Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Fostering Gender Balance 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. The Resilience of Patriarchy in Religious Institutions
9. Gender Balance in the Priesthood and the Episcopacy

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.

"How do we build a more equitable world?
If you want a formula from me,
I would say first: ensure there is gender equality"

— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

International Women's Day

Voices of Faith, Vatican, 8 March 2015

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.

Excerpt from Chapter 7, "Muntu, Kintu, and the Pursuit of Bumuntu: Reflection on the Roots of Violence against Women in African Traditional Religions," by Mutombo Nkulu-N'Sengha, p. 144:

"Once we have established that violence against women is sanctioned in some parts of Africa by religion, the end of violence requires te deconstruction of religion itself. In the same way that African wisdom established a distinction between muntu (genuine human being) and kintu (a bad person, a worthless bing), there is also a deep-seated tradition of critical thinking that makes a clear distinction between "bad" and "good" religion. Because religion - despite divine revelation - is to some extent always human-made, wisdom requires a constant discernment by which a genuine religious person struggles to grasp the will of God amid this confusing institution where moral values, principles, and pious practices are foten shaped by human selfishness and mistakes.

"The transformation of religious views is made possible by (1) the nondogmatic nature of traditional religions, (2) the pervasive tradition of critical thinking, (3) the vision that creation is not yet over, (4) the notion that divine revelation continues through all ages, (5) the centrality of bumuntu (genuine personhood) and mucima muyampe (good heart, good character) as the African vision of the essence of religion, (6) the centrality of bumi (life, respect for life) as essential criterion of good character, and, finally, (7) the fundamental African belief that wisdom and virtues are accessible to all human beings, men and women, young and old. These concepts constitute a kind of check and balance on the religious ideologies produced by one single class of people."

For further study and reflection on religion-induced gender violence:

  • Colloquium On Violence & Religion (COV&R), Official website for exploration, criticism, and development of René Girard‘s Mimetic Theory.
  • Violence Against Women: Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Gender Morality, James W. Prescott, New Perspectives, 1995.
  • Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay, James Alison, Crossroad, 2001.
  • Religion, globalization and violence against women, Rose Uchem, Conversations for a Better World, 2009.
  • A Cry for Dignity: Religion, Violence, and the Struggle of Dalit Women in India, Mary Grey, Equinox, 2010.
  • The Masculinity Conspiracy, Joseph Gelfer, CreateSpace, 14 August 2011.
  • The Forgiving Victim, James Alison, The Raven Foundation, July 2012.
  • Reconsidering women in relation to religion, Ekklesia, 21 August 2012.
  • International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Ekklesia, 25 November 2012.
  • Catholic Priest Blames Italy’s Stiletto Murders on Women, Barbie Latza Nadeau, The Daily Beast, 28 December 2012.
  • Violence against women has no religious justification, Badria al-Bishr, Al Arabiya, 18 March 2013.
  • Religion Can Advance Women’s Rights: Carter Center Conference Mobilizes Faith Groups to Advance Women's Rights, The Carter Center, 28 June 2013.
  • Religion, Patriarchy and Women’s Gender Identity, Jenny Ubi, Ours Magazine, 11 July 2014.

  • For an interesting chronology of significant dates and events in overcoming patriarchy in various religious traditions, click here.

    For an extensive biblical exegesis on the original unity of man and woman in the mystery of creation, see Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, John Paul II, St. Paul Editions, 1981. See also The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, Pope John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997.

    2. Heterosexuals and Homosexuals in Religion

    Definition of Gender Balance

    Gender balance is 50/50 male/female presence in a group. So it is a matter of numbers, but it is more than just a matter of numbers. Gender balance is required in both responsibility and authority, in the family and in all human institutions. It must become internalized to the point in which patriarchal individualism and male hegemony are neutralized by a new sense of communion between men and women, and between humanity and nature. It must be a fully inclusive sense of communion that overcomes any exclusivism on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other reason. It must be a communion that seeks the integral development of each and every human person, from conception to natural death. And it must be a communion in which all humans endeavor to take care of each other while also taking care of natural resources. Nothing in this world is perfect, and this new order of things will not be perfect but, far from being utopian, it is in fact inevitable if humanity is to survive in the long term.

    Gender Imbalance 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.

    Since their inception most religious traditions have absorbed the patriarchal mindset of male hegemony, and awareness that this is a 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
    Based on the 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 may be of interest:


    Recommended for critical historical analysis of gender in the Hebrew Bible:

    I Will Love Unloved: A Linguistic Analysis of Woman's Biblical Importance
    J. J. McKenzie, University Press of America, February 1994

    A Gender Neutral God/ess:
    Be Inclusive but MAKE NO IMAGES was the Religious Change

    J. J. McKenzie, Amazon Digital Services, August 2012 (Kindle Edition)

    Scholarly analysis of gender issues in both the Old and New Testaments

    4. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Christianity

    Based on the 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 Anglican and Protestant churches now ordain women to positions of ecclesiastical leadership and religious authority (ministers, pastors, priests, bishops).

    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.

    Christians for Biblical Equality


    Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is a nonprofit organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures such as Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV 2011). CBE affirms and promotes the biblical truth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world. CBE's statement, "Men, Women, and Biblical Equality,” lays out the biblical rationale for equality, as well as its practical applications in the family and community of believers. The statement is available in 33 languages. To select a language and read the document, click HERE.

    MUST READ: Ideas Have Consequences: Faith, Gender, and Social Ethics, Mimi Haddad, Priscilla Papers, Volume 28, Number 1, Winter 2014, pp. 5-10.

    The Junia Project

    "The Junia Project is a community of women and men advocating for the inclusion of women at all levels of leadership in the Christian church and for mutuality in marriage. We believe that when interpreted correctly, the Bible teaches that both men and women are called to serve at all levels of the Church, and that leadership should be based primarily on gifting and not on gender."

    Some recent articles in the Junia Project blog:

    Univision Global Survey of Roman Catholics

    Source: Univision Global Survey of Roman Catholics
    Bendixen & Amandi, February 2014

    Equal in Faith Video 2015

    Source: Equal in Faith, 8 March 2015

    5. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Islam

    Islamic Symbol
    Courtesy of Wikipedia
    Based on the 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.
  • Within, Without: Dialogical Perspectives on Feminism and Islam, Sara Ashencaen Crabtree and Fatima Husain, Religion & Gender, February 2012.
  • Muslim Women in India Seek Gender Equality in Marriage, Nilanjana Roy, New York Times, 24 April 2012.
  • Islamic Feminism: Method and Strategy, Lanny Octavia, Qantara, 28 June 2012.
  • Egypt Revolution Makes It Worse for Women, Cam McGrath, IPS, 2 November 2012.
  • 'Our Books and Our Pens Are Most Powerful Weapons', Malala Yousafzai, delivered this address on education to the United Nations Youth Assembly on 'Malala Day', her 16th birthday, 12 July 2013.
  • The Ice is Breaking, A Sober Second Look, 17 October 2013.
  • Malala Yousafzai and the Global Fight for Gender Equality, Knowledge Wharton High School, 17 October 2013.
  • Does the Koran allow wife-beating? Not if Muslims don't want it to, Ayesha Chaudhry, The Globe and Mail, 27 March 2014.
  • Scholar spotlight: Dr Zainab Alwani, reclaiming gender equality in Islamic scholarship, Omar Shahid, Aquila-Style, 10 October 2014.
  • Muslim feminism unveiled, Anthony Berteaux, The Daily Aztec, 9 March 2015.

    Gender equality and how Islam sees it
    Muhammad Eusha, Dhaka Tribune, 24 September 2013

    6. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Buddhism

    Dharma Wheel
    Courtesy of Wikipedia
    Based on the 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.
  • Buddhism After Half the Sky, Danny Fisher, Patheos, 17 March 2013.
  • Thai Women Don Monks’ Robes, Simba Shani Kamaria Russeau, IPS, 1 November 2013.
  • Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in Theravada Buddhism, Ajahn Brahm, FABC, 25 May 2014.
  • Putting an End to Buddhist Patriarchy, Ajahn Brahm, Tricycle, 30 January 2015.
  • 7. Women and Religious Gender Roles in Hinduism

    Symbol of Hinduism
    Courtesy of Wikipedia
    Based on the 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.
  • Global patriarchy and women of a lesser God, Birma Tirmizi, Express Tribune, 6 January 2014.
  • Why Patriarchy?, Sarita Sarvate, India Currents, 17 January 2015.
  • 8. The Resilience of Patriarchy in Religious Institutions

    Gender Imbalance in Religion and Religious Governance

    Persisting gender imbalance in religious thinking and leadership is a serious obstacle to the advent of post-patriarchal families. From the perspective of cultural evolution, religious patriarchy may now be the biggest obstacle; for gender equality and gender balance are by now well established as irreversible social trends due to practical economic incentives, but the collective unconscious is still deeply biased by religious practices and rites that perpetuate the mindset of male hegemony. In terms of human fertility, for example, it would be well for some institutions to stop fulminating condemnations about abortion and birth control methods, and start selling the value of virtues such as self-discipline and abstinence. But there is a fear, not entirely unreasonable, that we may throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to reforming religious traditions that have served humanity well since time immemorial. About 80% of the world population is "religious" in the broad sense of believing in God and adhering, at least to some extent, to one of the major world religions. However, it is time to recognize that all these religions were founded after the agricultural revolution (10,000 years or so ago) long after patriarchy had become normative; and they all were, from their inception, contaminated by the phallocentric syndrome as evidenced by the most ancient sacred texts. Given the limitations of human language, and official protestations about God transcending gender notwithstanding, "when God is male, the male is god." It is time to overcome the vexing resilience of patriarchal structures in religious institutions.

    Sharia Law - Source: Author Unknown

    Papal Apology - Source: Kirk Anderson



    Of the Same Flesh:
    Exploring a Theology of Gender

    Susan Durber, Christian Aid, July 2014

    [Christian Aid & ACNS, 29 July 2014] Excerpts:

    Being made male or female should be a gift of God, not a weapon of oppression says a new paper by Christian Aid, "Of the Same Flesh: exploring a theology of gender."

    The paper examines how global poverty affects women more than men and explores how Christian theology can provide a positive vision of gender which can make it a blessing not a curse.

    Author, the Revd Dr Susan Durber, Christian Aid’s theology advisor, said many Christian Aid partner organisations in developing countries are transforming the way in which gender is lived in their communities through engaging in theology and working with church leaders.

    “Christians believe that our being made ‘male and female’ is a gift of God, and should be experienced as joy for humankind”, she said. “It is a scandal then that our gender is so often experienced not as joy, but as a place of oppression.

    “When it becomes a source of persecution and fear, this is a distortion of God’s intention for creation. From machismo cultures that skew masculinity, to the striking evidence of the poverty and exclusion of women, there is a sense that the world is not as it should be in relation to gender. This is the common tragedy of humankind, but it is also the particular pain of the most poor and vulnerable.”

    “Turning to the Scriptures to shape a theology is not a straightforward process and interpretation should never be simplistic and naive. We need to read with care and learn how to become interpreters who can find the blessing within, behind or even sometimes apparently against the grain of the text.”

    “Theologians and church leaders have key voices in shaping the way that gender is understood, experienced and lived out in communities across the world”, Dr Durber said. “The Bible says that God made humankind in God’s image, male and female.  This is not a generalised banality about an abstract ‘sameness’, but a radical celebration of a difference that should be strongly rooted in equality and justice.”

    The full report can be found here



    This may be the most promising theological development pursuant to gender balance in church and society


    Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, John Paul II, St. Paul Editions, 1981.

    The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997.

    Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body, John Paul II (Author), Michael Waldstei (Translator), Pauline Books, 2006.


    Theology of the Body International Alliance, Theology of the Body Institute, The Cor Project.

    Source: John Wijngaards Catholic Research Centre


    Women's Ordination Worldwide
    Third International Conference

    Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice
    Philadelphia, September 2015

    WOW's third international conference is set to happen in Philadelphia in September 2015. Advocates for women's ordination from around the world will gather to celebrate, be inspired, and join together as we grow our movement and go forward. Our hosts will be our member group Women's Ordination Conference (WOC). For more information, visit the WOW 2015 conference website.



    International Theological Conference
    Cyprus, 22-24 January 2015

    Sponsored by the Center of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies (CEMES)

    Point of Contact:
    Petros Vassiliadis, Chairman

    9. Gender Balance in the Priesthood and the Episcopacy

    Ordination of Women in the Sacramental Churches

    Luis T. Gutierrez
    Working Paper, 11 March 2015


    A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In the sacramental churches, the main obstacle to the ordination of women is the idea that the masculinity of Jesus requires the priest to resemble him as a male. But this is a fallacy which is rooted in the patriarchal norm of the father as head of the family and not on divine revelation.

    "This is my body." What matters for the sacramental economy, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed human nature in a human body, and "became flesh." The proper matter for the sacrament is "flesh," not "maleness." Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for outward resemblance is the human body, whether male or female. The advent of women priests and bishops is also required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine Person who became incarnate and abides in the Trinity. All the sacraments are nuptial. None of the sacraments was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.

    The choice of the 12 male apostles by Jesus is a particularity of his earthly mission to the people of Israel and should not remain normative as the church becomes incarnate in post-patriarchal cultures. Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and John Paul II's Theology of the Body, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition.

    At the end, some key references are listed followed by additional notes for further reflection:

    Note 1: On Discernment about Women in Sacramental Ministry
    Note 2: On the Mysteries of the Beginning and the End
    Note 3: On the Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption
    Note 4: On the Nuptial Mystery of Christ and the Church
    Note 5: On Issues of Religious Patriarchy and Human Ecology

    We need to reconsider the church as a family and recognize that the patriarchal church hierarchy is becoming an obstacle to evangelization as we enter the transition to a post-patriarchal society. Hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem. According to the dictionary, patriarchy is basically the rule of the father as head of the nuclear family, which extrapolates to all other social and religious institutions. In its radical form, it becomes the culture of male domination and control -- of women by men, of nature by humans.

    "This is my body"
    The exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery. Granted that ordination to the priesthood is not a "human right" (for either men or women), Christ should be allowed to call those he wants here and now. Why should we keep the church frozen in the patriarchal culture Jesus had to deal with during his earthly mission to the people of Israel? Would Jesus, in today's world, select 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? If Mary was called to divine motherhood, why is it that baptized women cannot be called to sacramental motherhood?

    Theology of the Body

    St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality, both in families and in the Church as the family of God, including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism, and provides a vision of marriage, and gender relations in general, that can be summarized as unity in diversity ("original unity of man and woman"), individuality in community ("communion of persons") and equality in mutuality ("spousal meaning of the body"). The complementarity of man and woman is for reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.

    The TOB is not about radical feminism. It is not about radical patriarchy either, past or present. It should be noted that the letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), which is not a dogmatic definition of revealed truth, is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the church can or cannot do in the future. The term "definitive," as used in this document with regard to the male-only priesthood, therefore applies to the past and the present, not the future, since the document says nothing about the future.

    Nothing essential (dogmatic) of the Catholic faith would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. There is one (embodied) human nature and having a "body" is more fundamental to the structure of the personal subject than being somatically male or female (TOB 3:2, 8:1). Sexual differentiation is a gift but is also a limitation of the human condition. What matters for the sacramental economy is that we are body-persons, not that we are body-males or body-females. What matters for the sacrament of Holy Orders, and for the priest to be a visible sign of the acting presence of Christ, is not that Jesus is male but that in him the eternal Word assumed a human body, in the "flesh." Our Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church because he is a body-Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a body-male; and the Blessed Virgin Mary is the typus (exemplary realization) of the church because she brought the eternal Word to the world, not because she is a body-female.

    What is needed is to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB exegesis of the Ephesians 5 bridegroom-bride analogy clearly shows; see, e.g., TOB 97:2, 102:1), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer in the flesh, not because he is a human male. All the sacraments are nuptial, and none was instituted by Christ to be gender-exclusive.

    The fallacy of the traditional (with lower case "t") argument that only males can be ordained to act in persona Christi, because Christ is male, is that in persona Christi refers to a divine Person, not a human person. The second person of the Trinity was not a male before the incarnation. This divine Person became human as a male, but this was part of embracing all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). Even after the incarnation and the redemption, Jesus Christ is one divine Person in two natures, divine and human. The Christ who transubstantiates the bread and wine into his own body and blood is a divine Person, not a human person. The body is like a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. This applies for human persons, and even more so for a divine Person. The ordained priest acts in place of a divine Person who became human, not in place of an idolatrous male.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church

    The sacraments are efficacious channels of divine grace ex opere operato, i.e., their efficacy is not dependent on the holiness or any other human quality of the ordained minister. Why should they depend on the minister's gender? To act in persona Christi Capitis means to act in place of a divine Person. Neither men nor women are divine persons. Any baptized human person, male or female, can be ordained to act in persona Christi Capitis. "This is my body." From a sacramental perspective, having a human body is the necessary and sufficient condition for making the acting Christ outwardly visible. From a vocational perspective, all ministries, including ordained ministries, should be mediated by the church but must be based on vocational discernment and should be gift-based, not gender-based.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states that the exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma (CCC 1598). The lesser doctrine that the choice of the 12 male apostles is normative (CCC 1577) is not proposed as a divinely revealed dogma, even though this choice is still prescribed by church law (CIC 1024). The door is closed at the moment, but it is not locked. The church does have the authority (by the "power of the keys") to ordain women to the priesthood as soon as the Pope, as the successor of Peter, decides that doing so is the will of Christ in today's world, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Such a decision would be in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition (Acts 10:48, 15:28).

    See also CCC 889-892, 2035, 2051. To reiterate, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not published in the "definitive manner" specified in CCC 892, for any of the following reasons: (1) it is addressed to the bishops and not to the entire church; (2) it doesn't say it is a dogmatic definition; (3) it was published as an apostolic letter, which is the lowest level of papal teaching; (4) it is entirely written in past and present tense, and says nothing about what the church can or cannot do in the future; (5) it didn't make clear it is an infallible definition at the time of publication, and a Vatican dicastery subsequently claiming it was doesn't make so. In brief, it is authoritative and requires the assent of acceptance ("religious assent") by Roman Catholics but does not require the assent of faith. This may sound like splitting hairs, but it is the kind of thing that can happen (CCC 937) when the supremacy of the Petrine office is challenged by belligerent demands for change and the Pope decides that the church is not ready for the change. For some reason, this erudite Pope decided that the fundamentalist argument in CCC 1577 is the best we have at the moment to justify the male-only priesthood, but see also the "more essential" doctrine in CCC 1598. The first sentence simply states that the male-only priesthood is a choice, and says nothing about this choice being a dogma of the faith; but the second sentence makes clear who can make the choice, because the church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." It is not necessarily "male-apostolic," but it is "apostolic."

    From cover to cover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church mostly uses "man" to refer to humans, male and female. The words "body" and "flesh" (rather than "male" or "masculine") are invariably used to explain the mysteries of the incarnation and the redemption. The word "patriarchy" is never used, and it is clearly stated (239, 370, 2779) that "God transcends the human distinctions between the sexes" and cannot be reduced to human categories such as "father," "mother," "husband," "wife." Human beings are made in God's image, not the other way around. The eternal Word became "flesh" (John 1:14), the maleness of Jesus being a particularity of God becoming embodied and "like us in all sins but sin." Likewise, the choice of the 12 male apostles by Jesus is a particularity of his earthly mission to the people of Israel and, except for the very unpersuasive "reason" given in 1577, no justification is given for making that choice normative as the church becomes incarnate in post-patriarchal cultures.

    Equality & Difference

    Also from cover to cover, the Theology of the Body is focused on human beings, male and female, as images of God that fully share one and the same human nature as "body-persons." The entire book is devoted to show that Trinitarian communion becomes more clearly visible when man and woman, being of the same flesh, live in communion with each other and become "one flesh," either in marriage by sharing the gift of love and the gift of life, or in celibacy by sharing the same gifts spiritually "for the sake of the kingdom." Then the bridegroom-bride analogy really makes sense when referring to the Christ-Church mystery. It has nothing to do with patriarchal conditioning about man being the "head" of woman, or fathers being the "head" of the family, or "husbands" dominating "wives." The nuptial covenant is about subjection to one another in reciprocity, not one-sided domination.

    Literalist patriarchal interpretations of the bridegroom-bride analogy in Ephesians 5:21-33 ignore that analogies are about similarities and dissimilarities: Christ is the "head" of the church because he is a divine body-Person, not because he is a "husband" and the church is his "wife" as understood in patriarchal cultures. This nuptial meaning of the Christ-Church mystery as a communion of persons, in the image of the Trinity, applies to all the sacraments. The advent of women priests and bishops is required to make the church hierarchy a complete image of Jesus Christ as a divine Person who became incarnate, becomes "one flesh" with the church, grows as the "whole Christ" (Christus totus), and abides in the Trinity.

    In other words, man is a "giver-receiver" and woman is a "receiver-giver." The "complementarity" of man and woman is a matter of emphasis within the unity of one and the same human nature. This is the same human nature that the eternal Word assumed at the Incarnation, and becoming "flesh" as a male ("giver-receiver") and not as a female ("receiver-giver") is part of a divine Person assuming all the limitations of the human condition ("like us in all things but sin"). The real difference is between being a divine Person-Redeemer and being a redeemed human person. This real difference should be taken into account, and always kept in mind, when referring to the Bridegroom-Bride analogy about the mystery of Christ and the Church. When this real difference is noted, the male-only priesthood becomes an absurdity rooted in the patriarchal "binary," not in the deposit of faith. Christ is the "head" of the Church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is a "giver-receiver" rather than a "receiver-giver." We cannot reduce the mysteries of the life of Christ to human categories. What about the anointing in Bethany? In this case, it seems to me that the woman was the "giver-receiver" and Jesus was the "receiver-giver." So, in the sacramental economy, it is absurd to reduce the Christ-Church mystery to the patriarchal "binary."

    Vocational Discernment & Human Ecology

    The proper "matter" for the sacrament of Holy Orders is "flesh," not "maleness." In other words, the proper "matter" for the sacrament is the laying on of hands on a baptized body-person, male or female. In the sacramental churches, and specifically in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the ordination of baptized women would be fully consistent with the deposit of faith, and apostolic succession would remain intact. Visceral patriarchy aside, there is no dogmatic obstacle to changing the choice from "baptized males" to "baptized persons." Viscerally conflating patriarchal ideology and revealed truth may be the most pervasive psychological problem in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In the Anglican Communion, the advent of women priests and bishops has been traumatic for some people. What is the best way to help people overcome visceral patriarchy?

    It is not to ordain more married men, as doing so would reinforce the patriarchal mindset even more. It is suggested that qualified, vocation-tested celibate women be ordained first. With so many celibate women (including nuns!) who clearly have the "signs of the priesthood," it is lamentable that they cannot be ordained for cultural reasons that have nothing to do with divine revelation. Ordaining celibate women to the priesthood would be the right response to the "signs of the times" and the most sensible response to the shortage of priests. Furthermore, the ordination of qualified celibate women to the priesthood and the episcopacy would be instrumental for integral human development and fostering social and ecological justice. It has been said that "human development, if not engendered, is endangered." Likewise, human ecology without gender balance is endangered. As long as women are excluded from sacramental ministry, can we really say that the church is like a sacrament of Christ's presence in our ecologically deteriorating world?

    Gender equality is about human solidarity for the good of humanity. The Catholic Church, with 1.2 billion members, could have a decisive influence for good by exemplifying gender equality in the hierarchy of persons with sacramental power to sanctify, teach, and govern in the person of Christ and in the name of the Church. This is the fundamental option that must be reconsidered (CCC 1598). It should be made clear that this is not about what women (or men) want. It is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls. It is reasonable to think that Christ wants the Church to do what is good for humanity and the entire community of creation. Would Jesus, in today's world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?



    Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, Canon Law Society of America, edited by James Coriden et al, Paulist Press, 1985. Text online at the VATICAN WEBSITE.

    Catechism of the Catholic Church, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Liguori Publications, 1994. Text online at the VATICAN WEBSITE.

    Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II, translation by Michael Waldstein, Pauline Books, 2006. Text online at the EWTN WEBSITE.

    The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, translation by Louis Puhl, SJ, Newman Press, 1951, reprinted 2010. Text online at the LOYOLA WEBSITE.

    Note 1: On Discernment about Women in Sacramental Ministry

    The following are some points that may be useful for meditation and discernment in a sacramental context:

    • The sacraments are what they are by divine institution (CCC 1076ff)
    • The Church has the authority to choose the ministers of the sacraments (CCC 1598)
    • The Church chooses only baptized males because Jesus Christ is male and chose only males (CCC 1577)
    • But Christ is the head of the Church because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because the eternal Word incarnated as a male
    • And, all baptized persons have redeemed human bodies made of flesh, which is more fundamental for human nature than being male and female (TOB, e.g., 8:1)
    • And, assuming that Christ has common sense, for the evangelization of today's world he would not choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel
    • Therefore, as soon as the Church decides that Christ still has common sense, the Church will have the authority to choose women as ministers of the sacraments
    • However, the Church cannot decide that Christ still has common sense as long as she remains attached to a patriarchal mindset, like the apostles were (John 4:27, Mark 16:11, etc.)
    • Therefore, let's pray and work for the Church to reach the point of deciding that the decision of Acts 15:28, by removing the need for male circumcision, also removed the need to choose only males for the sacrament of Holy Orders

    In the Catholic and Orthodox churches, this is a visceral issue that cannot be resolved by reason alone. Prayerful discernment will be required in order to separate divine revelation from deeply entrenched patriarchal ideology. Specifically, it will be helpful to meditate on the Paschal mystery and the Christ-Church mystery, using methods such as the Spiritual Exercises (St. Ignatius Loyola) and the Theology of the Body (St. John Paul II).

    Note 2: On the Mysteries of the Beginning and the End

    Between the beginning and the end times, human history unfolds over time. Jesus Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus Christ is the Last Adam, God becoming human to fulfill the promise made to the First Adam, male and female, at the inception of "salvation history" (Genesis 3:15). The mysteries of the life of Christ are the threshold between the Old Law, or the age of patriarchy that started with "original sin" (Genesis 3:16), and the New Law that pertains to the age of the Church as a divine-human communion (John 3:16, 8:32, 17:22) undergoing a process of "divinization" that, starting with Mary of Nazareth, will continue until it is completed at the end of time (Revelation 12:1). These mysteries come to us written in human (patriarchal) language but utterly transcend cultural constraints. This is the framework for a Christian understanding of integral human development and other issues of social and ecological justice. The current ecological crisis is a "sign of the times" and a turning point in the process of outgrowing the age of patriarchy in preparation for a new age of global solidarity and sustainability.

    Note 3: On the Mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption

    The mystery of the incarnation is about God assuming human nature, i.e., the eternal Word becoming "flesh." The mystery of the redemption is about this embodied divine Person's suffering, death, and resurrection. Since the beginning, the human person is flesh–body–heart–soul–spirit, much more than just a psychosomatic male or female object. If this applies to all human persons, even more so to Jesus Christ, who is a divine Person. In other words, the body is like a sacrament of the whole person, but is not the whole person. Given the somatic homogeneity of men and women, to be a male is not essential to "naturally" resemble Jesus Christ in his humanity. The human *body* is what indistinctly makes visible the full personhood of both men and women. The human *body* of a baptized person is like a sacrament of Christ's presence, regardless of gender. Any baptized person, male or female, can be tested for vocation to the ministerial priesthood. References: Genesis 2:7, John 1:14, CCC 704, TOB 8:4.

    Note 4: On the Nuptial Mystery of Christ and the Church

    The nefarious repercussions of conflating patriarchal ideology with revealed truth are evident in rigid masculinist interpretations of the Bridegroom-Bride analogy. Such interpretations tend to reinforce a mindset of male hegemony that is contrary to the mutual submission that is proper between husband and wife and intrinsic to the mystery of Christ and the Church. Jesus Christ is head of his body, which is the Church, because he is a divine Person and our Redeemer, not because he is male. In giving the power of the keys to Peter, he also submits himself to the Church even in the present age. The male-only Church hierarchy obscures our vision of the nuptial mystery of Christ as Giver-Receiver and the Church as Receiver-Giver. It obscures the Church as the family of God, a communion of persons in the image of the Trinity. It also serves to exacerbate antiquated patriarchal norms of male hegemony in Christian families. References: Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:21-33, CCC 796, TOB 93:6.

    Note 5: On Issues of Religious Patriarchy and Human Ecology

    The reason that ordaining women to the priesthood and the episcopate is instrumental for social and ecological justice is that patriarchy, as a mindset of male domination in the family, translates to a mindset of human domination of the human habitat. This mindset of domination is further exacerbated by religious patriarchy, whereby God is imaged in exclusively male terminology. In the sacramental churches, this idolatrous male is manifested by allowing only males to be ordained as ministers of the sacraments, thereby also excluding women from roles of headship in ecclesial communities. Given that there is no dogmatic imperative to perpetuate the conflation of patriarchal ideology and divine revelation, why the vexing refusal to ordain women? Is it "pastoral prudence"? If not dogma or prudence, what else? Untying this knot may be the task of the 3rd millennium of the Christian era, except that the ecological crisis (undoubtedly a "sign of the times") may not grant the churches time to proceed at such a glacial pace.

    In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, the fundamental issue is whether she makes decisions based on cultural conditioning or an ever deepenimg understanding of the deposit of faith. This is not about what women (or men) want. This is about discerning what Christ wants for the Church in the 21st century, for the glory of God and the good of souls. Would Jesus, in today's globalized world, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?

    First Principle and Foundation (SE 23)

    "Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.

    "Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

    "Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sicksimpleness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

    "Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created."

    Canon 1024 is clearly a prohibition to ordain women. It is a prohibition that must be accepted until it is lifted by legitimate church authority. But is this a dogmatic prohibition or a culturally conditioned compromise rooted in original sin (Genesis 3:16) and 6000 years of patriarchal domination/subordination ideologies? Is this prohibition helpful or a hindrance for integral human development? Is it conducive to social and ecological justice? Is it really based on divine revelation or just an inordinate attachment to patriarchal norms that are passing away? More specifically:

    Is our Lord's choice of 12 male apostles a divine "prohibition" to ordain women or a pre-Easter choice contingent on his earthly mission to the people of Israel?

    Would Jesus, in today's globalized world ravaged by patriarchal ideologies, choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?

    Granted that what is "best" can be the enemy of what is "good," what is it that is *most* conducive to the glory of God, and the good of souls, in the 21st century of the Christian era?

    Actually, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is "simply" a matter of extending the apostolic decision to discontinue the Old Law practice of male circumcision (Acts 15:28) to the sacrament of Holy Orders under the New Law. It may not be easy because for many it is still a visceral issue, but it is radically simple: CCC 1577 notwithstanding, CCC 1598 clearly states that choosing only males as ministers of the sacraments is an option, not a dogma. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will enable the Church to overcome her inordinate attachment to patriarchal norms that no longer serve the cause of God's reign. Reference: CIC 1024, CCC 1577, CCC 1598, SE 23 (Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola, 23)


    Christian Bishops, Male and Female


    Libby Lane - New Bishop of Stockport, Church of England
    ACNS, 26 January 2015

    Catholic archbishop responds to first woman bishop in Church of England
    Vatican Radio, 27 January 2015

    Pope urges 'more widespread and incisive female presence' in Church
    Vatican Radio, 8 February 2015

    Anger and Reverence
    International Women's Day at the Vatican, 8 March 2015

    Voices of Faith, Vatican, 8 March 2015

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