Mother Pelican
A Journal of Sustainable Human Development

Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2012
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Fostering Gender Equality in Religion


This supplement is a digest of recent events and significant contributions to fostering gender equality - and human development - in various secular cultures and institutions. It is acknowledged that the distinction between the secular and religious dimensions is an artificial one, often blurred in real life situations. In those cases, if the material is predominantly secular it is included here; else it is included in Supplement 5. The selected items are the editor's choice. Suggestions by readers are welcomed. Reporting on good role models is a high priority. The following sections are included this month:

1. The Religious Roots of Gender Violence
2. Heterosexuals and Homosexuals in Religion
3. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Judaism
4. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Christianity
5. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Islam
6. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Buddhism
7. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Hinduism
8. A Biblical Exegesis of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper
9. Amrutha - A Theological Novel by John Wijngaards

The promotion of gender equality in religion is a slow and painful process, and it is barely beginning to unfold worldwide. But it is a dynamic process, one in which progress begets progress. It is important to stay tuned to relevant news coming from all world regions and all world religions. The Google News box displayed to the right may be helpful. Readers can enhance their web sites with their own version of this box, which is continuously refreshed as significant events are reported, by going to Google News, clicking on "Add a section," and follow simple instructions under "Create a custom section." This is a free service, but you must register in order to use the customization tool.

If you know about recent developments that should be mentioned in this page, please write to the Editor.


Religion and Gender has just published its first issue, Vol 1, No 1 (2011), entitled Critical Issues in the Study of Religion and Gender.

1. The Religious Roots of Gender Violence

Source: The Religious Consultation
Violence Against Women
in Contemporary World Religion:
Roots And Cures

Daniel C. Maguire
Professor of Moral Theology & Ethics, Marquette University, and President, The Religious Consultation On Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics

Note: The following is quoted (with permission) from Violence Against Women in Contemporary World Religion: Roots And Cures, Daniel C. Maguire and Sa'Diyya Shaikh (Editors), Pilgrim Press, 2007, 248 pages.

Excerpts from Chapter 2, "The Courtroom and the Garden: Gender and Violence in Christendom," by Grace M. Jantzen, pages 35-36:

"The link between masculinity and active violence was deepened as Christendom adopted many of the thought forms of the Roman Empire. In Rome, the truly manly man was labeled vir, as contrasted with homo, men who because of their status or behavior did not come up to the ideal. A vir -- the word comes from which English derives both "virile" and "virtue" -- was above all a man of power and authority, one who asserts active manliness and does not submit to another. The opposite of vir is mollitia, the effeminate, the one who did not have independence but must submit to another. To penetrate, whether by sword or by penis (both were called a gladius, the toll of a gladiator), was the act of a really (virile) man; to be penetrated was womanly.

"Violence, whether military or sexual, is thus inscribed into the construction of gender: "militarism, masculinity, and morality are inseparable in Roman thought" (Susana Morton Bruand, Latin Literature, Routledge 2002, page 83). As this construction of active manly virtue was taken up in the centuries of Christendom, the "soldiers of the cross" were valorized and their violence seen as part of a holy war. Since women were conceptually linked with the flesh (through the body and reproduction) and with the devil (becuas Eve was the first to sin), the warfare against these evils was construed in gendered terms.

"Thus violence against women was built into the basic constructions of gender that lie at the heart of foundational Christian thinking. This was acted out in many forms. Whole territories were feminized -- Africa, the Americas -- seen as "virgin territory" ready to be subjected and penetrated by European men. Whole groups of women were demonized and persecuted as witches. And individual women in their millions were kept in "voluntary" subjection to their fathers and then their husbands in patriarchal Christendom, in which rebellion against that subjection gave the husband or father the right -- even the duty -- to beat the woman until she was ready to submit."

Editor's Note: It would be wise as well to examine the impact of patriarchal religious practices on boys and men. The symptoms may be different but, directly or indirectly, religious patriarchy harms men as much as it harms women. A case in point is the current situation in Ireland. Violence begets violence. What goes around comes around. In both religion and society, when 50% of the population dominates the other 50%, 100% of the population is bound to suffer in one way or another. A civilized transition from consumerism to sustainability requires the talents and collaboration of all men and women, heterosexual or homosexual, in all dimensions of human life and across the full range of the gender continuum.

Check this out: The Masculinity Conspiracy, Joseph Gelfer, CreateSpace, 14 August 2011.

2. Heterosexuals and Homosexuals in Religion

Patriarchy preceded all the major religions that exist today, and biased them all from the beginning in favor of heterosexual male hegemony and domination (Cf. Genesis 3:16). This section is a synopsis about the universality of the deeply ingrained prejudice - undoubtedly based on male-only images of God - that must be overcome if organized religion is not to become an obstacle to integral human development.
  • Religious Tolerance, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 1995-2011.
  • This web site offers an excellent synopsis (with passage quotations, annotated citations, and links to other web sites) about the status of women in the Bible and in early Christianity. It is structured as follows:

    • During Old Testament times, when the roles of women were severely restricted
      • Hebrew scripture passages treating women as generally inferior to men
      • Hebrew scripture passages treating women as property of men
      • Hebrew scripture passages describing women in other negative terms
      • Hebrew scripture passages describing women as equal to men (very few)
      • Hebrew scripture passages describing women as leaders (but not as religious leaders)
    • During Jesus' public ministry to the people of Israel, when the roles of women were severely restricted in accordance with the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) traditions and practices
    • Changing roles of women after the execution and resurrection of Jesus (circa 30 CE)
    • Regressive statements by Christian religious authorities (all male) after the 2nd century CE

    By following these lists of biblical and post-biblical statements, the reader is able to verify the descriptive versus prescriptive passages about women, and the significant discontinuities that must be researched, as pointed out in Section 1.

  • The emerging field of women and gender studies now includes issues of men, masculinities, and spirituality. See, for example:
  • It is important for gender studies to be balanced and include the study of both men and women, heterosexual and homosexual. Gender studies, if properly integrated along the gender continuum, can provide crucial insights to help foster gender equality and gender balance.

  • What "America's Pope" thinks of gay marriage, priestly celibacy, and women priests, CBS Sixty Minutes Overtime, 21 August 2011.
  • On the ordination of women:

    Archbishop Dolan: "Jesus gave women positions of responsibility. The only ones at the foot of the cross except for St. John? Women. The people that discovered his resurrection? Women. The people that were with him on his journeys? Women. People say, 'This guy was kind of a pioneer in women's rights.' So, if he were going to intend them for the priesthood, he woulda done it. And he didn't."

    Mother Pelican's Response: The good archbishop is offering a specious argument based on a literalist interpretation of gospel texts taken out of context. There are many things Jesus did 2000 years ago that he wouldn't do today. Would he, in the globalized society of the 21st century, select twelve Jewish men to represent the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel? Likewise, there are many things Jesus didn't do 2000 years ago that he would do today (such as including women among the apostles, since the credibility of women as witnesses now has as much credibility as that of men) and he warned his disciples about thinking that they already knew everything he might do in the future (John 16:12-13).

  • Two Wings of a Bird: The Equality of Women and Men, Bahá'í International Community, 1999.
  • The Bahá'í religion is a shining exception to the phallic syndrome that prevails in many religious institutions: "The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality between the sexes, is essential to human progress and the transformation of society. Inequality retards not only the advancement of women but the progress of civilization itself. The persistent denial of equality to one-half of the world's population is an affront to human dignity. It promotes destructive attitudes and habits in men and women that pass from the family to the work place, to political life, and, ultimately, to international relations. On no grounds, moral, biological, or traditional, can inequality be justified. The moral and psychological climate necessary to enable our nation to establish social justice and to contribute to global peace will be created only when women attain full partnership with men in all fields of endeavor." It is noteworthy that the Bahá'ís do not have clergy, so it may have been easier for them to avoid the trap of a male-only hierarchy.

In brief, since their inception most religions have absorbed the patriarchal mindset of male hegemony, and awareness that this isa prejudice to be overcome - rather than a sacred tradition to be conserved and transmitted - is a new phenomenon. Perhaps the impending economic and ecological crises, and the unavoidable need for all humans to collaborate in transitioning to a world of solidarity and sustainability, will induce a religious renewal and help to overcome pseudo-dogmatic resistance to change.

3. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Judaism

Star of David
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Wikipedia article on Women in Judaism:

The role of women in Judaism is determined by the Hebrew Bible, the Oral Law (the corpus of rabbinic literature), by custom, and by non-religious cultural factors. Although the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature mention various female role models, religious law treats women differently in various circumstances.

Relatively few women are mentioned in the Bible by name and role, suggesting that they were rarely in the forefront of public life. There are a number of exceptions to this rule, including the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, Miriam the prophetess, Deborah the Judge, Huldah the prophetess, Abigail who married David, and Esther. In the Biblical account these women did not meet with opposition for the relatively public presence they had.

According to Jewish tradition, a covenant was formed between the Israelites and the God of Abraham at Mount Sinai. The Torah relates that both Israelite men and Israelite women were present at Sinai, however, the covenant was worded in such a way that it bound men to act upon its requirements and to ensure that the members of their household (wives, children, and slaves) met these requirements as well. In this sense, the covenant bound women as well, though indirectly.

To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.

The Wikipedia article includes a very comprehensive bibliography and a directory of links to Jewish religious sources. With regard to current trends on the role of women in Judaism, the following articles are very instructive:

Disturbing recent news on religious violence against women:

If this is the situation today, imagine how it was 2000 years ago!

4. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Christianity

Christian Cross
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Wikipedia article on Gender Roles in Christianity:

Gender roles in Christianity vary considerably today as they have during the last two millennia. This is especially true with regards to marriage and ministry.

Christianity traditionally has given men the position of authority in marriage, society and government. This position places women in submissive roles, and usually excludes women from church leadership, especially from formal positions requiring any form of ordination. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and many conservative Protestant denominations assert today that only men can be ordained—as clergy and as deacons.

Many progressive Christians disagree with the traditional "male authority" and "female submission" paradigm. They take a Christian egalitarian or Christian feminist view, holding that the overarching message of Christianity provides positional equality for women in marriage and in ministry. Accordingly, some Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership.

Despite these emerging theological differences, the majority of Christians regard women with dignity and respect as having been created alongside men in the Image of God. The Bible is seen by many as elevating and honoring women, especially as compared with certain other religions or societies. Women have filled prominent roles in the Church historically, and continue to do so today in spite of significant limitations imposed by ordination restrictions.

To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.

Anglicans challenged to change how society thinks about gender-based violence
Ekklesia, 2 December 2011

Churches across the Anglican Communion have been told they are uniquely placed to change how society thinks about gender-based violence.

Speaking at the start of the annual Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, the Rev Terrie Robinson, the Anglican Communion Networks Co-ordinator and Women’s Desk Officer, explained that every day millions of adults and children, both rich and poor, experience violence against based on their gender.

“Most are women and girls but men and boys can also be victims of gender-based violence, and stigma is attached to them by society every bit as much as it is to women,” said Ms Robinson.

“As well as the pain of violated bodies, minds and souls, there is the additional pain of the loneliness and isolation that is so often placed as an extra burden upon victims and survivors of gender violence. Society looks away or, even worse, scorns and blames those who have been abused,” she added.

“The Sixteen Days give extra impetus for civil society, for governments, for churches and individuals to take seriously the work needed to eliminate violence. Churches are uniquely placed in our communities to speak out, challenge and change our own and others’ attitudes and behaviours. As members of Christ’s body it’s also inherent in us that we care for the survivors of gender-based violence, helping to restore them to health and to community and letting them know of their infinite God-given worth,” she said.

Ms Robinson applauded the heightened profile of the response to gender violence in the Anglican Communion. “In January this year the Primates, meeting in Dublin, Ireland, took time to reflect on gender violence in their own contexts. They committed themselves to action and wrote a letter to the churches [also in French and Spanish] setting out the many ways in which the churches can work towards restoring right relationship between men and women, boys and girls.”

“In Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, where sexual violence as a weapon of terror has continued long after the signing of peace treaties, the Anglican churches have gathered other church and faith leaders, government representatives, non-governmental agencies and United Nations bodies to explore how they can work together to bring an end to violence and abuse against women and girls.

“The Archbishop and bishops of Southern Africa have publicly signed the White Ribbon pledge as a way of articulating their commitment and lifting up their churches’ gender work. A diocese in the Church of North India has run workshops for schoolgirls to give them a basic understanding of laws relating to the protection of women and an understanding of the process of law. The girls have asked if the workshops can be run for boys too. In many parts of the Communion, and among ecumenical bodies, pastoral guidelines have been produced so that priests and lay workers know better how to respond to those caught up in domestic violence. Biblical texts are being revisited and expounded afresh in this generation to challenge the status quo and lift up the truth that women and men are created equal.

“These are just some of the ways in which the churches are engaging with the different issues surrounding gender violence. There is still so much to do, still so much potential untapped, but at least we’re on the journey and now is the time to step up the pace,” Ms Robinson concluded.

The Sixteen Days begin each year on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.

With acknowledgments to the Anglican Communion News Service

Rev. Dora Arce-Valentín (Cuba)
Photo: CRLN

Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez
Catholic Priest
Photo: J. P. Gutiérrez
GOOD NEWS: Cuban theologian to head Reformed church movement’s Justice Office

WCRC News, 29 November 2011 - Dora Arce-Valentín, a Cuban theologian and pastor, has been appointed to head the Justice and Partnership programme of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). She will take up her appointment in January 2012. "Dora Arce-Valentín is moving into a key role," says WCRC General Secretary, Setri Nyomi. "Her experience of grassroots ecumenism and her involvement in social justice initiatives give her strong connections to the local contexts of member churches." GOOD NEWS: The First Catholic Woman Priest in Colombia. Iglesia Descalza, 20 October 2011 - A recent Mass of the Colombian woman priest was in a school with more than 800 students. With a smile, Olga tells us that the community bought her a ticket to travel to close the conference on human rights organized by the school. "I was wearing a stole with many faces of children on it. Some of the students approached me, looked me in the eye and then down at the stole. That stole fascinated them!" She has no doubt that those children and adolescents are already curious about the priesthood and the incarnation of a priest in the image of a woman. Olga has now launched her revolution.

Teresa Forcades OSB (Spain)
Photo: Iglesia Descalza
GOOD NEWS: Teresa Forcades: A "hopeful woman" speaks on the state of women in the Church, José Manuel Vidal, Iglesia Descalza, 25 October 2011.

She is a doctor, a theologian, and a cloistered nun. However, Teresa Forcades, the Benedictine from the convent of St. Benet in Montserrat, is known all over the world. A YouTube video against the multinationals and the swine flu hoax catapulted her into fame. We interviewed her in Madrid on October 7th, taking advantage of the presentation of her book, La teología feminista en la historia ("Feminist Theology in History" -- Fragmenta). Sister Teresa states that women's situation of exclusion in the Church is "a scandal" and that "no Pope has dared to ban women priests ex cathedra." But she also acknowledges that it has been in the Church and in her convent that she has felt most respected as a woman.

Why does a cloistered nun like yourself write a book on "feminist theology in history"?

The book was proposed by the publishing house Fragmenta. They proposed it because they knew that I had trained with theologian Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. I met her in Barcelona in 1992, before the Olympics. I was going to study in the United States, to specialize in internal medicine. She had come from Harvard and gave a lecture. A lecture in which the communication broke down because the interpreter, who knew English well, knew nothing about theology. I got up to help with the translation from English to Catalan and the problem was solved. Elizabeth was delighted and invited me to visit her at Harvard. In the end, it was she who came to Buffalo, in northern New York state, where my hospital was, to give another lecture.

And you had to get up again as a spontaneous interpreter?

I went to her lecture, which there was no need to translate, and we met again. And, as a result, I started to translate one of her books into Catalan, her book about feminist Biblical hermeneutics. I liked the book very much and translated it to delve deeper into its contents. When I finished the translation, I went to interview Schüssler Fiorenza a couple of times, to share my doubts and reflections with her. Seeing how I had received, understood and processed her book, she encouraged me to study theology and wrote me a letter of recommendation to study at Harvard.

A life journey the publishing house knew about.

Exactly. What's more, I had given some lectures on feminist theology in Barcelona. And when the publishing house launched this series of brief, introductory books that could serve as university texts to introduce the theological discipline, they asked me to write the book and I agreed with pleasure.

As a feminist theologian, is the current situation of women in the Church painful to you particularly?

The situation of women in the Church has a complex history that includes both discrimination and promotion. The discrimination hurts anyone who is for justice and who understands that the gospel involves human growth at all levels. In the gospel, one also learns the reality that when a person tries to live out Jesus' message, he or she is usually marginalized. In that sense, the situation of women testifies to the fact that there are truths whose place will always be on the margins until the end times.

That is to say, you are prepared to go along on the margins or on the frontier and without aspiring to the altar.

The dynamic of the gospel margins is, in my opinion, the promotion of justice at all levels but knowing realistically that, whenever one manages a step forward, a process is generated whereby whoever doesn't want to stay in one place will continue to find reasons to go on walking towards the margins. Hence my theological defense of the margins.

And the ban on women's presence at the altar?

The conclusion of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which was asked by Paul VI to study the issue, was that there is no Biblical reason whatsoever to deprive women of access to ordained ministry. That was in 1976. In 1974, the first women's ordinations in the Episcopal Church had taken place. Paul VI saw it coming that similar demands would be made in the Catholic Church so he asked the Pontifical Commission to study the issue.

What does the Pontifical Commission document say specifically?

It states that in the Scriptures there is nothing against it. After learning the conclusions of the Commission, Paul VI published a motu proprio in which he said that he didn't think women should be ordained in the Catholic Church.

And later on came John Paul II's attempt to close the subject definitively.

Yes, but no Pope has dared to proclaim this ban ex cathedra.

Is this flagrant discrimination against women in the Church a scandal?

Yes. For those who want to go deeper into this issue, I recommend Professor Gary Macy's book, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination.

How does this situation exist at a time, too, in which civil society is moving towards parity?

I don't like the pattern that has been set putting civil society in the vanguard and the Church in the rear on something in which it should be a pioneer. I think the situation between men and women and the way of viewing feminine and masculine in contemporary Western society is far from being satisfactory. What I'm most interested in discussing theologically are the critical theories of Lacan and some of the modern post-structuralists. Because, at the moment and acknowledging that there may be others who have had a different experience, where I have felt most respected as a woman has been in the Church and, specifically, in my convent. Compared to other environments, such as the hospital or the university, I stick with the monastery, by far, as a space of freedom and respect. In my relationship with the monks of Montserrat for example, I have found much richer possibilities for interaction than those I have generally experienced or observed between men and women who are colleagues at the hospital or university.

Then the Church isn't as anti-women as they say.

Look, we have to start to talk about this issue truthfully because, otherwise, it would seem like we have, on the one hand, a liberated society -- an oasis or mecca for women -- and, on the other hand, the Church that is an institution of oppression and disaster. My experience speaks to the contrary. Because, if it were such, perhaps I wouldn't be where I am.

Do you mean to say that there's a huge space of freedom within the Church in spite of everything?

There always has been. What happens is that you also have to denounce that, within the leadership ranks of the Church, women are totally unrepresented. And that is the scandal we were talking about.

Freedom for women in the Church-people of God and lack of representation in its hierarchy.

We have to change this notion of Church that looks upwards first. To talk about the Church, we have to first look down. And down there we find founders and initiatives that have no corollary in the civil world. At least up until now. We'll see what happens in the 21st century.

Some of the more conservative Web sites point fingers at you and accuse you of all sorts of heresies. Are you scared?

I remember St. Francis' "perfect joy" and I think it's essential for a Christian to know that when everybody is applauding you, you're going the wrong way. Unleashing the anger of certain sectors is not in itself a guarantee that you're right, but it's a bit better than when everyone is applauding you.

Is the hierarchical Spanish Church too closed in on itself and does it exert too much control over its ranks?

It's clear that, since Vatican II, there has been a turning inwards. And, one can note that in the Spanish Church fear exists and there's a lack of freedom to speak in different voices, which is what usually happens when people speak from their experience. That uniformity of expression is very troubling.

Is there a lack of diversity in the Spanish Church? Or, to put it another way, are the Spanish bishops able to accept that there are different church models or sensibilities and that all are valid?

Many bishops are able. The problem is that it's not just a matter of accepting that, but living it out. The bishops have the right and duty to exercise their pastoral responsibility according to their own consciences; they can't just substitute the criterion that comes from above for their own criterion. In that sense, the bishop doesn't only accept diversity, he becomes a generator of the latter and lives it.

You're a Benedictine nun. Does religious life have a future or has its time come to an end? What do you think?

I think it's very good. Religious life has changed throughout history and it will only have a future if it keeps on doing so. Change is inherent in religious life and only the branches that don't change tend to disappear. Maybe we Benedictines will come to an end, but those community spaces of people who see that their lives aren't fulfilled by living as a couple but in relationship with a community will always exist. Because they are also people who bear witness that this is the model for all in the eschatological world.

Religious life as anticipation of the heavenly life.

This is Christian anthropology. The life of the couple is the sacrament of God's own love but temporarily so. Community life is eschatologically so because God calls us to be people who understand that the relationship with all of humanity, with all who are created in God's image, is a relationship of absolute love, a relationship of giving and receiving like that of the Trinity. The Christian utopia proposes this life of trinitarian communion.

But that can also be experienced in marriage -- being open to all and loving all.

Obviously, but marriage is until death do us part. And that's why Jesus said: "You don't understand." Because, in Heaven, people don't marry.

Was your 2009 video denouncing the famous swine flu scheme so successful because it showed the superficiality of the great factual powers of information in a globalized world?

We have to be clear in the criticism that the growing inequality between rich and poor over the last 50 years is the greatest disaster in modern society. It is a much bigger scandal than the injustices to women in the Church that we talked about earlier, although there isn't much sense in comparing injustices, because each one is an absolute in itself. There is much to be criticized in modern society but not as a slogan. Because while it's true that this superficiality exists, it's also true that it's coexisting with people who really believe that one shouldn't wait for the solution to problems to come from above.

There's also a lot of good in current society.

Exactly. Today there are many people who are taking the reins of their lives into their own hands. It's true that we are going through a neoliberal stage that, at the structural level, can be compared to other stages in history in which there was a growing unease among the people.

What do you think of this growing outrage that's spreading everywhere, including in the Arab world?

I'm very worried about what's happening right now in Libya and Syria. And what could happen in Iran. Especially from the perspective of the great political lies. They did it twice, but it seems we weren't chastened. It happened in Iraq and later we regretted it. I think the same thing has happened with Gadhafi. They lie to justify a military intervention. Why don't we intervene in Saudi Arabia to liberate women?.. and yes, we did in Afghanistan.

Would you like the Pope to go to Somalia as a prophetic gesture to stop or mitigate the deaths of so many people and so many innocent children?

This might be another of those slogans from which I would like to stand apart. Perhaps now, when everybody's looking at Somalia, I might like the Pope to go somewhere else. Because disasters proliferate. For example, what's happening in Sudan?

Are the media fooling us?

I have the impression, which was confirmed in the case of swine flu, that another of the major current scandals in the lack of freedom in the world of information. There's more journalistic freedom in Periodista Digital or Vida Nueva than in El País or La Vanguardia.

Let's go back to where we started: life is better in the Church.

I wouldn't like to bite my tongue when it's time to criticize what can be criticized in the Church, but let no one ask me to say that there's greater freedom in civil society than in the Church, because it isn't true. Which doesn't mean that the Church has nothing to learn from non-ecclesial society. It always has.

Did you participate in, or see World Youth Day? What do you think of these kinds of events?

I didn't see much of it. The three youngest sisters in the convent went and they came back very content. The macro-Church event is perhaps a sign of the times. I attended one of those macro events in Venezuela for the 90th anniversary of the death of Monseñor Romero and it seemed extraordinary to me. The same thing happened to the people who went to see the Pope. These big church events are perhaps a sign of the times in the 21st century. What's important is the kind of message they send and how they use those spaces.

And how were they used during WYD?

I think there was a preponderance of conservative expressions and messages towards the young people along us-them (Church-society) lines, but there were also spaces where one could share the faith with a more open viewpoint.

Do you have hope for the future of society and the Church? Are you a hopeful woman?


For example, will we see a change in the Church in the short term?

More than in the short term, today. I like to look at reality the way Jesus asked us to. A look that sees that the fields are golden or mature and that there is just a need for harvesters. That outlook that sees, as St. Paul says, that the world is pregnant with God. And even already giving birth, and in places where nobody anticipated it. That's what gives hope.

5. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Islam

Islamic Symbol
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Wikipedia article on Women in Islam:

The study of women in Islam investigates the role of women within the religion of Islam. The complex relationship between women and Islam is defined by both Islamic texts and the history and culture of the Muslim world. The Qur'an makes it clear that men and women are equal, however the Qu'ran states in 4:34, "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard." Although the Quran does say this, the superiority of men is interpreted in terms of strength by the context - men maintain women. This verse however refers to a relationship between a husband and wife, not in society as a whole.

Sharia (Islamic law) provides for complementarianism, differences between women's and men's roles, rights, and obligations. However neither the Quran nor Hadith mention women have to cook or clean. The majority of Muslim countries give women varying degrees of rights with regards to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, dress code, and education based on different interpretations. Scholars and other commentators vary as to whether they are just and whether they are a correct interpretation of religious imperatives.

To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.

Some additional references:

  • The Women of Islam, Lisa Beyer, Time Magazine, 25 November 2001.
  • Mauritanian Islamic leaders ban genital mutilation, Mohamed Abdel Wedoud, Magharebia, 15 January 2010.
  • Women in Islam, Catherine of Siena Virtual College, 2010.
  • Gender Equity in Islam (Foundations of Spiritual and Human Equity), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 29 March 2011.
  • Gender Equity in Islam (The Economic Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 30 March 2011.
  • Gender Equity in Islam (The Social Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 4 April 2011.
  • Gender Equity in Islam (The Legal/Political Aspect), Jamal Badawi, Islam Online, 7 April 2011.
  • Gender Segregation and Inequality inside Israel and Palestine, International Middle East Media Center, 30 November 2011.
  • International conference calls for gender equality in Muslim societies, Today's Zaman, Istanbul, 23 December 2011.
  • 6. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Buddhism

    Dharma Wheel
    Courtesy of Wikipedia
    Wikipedia article on Women in Buddhism:

    "Women in Buddhism is a topic that can be approached from varied perspectives including those of theology, history, anthropology and feminism. Topical interests include the theological status of women, the treatment of women in Buddhist societies at home and in public, the history of women in Buddhism, and a comparison of the experiences of women across different forms of Buddhism. As in other religions, the experiences of Buddhist women have varied considerably.

    "The founder of the religion, Gautama Buddha, permitted women to join his monastic community and fully participate in it, although there were certain provisos or garudhammas. As Susan Murcott has commented: "The nun's sangha was a radical experiment for its time" [Murcott, Susan (1991). The First Buddhist Women:Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha. Parallax Press. page 4.] Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu says of the First Buddhist council: "Perhaps Mahakassappa and the bhikkhus of that time were jealous of the bhikkhunis being more popular and doing more teaching and social work than the bhikkhus. Their anti-women prejudice became institutionalized at that time with the eight garudhammas, the eight weighty restrictions. We must discontinue that prejudice. There is no anti-women prejudice in Jainism and they survived in India; whereas Buddhism had prejudice and did not survive in India" [see The First Council and Suppression of the Bhikkhuni Order]. Although it must be said that this is factually incorrect, because there are jain sects like the Digambara sect, which believes that women are capable of spiritual progress, but must be reborn male, in order to attain final spiritual liberation. It is also highly doubtful that the garudhammas were motivated by Mahakaasapa's being jealous, as he is said to be an enlightened one and one of the principle disciples of the Buddha. Furthermore there's no support within canon, to suggest that the bhikkunis were more popular, taught more or that they did more social work than Bhikkhus.

    "The various schools and traditions within Buddhism hold different views as to the possibilities of women's spiritual attainments. Feminist scholars have also noted than even when a woman's potential for spiritual attainment is acknowledged, records of such achievements may not be kept - or may be obscured by gender-neutral language or mis-translation of original sources by Western scholars. According to Bernard Faure, "Like most clerical discourses, Buddhism is indeed relentlessly misogynist, but as far as misogynist discourses go, it is one of the most flexible and open to multiplicity and contradiction."

    To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.

    Some additional references:

  • The Place of Women in Buddhism, Swarna de Silva, Enabling Support Foundation, 1994.
  • A Grand Declaration of Gender Equality, Writings on Buddhism, Soka Gakkai International, 1996.
  • Full Ordination of Women in Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, 2007.
  • An Argument Against Gender Discrimination Within The Buddhist Sangha, Anthony Burns, International Buddhist College, Thailand, 2007.
  • Buddhism and Women, BhudaNet (with links to other resources), 2008.
  • The Position of Women in Buddhism , L.S. Dewaraja, Buddhist Pub Soc, Sri Lanka, 2011.
  • Ordination of Women in Buddhism, Wikipedia, 2011.
  • Buddhism Gender and Sexuality, Patheos, 2011.
  • 7. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Hinduism

    Symbol of Hinduism
    Courtesy of Wikipedia
    Wikipedia article on Women in Hinduism:

    The role of women in Hinduism is often disputed, and positions range from equal status with men to restrictive. Hinduism is based on numerous texts, some of which date back to 2000 BCE or earlier. They are varied in authority, authenticity, content and theme, with the most authoritative being the Vedas. The position of women in Hinduism is widely dependent on the specific text and the context. Positive references are made to the ideal woman in texts such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, while some texts such as the Manu Smriti advocate a restriction of women's rights. In modern times the Hindu wife has traditionally been regarded as someone who must at all costs remain chaste or pure. This is in contrast with the very different traditions that have prevailed at earlier times in 'Hindu' kingdoms, which included highly respected professional courtesans (such as Amrapali of Vesali), sacred devadasis, mathematicians and female magicians (the basavis, the Tantric kulikas). Some European scholars observed in the nineteenth century Hindu women were "naturally chaste" and "more virtuous" than other women, although what exactly they meant by that is open to dispute. In any case, as male foreigners they would have been denied access to the secret and sacred spaces that women often inhabited. Mahabharata and Manusmriti asserts that gods are delighted only when women are worshiped or honoured, otherwise all spiritual actions become futile.

    There is a wide variety of viewpoints within the different schools and sects of Hinduism concerning the exact nature and gender (where applicable) of the Supreme person or being; there are even sects that are skeptical about the existence of such a being. Shaktism, for example, focuses worship on the goddess Devi as the supreme embodiment of power, or Shakti (feminine strength; a female form of God). Vaishnavism and Shaivism both worship Lakshmi with Vishnu and Parvati with Shiva respectively as beings on an equal level of magnitude (the male and female aspects of God). In some instances such as with Gaudiya Vaishnavism, specific emphasis is placed on the worship of God's female aspect (Radharani) even above that of her paramour Krishna. Thus it could be said that Hinduism considers God to have both male and female aspects, as the original source of both.

    To continue reading the Wikipedia article, click here.

    Some additional references:

  • Landmark Step to Gender Equality, Bina Agarwal, The Hindu, 2005.
  • Women in Hinduism, Hindu Wisdom, 2008.
  • Gender equality is passé, let us usher in gender partnership, V. N. Mukundarajan, The Hindu, 2010.
  • Shaming numbers, Editorial, The Hindu, September 2011.
  • 8. A Biblical Exegesis of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper

    Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper
    Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter not a theologian

    Sister Mary Coloe, PVBM
    Australian Catholic University

    Originally published in CathNews, 29 June 2011

    Many were astonished at the reported remarks of Portuguese Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo this week that there is no "fundamental obstacle" from "a theological perspective" for women to say the Mass from the altar. One thing that is of great value in the discussion is the opportunity it gives to re-examine our understanding of Eucharist and to look again at the Gospel traditions on which our Eucharistic theology is based.

    In the New Testament writings there is no indication of who led or presided when communities gathered for the "Lord's Supper".  Was it one of Jesus' disciples, one of 'the Twelve', would Paul have led the communities he founded, would it have been the person who was head of the household where they gathered? 

    We don't have clear evidence to answer these questions.  The first time we hear who led the Eucharist is in the writing called "the Didache" (the Teaching) dated about the year 100 C.E. In this document people called 'the prophets' are named as the leaders at Eucharist.  "But permit the prophets to offer thanksgiving as much as they desire" (Did. 10:7; also 13:3).

    It is also important to return to the Gospels and to our knowledge of the Jewish Passover meal to consider questions about who would have been present with Jesus at this meal.  The earliest Gospel, Mark, situates the meal as a Passover. Mark has Jesus send disciples into Jerusalem to make the arrangements and Mark writes, "The Teacher asks, where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples" (Mark 14:14). 

    Following the meal, Jesus goes to Mount Olives and Mark records, "They went to a place called Gethsemane and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray" (Mark 14:32)  

    Note that the focus is on Jesus' disciples. The meal is for his disciples and these disciples then go with Jesus from the meal to Mt Olives.  The group of disciples is broader than the smaller group called 'The Twelve".  These twelve are singled out primarily for their symbolic value representing a unified or re-constituted Israel based again on the twelve tribes.  

    When Moses seals the covenant at Mt Sinai we read, "Moses rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Exodus 24:4).  There was an animal sacrifice and Moses collected the blood.  Half of this blood was sprinkled on the altar, then the rest was sprinkled on the people as he said, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you" (Exodus 24:8)

    In the context of a Jewish Passover meal, where the whole household gathers to celebrate the covenant and Israel's relationship with God, Jesus ritualises the new covenant. 

    It is unthinkable that a Jewish Passover would involve only men.  Women and children as part of the household all have a role to play.  The women prepare the food and are entrusted to do this according to strict kosher rules, the head of the household goes to the Temple to sacrifice the lamb, the woman begins the meal with the lighting of the candles, the children ask questions about what is happening and so provide a way of telling the great story of the first Passover.  It is a joyous, noisy, family celebration.  

    When Mark's Gospel highlights the Twelve, within the context of this household meal, it is to recall the original Sinai covenant.  It is to make the connection between what Jesus is doing now and what Moses did. Mark even records that Jesus uses the same words spoken by Moses, "This is my blood of the covenant" (Exodus 24:8; Mark 14:24). 

    The passage called the 'institution narrative' resonates with the symbolism of Sinai.  But to read into this passage a literal exclusive gathering of only twelve men is to misread the entire Markan passage which as noted above is set within discipleship language.  Schematically it looks like this:

    Where am I to eat the Passover with my disciples?
    The covenant ritual: The twelve, the blood of the covenant.
    Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray."

    Taking seriously what Mark writes and his rich covenantal theology that goes back to Israel's experience of Passover and the Sinai ritualising of this experience by Moses, means it is not accurate to imagine that Jesus was seated at table only with 12 men, excluding all the other disciples. 

    Unfortunately, most of us have been so influenced by the Da Vinci painting of the "Last Supper" that we take this painting as a historically reliable portrait of a first century Jewish Passover meal. For all its beauty and artistry, Leonardo cannot be the basis for our Eucharistic theology, particularly if it leads to imagining that Jesus' sharing of this meal was exclusive of most of his followers.

    And, among some of these followers Mark notes, "There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who when he was in Galilee followed him and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem" (Mark 15:40-41).

    I welcome the Cardinal's comments and the discussion that has followed, particularly if it provokes what Vatican II called a "return to the sources" of our theological thinking and practice. These sources need to move beyond Da Vinci, and return to the New Testament and the early traditions using the best critical and historical methods we now have, that previous generations did not have access to.

    Dr. Mary Coloe is a Presentation Sister lecturing in Scripture at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia. She has an article on women in the New Testament in a forthcoming issue of Compass Theology Review.

    Editor's Note: See also Lisbon cardinal summoned to Rome following ordination comments, CathNews, 9 August 2011. Obviously, the Vatican curia was not pleased with the Cardinal's candid remarks.

    9. Amrutha - A Theological Novel by John Wijngaards

    Amrutha: What the Pope's man
    found out about the Law of Nature

    John Wijngaards
    Author House, 2011

    "Monsignor Shamus McKenna, 'Muss' to his friends, serves the Pope in Rome as theological adviser. His job requires him to uphold the medieval doctrine of natural law which recent Popes have imposed on all Catholics. When Muss enters the real world, he is in for a shock.

    "The sexual ethics of "Natural Law" have created havoc in the Catholic world. Married couples may never use the pill or a condom. Gay partners are forbidden any form of sexual intimacy. Women are mothers by nature and not suitable for the priesthood . . . .

    "Carrying out his unusual research Muss faces one risky challenge after the other. He delves into dark recesses of human sexuality. He finds out what women are really like, and falls in love. He becomes a husband and father.

    "But will he ever escape the menacing, stifling, suffocating stranglehold of the LAW OF NATURE?!"

    To get a copy of the book, click here.

    The Body is Sacred
    John Wijngaards

    "Past Catholic morality has been tainted with negative views on sexuality. On this site we present a balanced view, supported by modern Catholic theology. We try to preserve a healthy balance, asserting that sex is good & sacred, avoiding left and right extremes:"


    New Focus in Catholic Sexual Morality

    • 1. The shift from ontological constructs of gender, marriage and sexuality to the experiential discovery of gender, marriage and sexuality.
    • 2. The shift from 'Augustinian' dualism to celebrating the marvelous gift of body, gender and sex
    • 3. The shift from law-centered sexual ethics to person-centered sexual ethics

    To read this sections, click here.

    The Controversy about Natural Law

    • Background information about 'Natural Law'
    • Medieval views based on the work of Thomas Aquinas
    • The natural law of sex
    • The tyranny of the Catholic Church's sexual ethics
    • The thinking of Church leaders fails
    • Human intelligence is natural law for us

    To read this sections, click here.

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