By Anita Bourdin

The question of women in the Church is an “ecclesial” question and what is at stake is a “renewed ecclesial consciousness,” says Stefania Falasca.

The article “Francis and Women,” in L’Osservatore Romano’s monthly supplement “Women, Church, World” of January 2020, was published on Saturday, December 28, 2019, with the “question of women” among the topics, from the origins of the Church to Pope Francis’ pontificate.

In an article entitled “The Urgency to Go Beyond a Monochrome Church,” Stefania Falasca recalls the surprise created by Pope Francis on Maundy Thursday 2013 when he invited two women, two detainees for the rite of the washing of the feet

The Icon of the Washing of the Feet

She recalls Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his correspondence with two women of his time and his “spiritual attention,” as spiritual counselor, “strikingly open, clairvoyant and perspicacious,” as if implying women also “at the service of the only great work that seemed important to him on earth: to help souls, to make the Church progress in fidelity to Christ.”

She recognizes in Pope Francis’ attitude this “Ignatian resonance” and this conversation, which concerns the whole Church. “Since his election, Pope Francis has dedicated himself to the question of women, their role and their access to ecclesial responsibilities,” and this “stresses the urgency to face a reality that concerns the vision of the Church herself and strikes her hierarchical and communitarian nature.

Hence the reason for the article’s title: Pope Francois perceives “the single masculine color as a fault, an imbalance, a minority of the Church” and he believes “that without women there is a deficit in the proclamation and witness,” and that “this promises her mission.”

The word is loose, it’s about the mission of the Church. In fact, it’s significant that the Pope, already on the morrow of the beginning of his Petrine ministry, attracted attention immediately with a gesture placed at the heart of the Holy Week liturgy, which surprised and provoked, inviting two women, two prisoners, to the washing of the feet held on Maundy Thursday.”

Elaborate a Theology

And immediately after, with the proclamation of Easter, he celebrated the witness given by women of the Resurrected One, the first witnesses, the first calls to proclaim salvation, privileged protagonists of Easter. Many times he then made statements enumerating objectives, affirming that “the Church herself cannot be without woman and her role” and that “woman is essential for the Church.” To augment areas for a more incisive feminine presence in the Church,” to “elaborate an in-depth theology of woman,” to present women” where “the authority of different domains of the Church is exercised.”

It is the same anxiety of the mission, stresses the author, that one finds in Evangelii Gaudium, as an echo of the message of Vatican II to women, published by Paul VI on December 8, 1965.

For Pope Francis, “the presence of women fosters a universal opening, both in the founding, original and decisional moments, where it’s about receiving all the driving force of the Spirit, and in those of her concrete beginning.

For a “Synergy between Men and Women”

Quoting biblicist Damiano Marzotto — “Peter and Madeleine: The Gospel Performed with Two Voices”– whose text Pope Francis loves, Stefania Falasca stressed that at stake also is salvation in Christ. “The women present themselves not only as “place of welcome and hospitality but also as a place of freedom and universalism, that is, capable of regenerating, of restoring that impetus that pushes to universal areas and, thus, makes the way of salvation advance. This dynamic was really accomplished, so it is not accomplished and cannot be accomplished, except in a full synergy between men and women.”

For Stefania Falasca this orientation is found in the Final Document of the Synod on Young People. “Such a vision of the Church, made up mainly by men, doesn’t respond to the task that God entrusted to humanity. (. . .) It’s only by reciprocity that an appreciation and an integration of the masculine and the feminine can emerge.”

In regard to the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood, she recalls that Evangelii Gaudium “does not fail to mention also that the ministerial priesthood is one of the means that Jesus uses at the service of His people, but that “the great dignity comes from Baptism accessible to all.” “The question isn’t superficially the equalities of opportunities because it doesn’t stem from a claim but from a richness to recover, de facto, ecclesial communion.

Service Not Servitude

“Therefore, it’s about overcoming clerical logics in which the feminine presence in the existing corps, in the Vicariates, in the Curias, including the Roman Curia, is seen as a “concession” to women and is reduced to a symbolic presence,” highlights the author.

Stefania Falasca recalls Pope Francis’ sayings on the role of woman in society. ”I am anxious about the persistence in societies of a certain mentality dominated by men; I fear that in the Church herself the service to which everyone is called, is transformed sometimes in servitude for women,” the Pope has said many times. “I suffer, I tell the truth, when I see in the Church or in certain organizations, that the role of service, that we have and that all of us must have, the role of service of woman slides towards a role of servitude.”

However, the Gospel is also fit to heal “machismo,” noted Pope Francis. “Consequently, in the perspective opened by Francis if “woman is essential for the Church” and if “it’s necessary to enlarge ”the areas of a more incisive feminine presence,” which implies that in the Church herself a certain machismo is rampant, which must be “healed by the Gospel,” as he opportunely stressed also in his Apostolic Exhortation — and at the same time, always from the point of view of the Gospel, the clericalism that responds to the logics of power understood as domination must also be healed. Because clericalism — which reduces the Church to a private club where someone, other than Christ, pretends to have the keys — combined with a certain “machismo,” instead of reinforcing the evangelical novelty that leads to build a Church of brothers and sisters, exalts the differences in a deformed way and, from the point of view of the proclamation, it brings about, in fact, a deviance by betraying the identity of the Church, given that the evangelical novelty sees men and women called to become disciples, to proclaim, to serve to transmit fully the richness of the evangelical message.”

Service for All

In other words, Pope Francis desires “an effective collaboration between women and men in the Church in reciprocity and service,” summarizes Stefania Falasca. It’s a “fundamental service to which all, men and women, are called to make the Church go forward in the spirit of Christ.

The Pope also wishes “to go ever more profoundly not only into the feminine identity but also into the masculine identity, to serve the human being better as a whole,” adds the Italian journalist, a longstanding friend of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. “This global vision geared to the good of all, men and women, can protect itself against a logic founded on claims, without hiding the shadows still present and the necessary stages to cross for a profound appreciation of woman.” Also necessary is a “theological study that enables one to know better women’s possible role where important decisions are taken, in the different realms of the Church.”

Stefania Falasca also revealed a remark of Pope Francis during the summit, in the Vatican last February, of Presidents of the world’s Episcopal Conferences on the Protection of Minors. After a woman’s presentation, “the Pope wished to stress how, in this session of listening, he heard the Church speak of herself.” It is — he said — that we have all talked about the Church, in all the interventions, but this time, it is the Church herself that has spoken,” and ”to invite a woman to speak, not in the modality of an ecclesiastical feminism, . . . but to invite a woman to speak of the wounds of the Church is to invite the Church to speak of herself as well. And it is, I believe, the step we must take with much strength: woman is the image of the Church — a style. Without this style, we will not speak of the People of God but as an organization, perhaps a union, but not as a family born of Mother Church.”

An Ecclesial Question

Another of Pope Francis’ remarks quoted by the journalist was “the issue of the Synod on the Amazon, announcing that he is going to convoke again the Commission on the feminine diaconate — which ended its works last year without coming to a unanimous conclusion — he specified. “It’s not about giving women more functions in the Church — yes, ok, but in this way the problem isn’t solved. It’s about integrating woman as figure of the Church in our thought, and to think of the Church also with the categories of woman.”

Falasca recalled that for the first time in a Roman Synod, the Synod on the Amazon was able to count on the participation of 35 women, including leaders of native populations, experts, lay and religious women. “The example of the attentive listening of testimonies of these women was given by the Pope himself, as the participants in the Synodal Assembly observed and reported, making this Assembly of Bishops awaken to this man-woman reciprocity.”

The Synod showed that “the role of women in the Church cannot be re-considered and integrated except in the effective perspective of a Synodal dynamism and of the missionary conversion pointed out by the Pope.” The question of woman is, in sum, a” profoundly ecclesial question,” that “of a renewed ecclesial consciousness,” she concluded.

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