by MICHAEL OTTO
ROTORUA — Removal of discrimination against women in the Church was called for by several speakers at a Year of Faith event for Hamilton diocese.
At a Moot held at St Mary of the Cross MacKillop parish hall in Rotorua on June 8, speakers debated the role and place of women and youth in the Church as well as Catholic “ghettos” and the relationship between clergy and laity.
The event was organised by Hamilton diocese and chaired by Tui Motu — Interislands editor Fr Kevin Toomey, OP. Bishop Peter Cullinane travelled from Palmerston North to participate.
Four speakers addressed the question: “The role of women in the Church has been defined and redefined over centuries to such an extent that today women have no specific identifiable role in the Church.”
Catholic Care Foundation (Hamilton) manager Liz Pennell said the promise of Vatican II, with its teaching on overcoming discrimination, has not been fulfilled.
“Fifty years on, patriarchy is alive and well. It alienates women, making the male the centre of reality,” Ms Pennell said.
She argued that each bishop must courageously face up to this issue.
“The present position of women in the Church cannot be defended. I could go on by submitting to what I see and feel all around me . . . by praying and doing all I can to increase the ranks of celibate men who will make decisions for me at every level of my Catholic existence, while holding no knowledge of my female being, thoughts or development,” Ms Pennell said.
Having power in the hands of ordained men alone is unjust, she said.
“Men and women are, in the eyes of God, equal. Many women have shown themselves to be incredibly learned in theology and more than capable of full ministry.”
Ms Pennell saw few signs the Church is prepared to move towards full equality for women, and called for it to update itself
“Historically, the Church has made some incredibly ill-formed and uncaring decisions. Church has taken precedence over people and many have suffered incredible hardship due to the total lack of integrity of many of its leaders.”
Hamilton diocesan secondary school religious education advisor Paul Shannon identified several aspects of Church practice that trouble women.
These include portrayals of God as male, the domination of the sacramental system by men, the masculinity of liturgical language, the predominance of male saints over female ones in the Church’s liturgical calendar and the small number of female stories in the lectionary, he said.
Mr Shannon said he saw no reason why the Church could not ordain female deacons.
He also saw the governance of the Church by the ordained alone as a problem. More than 98 per cent of lay Catholics have no say in this area, despite making 100 per cent of the financial contributions to the Church, he said.
Mr Shannon added that it is women who usually have to deal with the ramifications of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, which, he said, largely don’t include the feminine viewpoint.
“Men of the Church, I plead with you to stand up against the repression of women in our theology and language and agitate amongst our ordained male colleagues, to join the call from many ordained priests overseas, to incorporate the gifts, wisdom and expertise of the entire faith community, including women,” Mr Shannon said.
St Paul’s School, Ngaruawahia, principal Catherine Readman said although women are in many key roles in parishes and dioceses, “very few are in key positions in the Vatican”.
Given the advancement of women in other fields, the Church has some catching up to do, she said, but there are signs of hope from Pope Francis in this area.
But speaking from her own personal experience, Ms Readman said she has never felt disadvantaged because of her gender.
“In fact, I have felt valued, respected, encouraged and supported by the Church community . . . at all levels.”
Ms Readman said many parents in her school community saw her, a woman, as the image of the Church, not because of her various parish roles, but because of her leadership in the school.
“Because for them, the school is the Church,” she said.
Former youth leader and mother Stephanie Bormans of Hamilton spoke about the difficulties of going to Church in small rural communities as a young family, when there were no other young families at Mass.
She asked that the Church encourages parishes to work to “capture” young families and keep them in Church.
Following each speaking session, those at the Moot were able to break into small groups for conversation and then report back.
Moot organiser David Beirne of Hamilton diocese said the reason for staging the event was to promote the Year of Faith and to promote an outgoing Church.
John Paul II College, Rotorua, principal Patrick Walsh said dialogue at the Moot was “very rich”, but the audience was very small. He suggested something similar could be held at the two yearly Catholic Education Convention in Wellington, which is attended by thousands.