‘Dakilang alalay’ (but not for long?)


Echoing articles abroad, Ceres Doyo (6/14/12; 6/21/12), Denis Murphy (6/11/12), Rina Jimenez-David (4/29/12), and Mary Racelis (7/3/12) have written in the Inquirer about how the Vatican was bearing down on nuns.

Collectively, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States (LCWR) was subjected to “doctrinal assessment,” which included questionnaires, visitations, censures. The prospect of the Vatican taking on our own Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines and the likes of Sr. Mary John Mananzan raises my speculations sky-high.

Individually, there are theologian Sr. Margaret Farley (highlighted by Ms Doyo) for her book on sexual ethics, theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson for “Quest for the Living God,” Sr. Margaret Mary McBride for an indirect abortion in the hospital she administered—all censured with strong objections to their writings, dismissal, excommunication, etc. The irony is, censure descends upon them swiftly and cruelly compared to those guilty of grave sins of sexual scandal, schism, corruption, etc., who are slapped on the wrist, packed off to faraway places or blest with extended recollections. And the nuns didn’t even cost the Church $2 billion for legal settlement!

Nuns may be the frontline of the big picture—i.e., the status of women in the institutional Church, another Pandora’s box sealed for millennia now being pried open inch by inch despite being persistently sat on by the patriarchy.

When did the patriarchal Church begin? In the Bible, Shiprah, Puah, Deborah and Queen Esther are mentioned. Mary of Magdala, Joanna and Susanna were in Jesus’ Galilean discipleship. Phoebe, Junia, Lydia and Prisca worked with St. Paul. “It’s Not All About Eve” (America, 7/6/09) continues; who has heard of those women leaders? In contrast, who hasn’t heard of the “woman sinner” who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair, subconsciously creating “a pejorative association between women and sin”? Is she the popularly or mistakenly believed Mary Magdalene, the “fabricated prostitute” finally rehabilitated as the esteemed “Apostle to the Apostles”?

In “Beginnings of the Church,” Frederick Cwiekowski wrote: “A careful reading of the New Testament texts show that women had a greater place and role in the early church…. We must take full account of all the evidence of the New Testament…. Some scholars, however, argue that these texts, have an in-built patriarchal bias which obscures the place which women actually held in the early church.” When, why and how did women become marginalized? (An interesting thesis topic.)

Flash forward to now. Patriarchy is digging in. The bald statement that the laity is second class and women third class persists.

There is no lack of dripping praises for woman’s “dignity and role,” for the “prophetic role of women in God’s plan.” There’s a caveat in the acclaim. It’s primarily meant for motherhood. Do such tributes also refer to the equal status of men and women to “positions of real ecclesial authority”? The exercise of authority, decision-making, leadership is the exclusive turf of clerics.

Isn’t it rather odd that the Church in its social teachings preaches equality everywhere else yet practices gender discrimination in her backyard, that only the celibate male view invoking infallibility, tradition and divine mandate should decide for the entire Church, making its view normative? Not exempt are women matters, practically “telling women how they should understand themselves as women.” Sighed one, after a priest’s rousing talk on marriage: “I wish I knew as little of marriage as he does.”

Said Cardinal Leo Suenens at Vatican II: “Why are we even discussing the reality of the Church when half of the Church is not even represented here?”

What a great loss for the Church! Imagine government, law, business, economics, education, medicine without the likes of Leila de Lima, Conchita Carpio Morales, Loida Nicolas, Solita Monsod, Patricia Licuanan, Fe del Mundo. How deprived, how impoverished, if everything is left to men! Or imagine the family with father deciding all, and mother limited to “cradling the baby” and keeping house.

Oh, yes, women are all over the Church from the Vatican bureaucracies down to parish offices, outreach projects, charity work, etc. Women keep them humming and running. Dubbed “dakilang alalay” (noble factotum), they are superior as Church workers, flocking around “Father, Father.” But no woman can call the shots. Try breaking the “purple ceiling.”

Up the ante to the ultimate. Can a woman become a priest? Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have declared such talk no-no, rendering it verboten. For many, any ecclesial dictum is so binding as to elicit “amen” all around. Also reinforcing the prohibition is a mindset in a culture so deep that the Church must be run by men and that priesthood is for them alone. Canon Law says so.

But the Church is running out of believable reasons against women priests, all of which boil down to one bias: “You’re a girl.” A culture war is emerging between status quo and change. Already there are around 100 women priests with or without the blessings of the Vatican. Women may be on the cusp of priesthood. It’s a matter of time, or of another generation.

Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist. Comments to marda_ph @yahoo.com, fax 8284454

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Tags: church , featured columns , nuns , women

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