Indian women seek gender equality in Catholic Church

Demonstration part of a global campaign to give Catholic women more decision-making roles
Indian women seek gender equality in Catholic Church

Six women demonstrate in front of the Holy Name Cathedral in India's Mumbai city on March 8 as part of a global campaign to empower Catholic women to be given more decision-making roles in the Catholic Church. (Photo supplied)

Catholic women demonstrated outside Mumbai's cathedral demanding gender equality within the Church as part of a global campaign marking International Women's Day on March 8.

Six women stood holding posters outside the Holy Name Cathedral after Sunday Mass seeking more roles for women in the decision-making processes of the Church.

The demonstration was part of a global campaign to claim equality and dignity for women in the Catholic Church, said Virginia Saldanha, a theologian who was part of the demonstration.

She said Voices of Faith, an international voluntary group, launched the global campaign as part of its effort to empower Catholic women to take more decision-making roles.

The group has urged its network members across the globe to join each country or create their own programs to "call for equality and dignity for women in the Catholic Church."

"We are equal citizens but the church hierarchy does not treat us as equals," Saldanha told UCA News on March 9.

The women also submitted a memorandum addressed to Cardinal Oswald Garcias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Cardinal Gracias is also a member of the team of cardinals Pope Francis handpicked to help him renew the Vatican administration.

The memorandum was endorsed by 140 Catholic women including nuns. It appealed to the church leadership to end the practice of keeping women as second-class citizens.

The women appreciated the efforts of Catholic leaders for their many initiatives that improved the lives of women, especially those in rural areas.

"Within the Church, however, not much has changed … the concerns and frustrations of women within the Church remain the same," their memorandum said.

They also accused the church leadership of being "patriarchal" and "not valuing" their ministries.

Hundreds of women are serving in pastoral and village outreach programs. "Yet their ministries are not valued as much as or given as much recognition as the ministry of ordained deacons, from which women, including women religious, are banned," the memorandum said.

They said women "continue to fill the pews despite this very visible discrimination" and that is a sign of "the internalization of their second-class status in the Church." 

"Women have no say in the policy-making that shapes the liturgy, worship, theology and practices of the Church, including those that affect their own lives," they said.

The gender policy of the Indian bishops commits to fighting violence against women. But "the norms to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace do not mention measures that will be taken to address clergy sexual abuse," they said.

"Experience has shown that women victims are often not believed, and their clerical abusers use the power of the Church to protect themselves. They continue in their ministry while survivors are ostracized, vilified and left to languish from the wounds of the abuse and injustice in the Church," the memorandum said.

Holy Spirit Sister Jaisa Antony said that "it is high time that the patriarchal Catholic Church gave a due place to women." 

Sister Antony, a signatory of the memorandum, told UCA News that both lay and consecrated women find no place in any key decision-making bodies in the Church.

"This must change. Women must be heard in every sphere of Catholic life," she said.

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