Speakers emphasize need for ‘reciprocity’ in church ministry

Participants return to their seats after a break during an international symposium on the priesthood at the Vatican on Feb. 17, 2022. (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY — Promoting better collaboration between women and men in the Catholic Church is not primarily a matter of equality, but rather of enabling the Church to fulfill the mission entrusted to her by God, said speakers at a Vatican conference on the priesthood.

“The Church needs women and must call them to serve” for the good of all, said Michelina Tenace, professor of dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and consultant for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“If the church does not make this call, a ministry risks being considered a right. But serving is not a right, it’s a duty,” she said Feb. 18 during a panel on “Women and Ministry – The State of the Inquiry.”

Tenace was joined on the panel by Salesian Sister Alessandra Smerilli, Economist, Acting Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Advisor to the Vatican City State Government Office; and Martha Olavarrieta de Gómez Serrano, who was appointed with her late husband Enrique to the Pontifical Council for the Laity by Saint John Paul II in 2004.

The February 17-19 international conference was organized by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to examine the theology of the priesthood and its relationship to consecrated life which, along with lay vocations, are the three ways through which the faithful of Christ realize the call to holiness inscribed in baptism.

In her speech, Tenace spoke about the work of the commission to which she was appointed by Pope Francis in 2016 to study women called deaconesses in the New Testament and the role of women deacons in the early church. A second commission with different members was established in 2020 after the first commission said further study was needed and was unable to reach full consensus on the existence of a ordination with the same form and the same objective as the ordination of men.

The disappearance of female deacons in the Latin Rite church did not mean that women disappeared from the church or had no place, she said. Their holiness continued to be recognized and their service was absolutely utilized.

All the baptized are called to serve humanity, she said, so the question is not to restore what existed in the past, but “what ministry do the people of God need today? ‘today?

“And why is it so urgent to establish ministries for women?” she asked.

“Please,” she said, “not to recognize the dignity of women, but to recognize the true identity of the church.”

It is through this duty to serve, like Jesus, that the Church must constantly ask itself, even looking at its structures and hierarchies: “How can we better serve humanity by seeking salvation and in the most more consistent with the mandate of the Lord? ,” she says.

Sister Smerilli told the conference that ministry should not be looked at from the perspective of “claiming” rights or powers, but from the “logic of communion” within the framework of the covenant between God and human beings. .

The book of Genesis describes the covenant as beginning with God entrusting the care of the garden of creation to both a man and a woman – a responsibility that remains today.

“How would our relationships and the exercise of our duties and roles change, even within the church, if we took seriously this affirmation, that God entrusted the earth to the covenant of men and women, she asked.

“And why do we rarely succeed in doing this?” she says.

While the number of women at decision-making levels in the church is still “too low”, she said, the problem is not simply “making room for women”. or to see the problem as a “competition for power”.

The key point is “that it is not simply and only women who suffer in this situation, but the church and its mission,” too, when women’s gifts and call to service are underutilized, said Sister Smerilli.

Just as God’s image shines brightly in male-female duality, “only together as baptized men and women will we be His reflection,” she said. It is a vocation for men and women to be together in reciprocity and dialogue, in communion and fruitfulness in all areas of human experience.

“Women are a legitimate part of this advancement in truth,” inspired by the Holy Spirit, she said. Even during those periods of history that were marked by a strong patriarchal culture, women in the church and the “feminine charisms” achieved “extraordinary things”.

The church is called to seek “covenants” between men and women as they both move forward on this common earthly journey, despite any resistance to change, she said.

Constructive, unifying and mission-oriented collaboration between men and women, religious and lay, and across generations, is already happening in many places, parishes or associations, Sister Smerilli said.

But it will require continuing to observe and listen more to the Holy Spirit who will “suggest new paths and courageous, non-dividing choices” as they will flow from thoughtful reflection and lived communion, she said. .

Olavarrieta, who is a mother of nine, has been active in family ministry in Mexico City and helped organize the World Meeting of Families in 2009, spoke about how families cultivate faith among their members and stretch hand to evangelize and serve the greater community.

It is a vocation to say “yes” to the gifts and graces of life and marriage and to journey with priests.

“Women have always walked alongside Jesus, addressing him as mothers, sisters, daughters, and that’s how he addressed them,” she said via the through a translator. And priests today continue to need the many types of women Jesus encountered and relied on to accomplish his mission.

Charles K. Eckert