Throughout human history, women, living in the various societies of the planet, have held second-rate status as best. That condition haled from the time we were huddled around fires in caves until the early part of the 20th century. There are a number of sociological reasons, one of which was the fact that women were primarily seen as the bearers and nurturers of children. While this fact is true, of course, virtually every society develops structures that would confine women to that area alone.
This situation continued until early modern times when greater resources and greater flexibility in family organizations began to gradually give women freedom to look at other options. Gradually the education of women increased and they began early on to enter into the world of literature and art, and then later into economics and politics. Today, throughout most of the Western world, women are close to being on a par with their male counterparts. I say close but we are a long way from actual equality.
In the nearly 250 years of our country, only one woman was ever a candidate for the presidency. That says a lot. There has been progress, wonderful progress, and it continues apace. While Asia, Africa and South America continue to lag behind Europe and North America, progress can be measured there too.
What about the Church? The subject of women in the Church is very much in the foreground, both in the Catholic world and the secular press. Let’s take a look at it over the next week or so.
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Sr. Ane Monica Nguyen CSC, Sister Joan Marie Steadman CSC and Sister Julie McGuire CSC
Last week, the Vatican issued its long awaited report on the status of religious women in the United States. The study was brought into existence by Vatican concerns about the inner life of religious communities, and what the Holy See considered to be “questionable positions” in a number of areas such as the role of women in the church, including the ordination of women. The study went on for three years, and while the report has been given to the major Superiors of women’s communities, it has not as yet been made public.
Along with the report came some administrative decisions: for example, three bishops have been appointed to oversee the activities of women’s communities, and these bishops have been given jurisdiction over many administrative details as to how they are to function.
The first known and not surprising reaction of the leadership was shock. However, they have displayed real calmness and want to internalize this new situation before taking a more public stance.
To me, this is amazing. Every human organization has problems in structures and in organization (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church). However, the Church leadership is running the risk of further alienating, discouraging and antagonizing one of its greatest assets in building the Church. It won’t take long for us to see how this will work out, but my own respect, awe, and love for the Vowed Religious women in our Church is such that I would like start a series of blog entries to highlight my wonderful experiences with them, and to share their extraordinary accomplishments- often without adequate support. Stay tuned!
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