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Let's use some imagination

It's time to give women real roles in directing the life of the church

Let's use some imagination
Father William Grimm, Tokyo
Japan

April 5, 2017

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St. Ignatius Loyola recommended the use of the imagination in prayer, placing ourselves in the Gospel events in order to experience and understand them. It can, indeed, be a way to deepen one's encounter with the Lord in Scripture.

However, there is a story in John's Gospel that defeats my imagination. John 8:3-11 tells of a woman who had been "caught in the very act of committing adultery." The men who arrested her bring her to Jesus in order to hear what he might say. They point out that the law of Moses calls for the execution of adulterers, and they are ready, willing and even looking forward to flinging the stones that will do that.

Jesus merely crouches down and starts writing something in the dust with his finger.

The account is very vivid, even cinematic. Yet, I have a problem imagining it. My difficulty is that I cannot imagine how it is possible for one person to commit adultery. So far as I can tell, it requires at least two.

Perhaps Jesus had the same problem. Maybe when he was scribbling in the dirt, he was actually writing, "Where's the guy? What's his name?" That might account for the fact that when he looks at the men surrounding the woman and challenges them about being sinless, the guys all slink away. They got tangled in their double standard.

In much of the world and in much of history, women have been afforded "special treatment." And that special treatment has not been for their benefit. They have been marginalized, maltreated, discriminated against, deprived of a say over their own lives or in society and in various other ways victimized by men.

The woman in the Gospel account was going to receive "special treatment" from the crowd of men while her male accomplice faced no sanction, though in fact the law of Moses calls for the execution of both parties in cases of adultery.

The struggle of women and not enough men to recognize the human rights of those who, as Mao Zedong put it, "hold up half the sky" is an ongoing and far from victorious battle, even in so-called advanced countries.

There was a time when major opportunities for women in much of the world were found almost solely in the Catholic Church. There are still places where that is true. In times and places where women were or are restricted to housekeeping and child rearing, the church has provided a place where they can exercise professions generally limited to men. Women run hospitals, colleges and school systems and work in those institutions as doctors, professors and teachers. Of course, the prerequisite for being able to do all that has been to become a sister.

In parts of the world, that is no longer the case. Women increasingly enter various professions without having to first enter a convent. In those places, the number of women entering religious life has dropped precipitously, in part, perhaps, because the pioneering work of previous generations of sisters has made it possible for women to play such roles without needing to "take the veil."

That does not mean that we deserve plaudits for what the church has done. As often as not, the progress made by women in the church has been achieved in the face of male (read clerical) opposition. What might they achieve if they did not have to waste energy mollifying or circumventing the men who control the church?

Gradually, women are stepping into semi-leadership roles in chancery offices, parishes, commissions etc. However, more often than not, they are in those positions because of a shortage of ordained males to fill them. It is time to start putting women in situations where they can have a real role in directing the life of the church.

The Vatican correspondent Robert Mickens in his latest Letter from Rome column advocates increasing the number of cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave from the present 120 old men in dresses to, perhaps, 153 old men in dresses. I agree with the suggestion, and think that instead of cardinals having voting power until they turn 80, they should be removed from the voting roster when their retirement takes effect, usually at 75.

But, wouldn't it be wonderful if a bit more imagination were applied to the question? How about some "special treatment" for women in the church that equals the really special treatment that men receive? How about naming some women as cardinals?

Granted, since 1917, ordination has been a prerequisite for membership in the college of cardinals, but there is no intrinsic connection between ordination and that membership. The law decreeing that was made in the 20th century and can be unmade in the 21st.

It's time to use some creative imagination.

Father William Grimm, MM, is publisher of ucanews.com and is based in Tokyo.

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