An event at the Vatican Sunday saw an open and frank discussion among women about limitations on their leadership in the church. They spoke about the need for full equality for men and women in church structures
JOSHUA j. McELWEE Taken from Vatican Insider
A Vatican event Sunday saw a remarkably open and frank discussion among women about the limits on their participation in church structures.
Among the topics discussed by the women during the event, held to mark International Women’s Day: The need for the church to practice what it preaches about full equality between men and women and to include women in every level of decision-making.
The women also expressed a desire for a fundamental rethink regarding how church prelates and documents describe them, saying they are often pigeonholed as reflecting only the sensitive or tender half of humanity.
“I would like to see women have [the] opportunity to be strong, courageous, intelligent,” said Ulla Gudmundson, a former Swedish ambassador to the Holy See, during the discussion. “I would also like to see men have the opportunity to be tender, patient, sensitive.”
Expressing her dreams for how the church would treat women in the future, another member of the discussion presented a multi-layered vision of a Catholic church where men and women are treated as equals at every level.
“I dream of a church where it won’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman and you just respond to God’s call of service,” said Astrid Gajiwala, an Indian biologist who has worked as a consultant for her bishops’ conference.
“I also dream of a church where men and women would participate equally in all decision making, so that they both would contribute to the policies, the structures, the teaching, and the practice of the church,” she said. “And both would engage in ministry.”
Gudmundson and Gajiwala were speaking Sunday at an event known as Voices of Faith, which was put together as an opportunity for women to share their stories of faith from the Vatican on International Women’s Day.
Organized by the Liechtenstein-based charitable trust Fidel Götz Foundation, the event was live-streamed around the world from the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV, an iconic marble building that is home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The panel discussion was just one part of the five-hour event and was moderated by Deborah Rose-Milavec, who is the head of the U.S.-based reform group FutureChurch. The other speakers on the panel were British-Zambian theologian Tina Beattie and Gudrun Sailer, a journalist for the German section of Vatican Radio.
In an earlier interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Fidel Götz Foundation executive director Chantal Götz said the Vatican’s willingness to host the event was “important because it means the doors are open” for women.
Among other speakers Sunday were six other women from various places and circumstances around the world who addressed issues as varied as healthcare needs for women in India, creating opportunities for education for women in refugee camps, and persecution against Christians in the Middle East.
Voices of Faith also joined with Caritas Internationalis to award two 10,000 Euro prizes to two organizations run by women that have developed best practices in addressing world hunger.
Those awards went to a Lebanon-based group called Basmeh & Zeitooneh that is helping Syrian refugees learn work skills and to Caritas Nicaragua, which is helping women to learn farming skills to help sustain their families and earn income independent of their husbands.
The only male speaker at Sunday’s event was Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, a native Nigerian who just finished service as the provincial of the Jesuit order’s province of East Africa.
Centering his talk on the April 2014 kidnapping of girls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram, Orobator gave a commanding presentation on the discrimination faced by African women and girls.