Women and the Catholic Church – A Twofer
Not only do women comprise over half the population, they are also far more religious than men and much more likely to attend church. Since the Catholic Church is sexist, always consigning women to an inferior role, this adds to their problems. Recent news highlights two approaches to the problem.
The pope has taken a small exploratory step: “Members of papal commission on women's diaconate make first public comments.” Pope Francis and his predecessors have made it clear that there will be no women priests, despite calls from the laity. But two years ago Pope Francis created another papal commission to explore the possibility of allowing women to become deacons.
NCR explains the history of the position and its duties:
‘The permanent diaconate was reinstituted in the church after Vatican II. There are currently 45,000 permanent deacons in the world, men who serve in various ministries and can preach and witness marriages and perform baptisms, among other duties. They include both married and single men, with some 18,000 serving in the United States.’
Deacons cannot perform the central rite of the Church, the eucharist. Only men can transform wheat wafers into the body of Christ, and wine into his blood. But women might get the chance to preach, and even baptize some babies.
After the papal commission studied this issue for two years, one of its members, Phyllis Zagano, provided a status report. First, she emphasized they were not considering women priests. That was off the table, despite support from the laity. She said, “I would like to think of women's deacon future. But I have no promises for you.” Also, “she has confidence that the pope would make the right decision about ordaining women deacons.”
This is the most positive proposal from the Church regarding women. Needless to say, Pope Francis is a busy man and there is no telling when he might read and comment on the proposal. Acting on it is yet another matter.
Number Two – Sex Abuse
The second report, link courtesy of NCR: “Women religious shatter the silence about clergy sexual abuse of sisters.” Yes, they abuse adult women, too. Sr. Esther Fangman, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, has been talking about this for decades. Like the sexual abuse of boys, it is a worldwide problem.
Sr. Fangman says, “it is a church problem. It is a power issue — the difference between males and females and those in the church who have power.” The article provides many examples. Priests are predators, whether they are abusing boys or women. They prey on the most vulnerable.
Catholic clergy are the most deviant profession on earth. Many studies have found that compared to all other occupations, priests’ MMPI scores for sociopathy are off the charts. This is hardly what you would expect of pastors, and certainly not what you would like. When they are not abusing children, women, or seminarians, there is a good chance priests are abusing alcohol or drugs. They are an amazingly bad lot. No one is willing to talk about this.
The good news is that at some unspecified time in the future, the Catholic Church may allow women to become deacons, a very limited form of clergy. Usually, this position is either a stepping-stone to priesthood or a consolation prize for married men who cannot (yet) become priests.
The bad news is that women in the church are getting abused by priests. This is as widespread as clerical child abuse. Whether or not it is more common is anyone’s guess.
In short, when it comes to reality – past and present – the Church is basically bad news for women. But when it comes to the future, it may become a little less bad.