How do you respond to a call to “walk together” with people who, in the name of Christ, proclaim your non-existence? This is what I asked myself when I heard the Irish Catholic bishops call to participate in a five-year synodal journey.
Pope Francis has also launched a two-year worldwide synodal process, so we are doubly urged to be a listening church where everyone can speak freely. I’ve heard that before.
My first experience of formal church consultation dates back thirty years as a member of the Women in the Church subcommittee in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Gagging all the talk, it was designed to crush all hope in women like me. Buried alive with a vocation that wouldn’t die
The Dublin Council of Priests wanted to listen to the pain of women and set up a sub-committee of four priests and four women. Our subcommittee met for over a year. Soon there was pressure to censor us and not to mention the ordination of women for fear of episcopal wrath.
On February 23, 1994, we gathered in a large hall in Clonliffe College, with the Archbishop, Auxiliary Bishops and all the priests of the council. It took all the courage I could muster to be vulnerable and share the very deep spiritual pain I felt about the feeling of calling to the presbytery / priesthood that I had known since my teenage years.
The response was mostly silence and no further contact.
Months later, I was contacted by a reporter from The Tablet in London. Margaret Hebblethwaite was puzzled to see my name among the names of women attached to a report excluding the ordination of women.
The Dublin Council of Priests report on Women in Church had been drafted, approved by the Archbishop, and press releases sent everywhere. I had never seen him.
As Hebblethwaite read the contents of the report to me over the phone, I felt physically ill. He said: “The fact that the priesthood was given only to men did not prevent women from participating fully in the life of the Church.
I wrote to the chairman of the board who replied that it was a report from the board, of which I was not a member. I was only part of the subcommittee, I had no grounds for complaint. The names of the women were attached to it because we had been consulted. I felt betrayed, my trust violated.
A month later, the Pope closed the door to the ordination of women. Gagging all the talk, it was designed to crush all hope in women like me. Buried alive with a vocation that would not die.
We are now invited “to believe that this synodal path is a sincere effort to bring about true transformation and renewal in the Church led by the Spirit”, and at the same time we are warned by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference that ” Pope Francis has been clear that synods are not instruments to change the teachings of the church but rather help to apply the teaching of the church in a more pastoral way.
I don’t believe this much-needed renewal can come about by insisting that all of the church’s teachings (of varying degrees of authority) remain in place. Many make the gospel message inaudible.
Dr Nicola Brady, Chair of the Irish Synodal Pathway Steering Committee, said that “we seek to recognize the wounds that exist within our church community and work to heal those relationships”. The harsh reality is that male dominance in the church has been sacred for centuries and distorts relationships. Women must be under the control of men, who alone can represent Christ.
The church of the first century could do without male circumcision; can we do without an exclusively male priesthood? With the help of that same Spirit
The structures and theology, including papal teachings, that underpin the church version of gender apartheid perpetuate the violence of inequality and exclusion.
They are truly a scandalous counter-witness to the fundamental baptismal claim that “In Christ there are no more men and women, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28) and Christ’s prayer “that all may be one” (John 17).
In his recent blog post, titled The Taliban Within, Gerry O’Hanlon SJ begins with a letter published in the Tablet on September 11, 2021, from Dr Anne Inman: since almost half of the workers are women, but “in the most senior positions .. . maybe there is no woman?
O’Hanlon does not respond directly but concludes: “… when women in the Catholic Church are now so aware that they are not taken seriously for so long, their feelings and thoughts are not valued, then there is has a real crisis, a time of discernment. ”
Can Pope Francis open up to a meeting with women with a vocation like mine and listen to our stories, which his predecessors never did? What if the vocations we carry were of the Spirit?
The church of the first century could do without male circumcision; can we do without an exclusively male priesthood? With the help of that same Spirit.
Soline Humbert is a spiritual guide and advocate for women’s ordination