Women must fight clericalism to heal church, Vatican publication says

A woman religious is seen with delegates during a breakout session Sept. 21 at the Fifth National Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In response to current scandals, clericalism and the need for reform, Catholic women must take the initiative and make their voices be heard, according to a series of articles in a Vatican magazine.

The October edition of Women Church World, published Oct. 1 in conjunction with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, dedicated its monthly issue to "Women Confronting the Crisis of the Church." 

"We wanted to give voice to a critical reflection from the point of view of women," Lucetta Scaraffia, the magazine's director, wrote in the opening editorial.

The first article, titled "Holy Rage," was a Q&A with Sister Veronique Margron, a moral theologian who works with abuse victims, is president of the Conference of Religious in France and is provincial superior of the Dominican Sisters of Charity of the Presentation.


She said one major factor behind the "omerta" or culture of silence in the church lies in the image the church often has of itself as being a family, which, when it comes to incidences of sexual abuse, "has disastrous consequences."

The image of a family is meant to describe the beauty of reciprocal care and love for each member, she said. However, just like when abuse is experienced in a family, that abuse is rarely talked about and finds support in sayings that warn against "airing your dirty linen in public."

Just being angry or upset about abuse is not enough, she said. "Courage is a virtue" and is needed to get people to do something about what they hear and know.

"A holy rage is needed," she said, as well as a clear awareness that "the difficulties that we will have to face if we speak out are nothing compared to what the victim has suffered."

Sister Margron spoke about the problem of abuse of power and conscience, which affects men and women equally. 

A kind of "incestuous environment" can affect a religious community, she said; it distorts and abuses the vow of obedience as one person puts another under his or her control.

"When you enter religious life, you are trusting and your guard is down, something which is entirely normal," she said. For these men and women who have given their lives completely to God, any act of abuse "gives rise to a tragic sense of shame," so deep that it becomes impossible to talk about it.

Christian life is built on faith, trust and promises, which is why suspicion is "poison for a community. The challenge is to establish procedures and checks, exactly for safeguarding the quality and decency" of relationships.

Christian life is built on faith, trust and promises, which is why suspicion is "poison for a community."

Scaraffia, a historian, wrote in the article "Feminism and Clericalism" that women have to be given more leadership roles if their voices are ever to be heard or have any authority.

"It is true that women, even the most obedient, do not truly feel part of the church, but at most (they feel like) obedient daughters," she wrote.

If they did feel they were a welcome part, then they would fight no matter what their role "with all the weapons they possess, which are not trivial things," for the church to follow Christ's teachings.

But, she said, clericalism is also when the people of God sit at closed doors waiting to be called in. 

"This is the clericalism Catholic feminists must heal because the condition of women in the church will change only if women have the courage to begin to change things from below, with denunciations if necessary, with questions that are never asked."

So often the absence of women in leadership or decision-making is not because of dogma or canon law, she said, but just deeply entrenched and outdated traditions.

French biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier, who won the Ratzinger Prize for her contributions to theology, advocating for a church guided by the "two voices" of all men and women. In 2017 Pope Francis chose her to write the Way of the Cross meditations.

The church needs two voices, male and female.

Pelletier wrote that getting the entire people of God dedicated to living a life of conversion and holiness is the "exact antidote to the venom of clericalism that lies behind the criminal abuses of power."

While recognizing there are women who are "ready to adopt clerical behaviors," all too often it is women who see and experience the abuse of power in the church, in which the hierarchy is predominately male, she wrote.

Religious or laywomen, Pelletier wrote, "know all too well the haughty, condescending, disdainful gaze turned their way" and they daily experience an obedience imposed by men who jealously hold for themselves "the prestige of knowledge and authority."

The church needs two voices, male and female, if the church is to "rediscover a truly evangelical intelligence of power as service" and for change to really happen, she wrote.

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Jean Kenny
2 years ago

It is all about INCLUSIVITY not male exclusivity that has gone on sinfully for centurues.
The SIN Of CLERICALISM has ruined the Catholic Church.

Randal Agostini
2 years ago

I agree that the Church needs two voices, but we should understand that women are just as likely to succumb to the effects of power. Regarding the principle of family - when we are brothers and sisters in Christ it is not as our human, but as our spiritual selves. God does not love us as sinners, but in spite of our sin - he calls for our conversion so that we can be with him. There are no secrets with God and there should not be secrets in our Church.

Nora Bolcon
2 years ago

Are you freaking kidding me America!?

Until one has power and authority, they can't change much.

WE were just told to go shove it! AGAIN! by our pope who supposedly loves us women (bullsht!) when he decided women don't deserve any vote or voice in the synod. And by voice, I mean one that has some microscopic amount of authority like a vote!

Women will only be able to change things with actual aggressive picketing and ongoing public protests at parishes, chanceries, bishops residences and seminaries. Shouting "Shame on all of You! Those of you who say and do nothing in the face of this ongoing misogyny! Shame on all of You Women Haters!

When anyone accepts a so-called greater role but only while they accept refusal from same treatment and same ordination, they are supporting misogyny and its continuance. Onc does not improve an enslaved group's situation by segregating them to another lower space and then say - but see you aren't outright slaves now at least - and isn't that great?!
The concept of gender roles which is what this nun is supporting is in and of itself a form of sexism which has its own built-in ability to leave its own scars on the human beings caged and abused within its confines.

Sexism Definition: Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender. Sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another. Extreme sexism may foster sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

FYI - Sexism also promotes pedophilia. In case anyone finds that relevant.

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