On the Synod way of the Universal Church, the particular Churches hold their national synods where the women in the Church issue once again heats up the dialogues, making them sometimes controversial. Not with the intention of exacerbating the discussion, but so to advocate for a sincere dialogue on equal roles and dignity in the Church, we take up this article a friend published some time ago.
At the International Union of Women Superiors General Plenary Assembly held in Rome in May 2016, the Pope was asked if there was any impediment to including women among permanent deacons, as was the case in the early church, and why not establishing an official commission to study the issue.
A few months later the Pope breaks up the silence and created the Commission, made up of six men and six women and chaired by the then secretary -today president- of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Spanish archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer -today a cardinal, to study the female diaconate in the initial Christian Church.
Four continents were not included in the Commission: Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania. There were eleven European members and one North American woman.
In the press conference offered later on the plane on his way back from Macedonia, the Pope recognized and exposed the disparity of the Commission members’ criteria two years after the study and, implicitly, referred to the dissolution of the same without having issued a report on the matter. In view of the lack of results, the Pope has not made any decision.
In my modest opinion, it was a Commission that was as unnecessary as it was ineffective.
Unnecessary because the study has already been done by exegetes, theologian men, theologian women and historians of Christianity. The conclusions have a broad consensus among researchers: Jesus of Nazareth formed an egalitarian counter-hegemonic movement of men and women who accompanied him along the roads of Galilee, shared his itinerant lifestyle and assumed responsibilities without any discrimination based on gender.
In the first centuries of Christianity, there were women priests, deacons and bishops who exercised ministerial functions and managerial tasks until the Church became hierarchical, clericalized and patriarchalized and women were reduced to silence.
Nord American theologian Karen Jo Torjesen's book When Women Were Priests. The leadership of women in the primitive church and the scandal of their subordination with the rise of Christianity - Cuando las mujeres eran sacerdotes. El liderazgo de las mujeres en la iglesia primitiva y el escándalo de su subordinación con el auge del cristianismo (El almendro, Córdoba 1996) - demonstrates it with all kinds of arguments: archaeological, historical, theological and hermeneutical.
The Commission seems ineffective to me if there is no will to incorporate women into leadership ecclesial functions, with direct access to the sacred without patriarchal mediation, and with their participation in the development of doctrine and morality. Today I think that will is lacking. I refer to the facts.
In his encyclical Inter insigniores, Pope Paul VI slammed the door shut on women's access to the priestly ministry, alleging that Jesus Christ only ordained men.
His successors have repeated such a fallacious argument as a mantra. John Paul II, advised by Cardinal Ratzinger, at the time prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, radicalized the closure by stating that the matter was definitively settled. Benedict XVI, knowing as a good theologian that he was, of the existence of women deacons, priests and bishops in early Christianity, was equally stubborn and followed the same path of obstruction to the women’s priesthood. Pope Francis has ratified it again, citing the forceful exclusionary statement of John Paul II.
I do not share the idea of a female diaconate, because, if it were established institutionally to attend the auxiliary functions that would be assigned to them, women would continue to be subordinate at the priests and bishops’ service, not of the Christian community. I think it is time to move from the women’s subalternity to equality; from submission to empowerment; from their dependency status to autonomy; from being decorative objects to active subjects.
The female diaconate would not achieve that, quite the contrary: the minor age of women would be prolonged under the illusion that an important step forward is being taken and that they are given prominence, when what would be done will be perpetuating their state of humiliation and servitude, of subalternity and dependence on the priestly, episcopal and papal clergy.
In order for a real change to take place instead of the women’s status of inferiority, it is necessary they be recognized as religious, ecclesial, ethical and theological subjects, something that does not happen now.
For this to happen, it is necessary to look at the past, certainly, but not with the desire to uncritically reproduce tradition, but with the aim of creatively recovering the role that women had in the Jesus movement and in the first centuries of the Christian Church. Above all, we must look to the present and the future putting into practice within the Church the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination that governs, albeit imperfectly, in society.
One man, one woman, one vote; one Christian man, one Christian woman, one vote. All men and women are equal because of the common dignity that men and women have because of the one baptism making all and everyone equal: Christian men and women.
Any gender discrimination is contrary to the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, according to the Genesis account; it goes against human rights and the principle of fraternity-sorority that should rule in the Church. Without equality, the Church will remain one of the last, if not the last, patriarchal bastion in the world.
In other words, she will remain a perfect patriarchy. On this, the Church will not be able to appeal to Jesus of Nazareth, its founder, but to the religious patriarchy, based on sacred masculinity, which appeals to the manly character of God to make man the sole representative and spokesman of the divinity. As the feminist philosopher Mary Daly stated, "If God is male, then male is God." Pure patriarchy!
*Juan José Tamayo is Director of the Chair of Theology and Religious Sciences. University Carlos III of Madrid