Mme. Anne Negre, gender equality expert of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe, organized on 23rd June a two day Side Event with the participation of the permanent representative of the Vatican, the imam of the principal mosque of Strasbourg, a rabbi, a Buddhist theologian nun, an orthodox priest, and a protestant pastor, etc, in which each one explained the situation of women in their respective religions.
This is the result of about one thousand replies to a Council of Europe questionnaire in which almost 70% of women considered inadequate the situation of women in their religious beliefs.
On the second day of the Side Event I briefly explained my support for women priests with the same competences as male priests and then want on to talk about our community priesthood of women and men as joint celebrants in our Comunidad de Santo Tomas in Madrid and I asked my friend Evaristo Villar for a short text to justify the theological reasons to detailing womens' rights to participate in the priesthood of the Catholic Church.
Evaristo Villar, a celibate Catholic priest, a theologian and a writer belonging to the John XXIII Association of Female and Male Theologians and a member of the Comunidad de Santo Tomas, answered my request immediately with the following quick note:
“1. Hugo, Women suffer gender discrimination in the Catholic Church. This is not a consequence of a dogmatic-doctrinal question, but due to a legalistic tradition imposed by the evangelical praxis of following Jesus. However, it is both an abnormal and unjust situation. This maintained position of the Catholic Church is in contrast with the growing contrast that we see in civil society, overcoming mountains of prejudice and recovering, at least, legally, equality between women and men. This recovery is neither total nor geographical but, at least, in the West, there is an unstoppable progress towards the implementation of a social-legal and political equality for women. Although we still have to overcome centuries of patriarchism, this process is irrevocable..
2. It is the statute of EQUALITY (or rather that of EGALITARIANISM that should have precedence in the Catholic Church) of men and women, as defined by Paul in the Letter to the Galatians 3, 28:"Already there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor freed person, neither man nor woman, because you are all one person in Christ Jesus”. This is the theological formulation practiced by Jesus of Nazareth, as opposed to the doctrine and practice of Judaism, between men and women. The greater tenderness and proximity of Jesus is shown with the socially excluded and children. Besides, the Letter to the Galatians, demonstrates the theological and historical presence of women in the origins of Christianity. The Letter mentions many women who were leaders of their communities and who presided gatherings where “The Lord's Supper” or “the Breaking of the bread” took place. Their house was the meeting place of the community and they had the role of both host and evangelist. We can mention some of them: Dorcas (Acts (of the Apostles) 9, 36), Mary, the mother of John-Mark, (Acts 12, 12), Lidia (Acts 16,14), Priscila (Acts 18,26), the daughters of Philip, who had the “gift of prophecy”(Acts 21, 8-9). Paul, also, talks about “the woman who prays or prophetises” (1 Cor 11, 5; Acts 21, 8-9). And he mentions several others who were his direct associates: Phoebe, “the deaconess”, Priscila, "my helper" ; Mary, Triphene, Triphose and Persida, "who have all laboured so hard in the Lord's work”; June, the valiant "apostle”; Evodie and Sintique, “companions and associates" (Rm 16, 2-4, 6; Tim 4, 19; Fil 4,3). There were also deaconesses in the primitive Church Rm 16,1-2; 1 Tim 3,11, etc.
3. As well as the statute of equality or egalitarianism, Jesus's disciples, following his example (to accompany themselves with a group of followers like the Twelve, the Seventy two amongst which there were also women: Mary Magdalen amongst others) quickly discovered that the way to follow Jesus had to be by means of the Community, as the social way of following Jesus; you cannot follow him as an isolated individual (although the decision to join a community is always a personal, individual decision). And the community is built and articulated not only by values and gifts but also by duties and tasks¹. And these duties always have a social dimension (“for the common good”) and they are carried out by persons who enjoy the appreciation and general support, whether they are men or women, because the community recognizes their competence to fulfill their different tasks. The 1st Letter to the Corinthians 12 describes the multiple duties that can adorn a community. And each one of these competences is a response to the duties required by the Community and which are granted to different members. It is not the presbyter who possesses all these gifts and competences but the Community. Vatican II in the encyclical Lumen Gentium describes it, to explain the same function, as the language of the carismas.
4. The specific case of the Christian priesthood can never be understood as a gift or charisma for private use, nor that it must be reserved exclusively for men. It is a task, like other duties, required by a Christian community, and which belongs to the community and can be undertaken by different persons (like any other duty), but without ever losing the common property of the duty or gift. This means that the priestly function belongs fundamentally to the community although, in practice, it delegates the function to a particular person or carries it out by their means. You cannot understand the Christian priesthood without the community. To the community belongs essentially the primary, fundamental or basic priesthood; to the presbyter, the second or ministering function. The two types are “ordered one to the other” (as expressed by Vatican II) as representation and delegation.
5. Having said this: Until the true evangelical meaning of the priesthood is reestablished in the Church, I understand the demands for women for a statute of Equality with men. In this sense, we must support their demand: to have the same duties is a demand for a statute of Christian egalitarianism. But, the way in which the hierarchical priesthood works in the Catholic Church's organization chart, I consider to be out of focus and creative of inequality and of the pyramid structure of the Church. The current form of priesthood is completely out of touch with the duties to the community carried out in the origins of Christianity. Rather, I would say, the current hierarchical system appears to stem from a pagan-roman format to keep together (but not united) the society of women and men believers, articulating from authority, above downwards, from the oligarchy to the masses, from the monarchy to the people. This type of priesthood, with or without celibacy, is difficult to consider Christian in our present day, and is heading for extinction. The strongest claim for the statute for women in the Church is not, from this point of view, a requirement for the above type of priesthood, but an egalitarian one in which all men and women who are pledged to follow Jesus of Nazareth, namely, in a democracy that goes beyond the very formal democracy that exists in our civil society.
6. I think you chose a good model when you presented the experience in participation and articulation, not only of the community priesthood but also of many other details of the Comunidad Santo Tomas de Aquino. Of course, it is not the only example, but for now, it continues to be a good paradigm for the current Church...
¹ Evaristo told me over the phone about the case of the early Helenist Christian communities in Israel whose widows and children suffered hunger. The apostles appointed deacons to care for them and feed them because they were fully occupied with preaching the good news.
² About ten years ago, Evaristo instituted the community priesthood in Comunidad Santo Tomas, after a consultation with our chosen bishop, Pedro Casaldaliga, bishop of Sao Felix do Araguaia in Brazil, a member of the Claretian order like himself, before going away for a few months to give a series of talks in Cuba.
23th June 2016
Hugo Castelli Eyre, European Network Church on the Move, a member of the Comunidad de Santo Tomas
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