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Women in the Church: Pope Francis gives them a platform

Antoine Mekary/ALETEIA

Isabelle Cousturie - France - published on 10/07/16

"He wants them to be heard at all costs and in all areas..."

A whole symposium just for women, in order to “enhance their place in the Church,” according to the wishes of Pope Francis, who has never hidden his admiration. “Women see things differently,” he says. And that their intuition and sensitivity “cannot be ignored when it comes to making important decisions in the Church,” he repeats endlessly.

The symposium on “the role of women in the Church” was organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), from September 26 to 28, and took place at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Women (ISSD) of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum. Archbishop Ladaria Ferrer, Secretary of the dicastery, is also the head of the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women, established by the Holy Father in August to study the role of women deacons in the light of the customs of early Christian communities.

Increased female presence

The vast majority of speakers at the symposium were women. The topics discussed were: “The theological basis of the vocation of women in the life of the Church; Women in the Scriptures; Women in the Church’s history,” said Bishop Ferrer in an interview with Vatican Radio. But also: the current “Cultural Revolution”, “the philosophical and theological perspective of sexual difference, the female presence in the institutional contexts of the Church.”

This symposium was a “new opportunity for women to make their voices heard,” said the Holy See official. And for the Holy Father to learn about their “expectations” in the face of today’s challenges. “Knowing that the world is changing and that we too must change,” he added, the Church must find “ways to be more present in all areas, and here, the female presence can be decisive.”

Read more: Power in the Church? Women have always had it.

No theology without women

Today there are women in all the theological faculties. “50 years ago this was unimaginable!” continued Bishop Ferrer. “Certainly, they were very active in other sectors such as health, education, but to be present today in a place of theological reflection is not a side-issue! ” he commented.

Looking for ways for women to participate more in social and ecclesial life is a real challenge for the pope. “It is no longer possible to ignore it,” he explained to the press on his way back from Brazil during the first year of his pontificate (2013). He added: “Women’s participation in the Church can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No! They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood.”

The international slate of participants included Catholic University Professor Margaret Harper McCarthy, Swiss theologian Barbara Hallensleben, Bible scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier of France, anthropologist Blanca Castilla Cortazar of Spain, Sacred Heart Seminary (Detroit) professor Mary Healy, and Tracey Rowland, dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne.

[Translated from the French. The doctrinal congregation did not discuss specifics of the talks and has said that the presentation papers will be published at a later date. – Ed]

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