José Casanova on Gender and the Role of Women in the Catholic Church

By | September 6, 2019


– First, the ordination of
women and equal gender access to positions of power,
authority and status within the church. While ecclesiologically,
the church is to be viewed and apprehended in faith as a sacramental, eschatological sign of the kingdom of God. Sociologically, as a social
historical institution in the saeculum, the Catholic
Church like any other religious institution can be
conceptualized as a religious regime that belongs to the
city of man and is analogous in many respects to
politics and economies. In both cases, the obvious
question is the extent to which the system of power relations
and the social relations are gender and unequal. As a universally salvation
religion, Christianity has always offered equal access to
salvation and to holiness to male and female. there is no gender discrimination
in the eyes of God. As loving father, God
expresses a preferential option for the weak, the poor, the
meek, the orphan, the widow. This is the core prophetic
ethical norm that anticipates modern gender equality as
a transcendent principle. Neither Jew or Gentile, a
slave or free, male or female. But sociologically, the Catholic
Church is characterized by a dual system of highly differentiated and canonically regulated religious roles. There is first of all, the
sacramental differentiation between ordained priesthood and laity. Additionally, there is a
differentiation between, on the one hand, the religious
orders, male and female which follow the evangelical counsels. And on the other hand, the
secular Christians including the secular clergy who live in the world. The existence of male and
female religious orders and the high number of
female saints particularly in the early church, confirm
that there is indeed, on gender, universal access
to religious salvation within the ecclesia
invisibilis that is within the communion of the saints. However, within the Catholic
Church as ecclesia invisibilis, both as public assembly
and as a hierarchically and bureaucratically
organized Episcopal Church. The crucial differentiation
is that between clergy and laity. Priesthood is the side
sacerdotal, sacramental, magisterial, and administrative,
canonical authority is exclusively reserved for males. This is the fundamental
issue of patriarchal, gender discrimination within
a male, clerical church. The official response of
the Catholic male hierarchy to the modern demand for
female ordination has been that ordination is of
divine origin and therefore unchangeable since Jesus
selected only males as his disciples, who are
the links to the apostolic succession of Episcopal male priesthood. The hierarchy insist that it
has no authority whatsoever to change this divine injunction. And in his 1994 apostolic
letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II attempted
to preclude any discussion of this issue in the future
by stating that this judgment is to be definitively held
by all the churches faithful. The reference to Jesus
selection of male disciples might be a persuasive
social cultural argument of historical precedent in
accordance with the cultural patriarchal premises of the Apostolic age. But it is not a very well-grounded theological argument with
a scriptural support. Indeed the male character
of the priesthood was such taken for granted cultural
premise throughout the history of the church. So much part of social doxa, or what Taylor calls the unthought, that it was unnecessary
to provide a serious theological justification for it. Only after the modern
democratic revolution put into question any form of gender
discrimination has been a theological justification required. The justifications offered so
far in the 1976 declaration, inter insigniores, under Pope Paul VI, and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,
are extremely thin, just one page in size, and light in theological argumentation. Moreover, even if some
theological consensus may persist still for some time that women
should be excluded from the sacerdotal sacramental
function, there will be greater difficulty in providing
persuasive theological and moral rationales for excluding women, particularly women religious,
from greater administrative power within the church,
including the Curia and the College of Cardinals. After all, if historical
precedent is a relevant argument, originally the Roman College
of Cardinals was opened to the laity and there is no
serious theological reason why the College of Cardinals, as well as ministerial
positions within the Curia, could not be open today
to the female laity, or at least to female religious orders. Moreover, if some women such
as Santa Teresa de Avila, and most recently Saint
Hildegard of Bingen, are elevated to the titles of doctors of the church posthumously, why preclude that women may
play a role in the magisterium of the Church while they are alive. But this does not appear to
be the direction in which our church hierarchy is heading. On the contrary, the
recent doctrinal assessment of the U.S. Leadership
Conference of Women Religious, issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
on April 18th, 2012. And the decision to
place the LCWR under the disciplinary supervision
of three U.S. bishops indicate that the thrust
is to restrict even further the limited autonomy of
female religious orders and to bring them under greater
male clerical control. Striking was the fact that
the Vatican condemnation and the sanctions were not directed at the specific individuals who may have silenced specific Church doctrines
nor it concrete questionable doctrinal positions
formally embraced by LCWR But rather it was a blanket
rebuke for sins of omission of an entire organization
of 1500 nuns who are leaders of more than 300 religious
orders representing circa 57,000 religious sisters
and comprising approximately 80% of all female religious
in the United States. Second, the hierarchies
inadequate response to the modern sexual revolution
and to the evolving gender and sexual morality. The radical change in
circumstances produced by the modern democratic and
sexual revolutions and the fundamental transformations in gender relations and gender roles. Which both entail, present,
a particularly difficult challenge to the sacred claims
of all religious traditions Not surprisingly, the politics of gender and gender equality are central to politics everywhere today. And religion is thoroughly
and intimately implicated in the politics of gender, in that many analysts have
been tempted to interpret what they view as the global emergence of religious fundamentalism
in all religious traditions is primarily a patriarchal
reaction against the common global threat
of gender equality, the emancipation of women and feminism. Feminism appears to have
replaced communism as the spector hunting all religious traditions. In turn, the discourses
of feminism and secularism have become intertwined
today in the same way as communism and atheism became intertwined in the 19th century. Gender has become, in this
respect, the preeminently contested social question. While religion has been thrown willingly or unwillingly into the vortex
of the global contestation. Traditional religious
establishments tend to view feminist agendas, in particularly,
the very notion of gender as a historically contingent,
socially constructed, and therefore changeable
reality as the greatest threat, not only to their religious
traditions and their moral authoritative claims, but
to the very idea of a sacred or divinely ordained
natural order inscribed either in natural law,
Sharia, or some right way, universally valid for all times. At the 2nd Vatican Council,
the Catholic Church embrace theological
developmental principles grounded in the historicity
of divine revelation, incarnation, and continuous
historical unfolding of the divine plans of salvation for Humanity that require the Church’s
careful discernment of the signs of the times. The Catholic Aggiornamento
represented in this respect recognition of the
fundamental moral principles of secular modernity. The human dignity of each
and every person emerges as the guiding principle of
the three most consequential documents of Vatican II. The pastoral constitution of the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, the declaration on religious
freedom, Dignitatis humanae, and the declaration under
relationship of the Church to non-christian religions, Nostra itate. All three documents share
moreover the explicit reference to the signs of the times and
the historicist recognition that we are entering a new
age in the history of humanity with important repercussions
for our understanding of the unfolding of the mystery of salvation. Actually, the same historicist
and developmental recognition appears most poignantly in
the section directed to women in the closing speech of the council when the council fathers asserted that, quote, at this moment when
the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation,
the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the
vocation of woman is been achieved in its fullness. The hour in which woman acquires
in the world and influence and effect and a power
never hitherto achieve. Yet this prophetic vision
of the unprecedented transformation in gender
relations which humanity was experiencing did not have the
transformative consequences one should have expected in the life of the Church after the council. Indeed, on issues of gender
and sexual moral theology, the Catholic hierarchy,
since the publication of the encyclical humanae vitae in 1968, has reasserted a traditionalist
ontological conception of human nature and of
human biology based on the essentialist conception
of an unhistorical, unchanging and universally
valid natural law. Such a traditional ontological
conception is increasingly in tension with the
historicist’s conception of human moral development
upheld by the social sciences as well as with the
conception of a changing biological historical nature inform by the new evolutionary life sciences.

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