obvious and necessary things that bring Catholicism into the twentieth, if not twenty-first century, the world can take seriously the voices of all Catholics who engage in the sacred work of doing justice.

I very much agree. If Francis is serious about his statements that he as pope and his fellow bishops have to consult the faithful in consultations that not token and ceremonial and real, Francis and his fellow bishops have to be prepared to create dialogic spaces within the church in which the voices of women can be heard and taken seriously. 

Those dialogic spaces will by their very nature have to be open towards the next step of creating, as Mary says, new forms of shared ministry, leadership, and authority in the Catholic church that include women. The response of Catholic women to Francis's interview yesterday is the most important response of all to be considered at this point in the history of the Catholic church--if Francis's words mean anything at all.

That response has included, in many quarters, critical observations, even as many women theologians and women leaders in the Catholic church have welcomed Francis's remarks in general. As Crystal Watson asks

It's unjust to treat women and men as if they were ontologically different in the eyes of God - why doesn't Francis see this?

This is the right question to ask, it seems to me. Francis continues to work with a notion of gender complementarity that may be culturally congenial for him, but which many women (and others) in cultures across the planet have now seriously critiqued and rejected because it enshrines, in its notion that the natures of men and women are radically different and radically determined by their biological sex, expectations of female subordination to male control. Inherent in this ontology of gender difference, which has such a strong hold on the thinking of many Catholic clerics, is injustice, just as Crystal says.

It is the basis for the continued radically unjust denial of ordination (which is the denial of any governing voice in the institution itself) to women. One of the most significant "projects" of the papacy of Francis seems to me to be the ongoing critique of the clerical mentality of even good and compassionate members of the church's clerical elite--the opening up of the church in a way that finally begins to transform its ecclesiology in light of Vatican II's idea of the people of God, reiterated so movingly by Francis himself in yesterday's interview.

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