Home Page for the Theological Works of Thomas G. Lederer


After attending a number of Sunday masses presided over by

Father Tom Fusco at St. Patrick's Church in Huntington, NY something

unusual became obvious: during the recitation of the Nicene

Creed, when it came time for him to say, "For us MEN and for our

salvation," instead he said, "For us and for our salvation..."

In that brief moment of silence, Father Tom was, in his own

way, addressing an explosive issue, one which has the potential

to rip apart the very fabric of the Catholic Church here in the

United States as well as in other Western nations: the Catholic

Church is being asked to reassess its attitude and dictums

regarding women.

On the surface, this matter may not appear as volatile as it

is in the minds of some Catholic women such as Sister Elizabeth

Johnson, a feminist and a professor of theology at Catholic

University in Washington, D.C. She has publicly stated that,

without changes in the Church's attitude toward women, they will

start "protesting with their feet," and walk away from the


A number of controversial questions are being raised today

about women's role in the Catholic Church. Language in the New

Testament and in Church documents is being scrutinized for sexist

references, as part of the "inclusive language" movement. The

Vatican is being pressured by feminists as well as some American

bishops to answer questions about women becoming priests and

deacons, beyond the answers provided in 1977 by Rome's

"Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the

Ministerial Priesthood," and its Biblically-supported arguments

against any such right.

This matter of Catholic women as priests and deacons has

become the most provocative woman's issue within the Church. In

the reasoning of feminists, the refusal of the Church to

seriously consider female priests is representative of all the

Church's misdeeds directed toward women over the past 2000


To Catholic feminists, the 1700 year-old Nicene Creed waves a

red flag in their faces, much like John Cardinal O'Connor's

recent declarations about the maleness of God. Written by male

clergy in 325 A.D. as a means for helping to clarify some

theological issues that were dividing the Church in its infancy,

the creed uses repeated references to God as "Father," Jesus as

"Son," and humans as "Men," further fueling feminist resentment

of a male-dominated Church. Further questions are being raised about

the original translations of the Creed as to whether or not references

were being made to man ("homo") as the species or to man ("vir") the males.

Today, women are asking for much more of a response to the

question of women's roles in the church than a token moment of

silence from one isolated enlightened member of the clergy. Many

Catholic women--not just feminists--are asking for a totally new

perspective in regard to women in the New Testament in efforts to

clear up questions which have lingered unanswered for centuries.

Their contention is that the New Testament has been

misinterpreted and misused over the centuries by male magisterium

to directly or indirectly stifle women in their quests for a

prominent and/or equal role in Church leadership.

The underlying problem for either side--Catholic women or

traditional Catholic theologians--is that, barring a significant

amount of help from the Holy Spirit, surviving documents may not

provide enough clues about Jesus' thinking or the thinking of

anyone else from that era as to indicate appropriate roles for

women in the worship of God and the perpetuation of Christ's

teachings within the Catholic Church.

"It is now generally agreed that much material written about

or by women was lost or destroyed in the Church's struggle with

Gnosticism and what has emerged about women is no more than the

tip of the iceberg," said Elisabeth Moltman-Wendel in her book,

The Women Around Jesus (5).

What roles did women play in the New Testament and what was

their importance? How did their roles affect Christ's thinking?

What is the relevence of New Testament thought to questions

raised nowadays about women in the Church? We must use available

resources to find the answers, but without first hand accounts,

we may never really know the truth.


As far as we know, Jesus left no written accounts of his life

or his works or anything else related to his time here on earth.

The only Bible he knew was the Old Testament. The two oldest

documents to survive the ages and find their way into the New

Testament canon were written 20 and 40 years after Jesus' death.

Between 30 and 40 A.D., some of Jesus' words of wisdom were

collected in a document called "Q." Q was quite likely utilized

by Mark and subsequently Matthew in their Gospels, the first real

attempts to convert the oral communication of Jesus' work into

the written word. But even that was not until decades after

Jesus' death.

"Although available evidence suggests that the life of Jesus

is a likely story, there is no hard archaeological or

anthropological evidence that Jesus did actually live when we

think he lived," said University of Arizona archaeological fellow

Anthony Della Croce shortly after returning from a National

Geographic project in Europe. "There are records that show us

confirmation of the travels of the disciples after Jesus' death,

the travels of Paul, and the persecution of Christians by the

Roman. But there is no hard evidence about Jesus himself."

Father Richard P. McBrien,in his prolific work Catholicism

disagrees. He claims that Jesus' birth and death and

the general knowledge of the in-between years are "an historic

fact." However, he sees all other implications associated with

Jesus' life on earth as being open to subjective analysis.

"Jesus, therefore, is a matter of historical record," he said.

"Christ is a matter of meaning or of interpretation, an

interpretation we call `faith'" (McBrien, 374).

Andrew Greely, priest, sociologist, and author, states in The

Bible and Us, the book he co-authored with Rabbi Jacob Neuser,

"The search for the historical Jesus is problematic but modern

scholars still feel there is enough about Jesus in the Gospels to

get a good idea of what he did and said" (Greely, 181).

Can we accurately pinpoint a time or a place during

Jesus' lifetime and expect to find answers to questions such as

those being asked about women's role in the New Testament?

Difficult? Perhaps. Pointless? Not according to hundred of

authors who have seen fit to devote hundreds of volumes to

deductively and inductively examine with an alleged scientific

methodology specifics and details of history for which we have no

scientific proof even took place. Nonetheless, the investigative

methods used in seeking finer truths in other literary areas are

also applied to Biblical exegesis:

1)Form Criticism-a method of biblical interpretation

involving analysis of the original oral form of material

incorporated into the gospels.

2)Redaction Analysis-method of biblical interpretation used

especially to discover an evangelist's purpose through his/her

redaction (editing) of his/her sources

3)New Historicism-takes a representative piece of historic

literature (which reflects and captures the spirit of that age)

and pits it against a piece of non-canonical literature, not

looked upon as representative of the age but from the same time

period. The time period is subsequently reconstructed to reflect

a new view, thus creating a new historic look at this period.

Just as the lack of first-hand, scientific (referring to

physical sciences, not social sciences) evidence of Jesus' life

and deeds leads to a wide-range of interpretation, the lack of

first hand accounts from New Testament women (i.e. extant written

works authored by women about their lives, experiences, beliefs)

makes the application of New Historicism toward the unearthing of

relevant truths about them difficult if not a fallacious concept.

Nonetheless, such an examination of New Testament literature must

be carried out using the best of all available means.

Father Michael Himes, associate professor of theology at the

University of Notre Dame, addressed the issue of "New Historicism

and the New Testament" at a symposium at the Seminary of the

Immaculate Conception in Huntington in April of 1991. Father

Himes stated that it is essential for 20th and 21st century

theologians to utilize new historicism in their work.

"Everything must be read and interpreted within historical

context," said Father Himes. "And that includes the historical

condition of Jesus' time. He was human and he must therefore be

viewed in human terms."

Michael Himes also stated that theologians must seek to find

what was behind ("and in front of") the authorship of historic

texts and they must also see what is behind the mind-set of the

intended readership.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Father Himes was

asked about how far the subjectivity of new historicism might

be taken before it undermines the very infrastructure of what we

know to be the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. He answered

that there were any number of accepted historical, spiritual, and

theological facts that cannot be disputed within the framework of


"Those questioning the meaning of important events and tenets

must be humble in their approach," he added. "They must be

modest in their claims to have unearthed the `gospel' truth, and

must say: 'As best as we can tell, it means this or that to us

in our time.'"

Taking into account the concerns of those who indignantly

question the way the roles of New Testament women were

interpreted down through the ages as well as the concerns of

those who prescribe caution in such exegesis, we proceed.


Despite the fact that many theologians warn New Testament

readers--lay and otherwise--that a fundamentalist, inerrant

approach to biblical interpretation is unwise if not dangerous,

verbatim examination of scriptural passages is still utilized to

justify almost any ecclesiastical argument. In his work, The

Critical Meaning of the Bible, Father Raymond E. Brown instructs

readers in the imperative use of an "historical context."

According to Father Brown, who also edits the Jerome Biblical

Commentary, "The Bible ceases to be an instrument of comfortable

self-affirmation for Christians and the Church when we recognize

what the word (of God) meant (then) and what it means (today)" (23).

In his work, Father Brown also intricately examines the

proper definition of the phrase, "The Word of God." He cautions

readers not to assume God's communication with humans would be on

a human level, in fact states that it could not be human because

God is not human. Father Himes, on the other hand says that if

God is communicating with humans, it would have to be on a human

level. How else, he asks, could we know he was communicating

with us?

Raymond Brown also points out that the words of Jesus were

time-conditioned as well as context-conditioned, and that his

earliest followers were aware of this. Biblical scholars and

theologians also know this to be true because Christ's words were

obviously changed to suit new contexts.

In his work co-authored with Rabbi Jacob Neuser, Andrew

Greely cautions, "Do not go through the Bible in search of

passages with which to impose a moral or political obligation

(11). He also warns people against using Biblical material as

proof for doctrines that were developed after the Bible was

written. As an example, he states that, as a priest, he accepts

the infallibility of the Pope for not because of anything that

St. Matthew said.

"The Gospels are not transcripts but invitation to

discipleship," said Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her

feminist work, In Memory of Her (103). "They are theological

interpretations in process."

Despite all the cautious warnings from these renown and

respected theologians about not putting too much emphasis on

specifics in the Scriptures to prove their own special points of

view, they all seem to be guilty of it at one time or another.

In his work, Father Brown devotes an entire chapter to

disproving the perpetuation of the episcopate within the Catholic

Church using any number of passages from the New Testament to

substantiate his claim.

Greely leans on numerous excerpts from Scripture to prove

some of his declarations. And, Dr. Fiorenza, the most outspoken

opponent of an inerrant acceptance of Scripture written by men,

about men, translated by men, canonized by men, uses two passages

from the male-dominated New Testament to make 85% of her case

against men: the first being Mark's annointing episode (14:9)

and the second Paul's statement in Galatians (3:28) about the

equality of men and women.

These gifted theologians still must be cautious when they

speak of subjectivity out of one corner of their mouths and then

selectively claim inerrancy when it is convenient to their

own philosophy. Realistically, theology is philosophy, not

astro-physics where exactitude is of primary concern. However,

the credibility of their scholarship does rest somewhat on the

consistent use of their own ground-rules.


In all four gospels, as Jesus' fate is secured and his

passion begins, a woman comes to him and annoints him with a

precious ointment, an act of great significance in Old and New

Testament times. Those are the only consistent specifics that

we have about that event because it varies significantly in each


We do not know for certain who the woman was and what was her

specific intent. We do not know for certain whether it was

Christ's feet or his head that was annointed because it happens

both ways in the different gospels. And, much to the chagrin of

feminists, we do not know why the act did not receive the kind of

recognition or import that Jesus gave it in Mark (14:9) when he

said, "And truly I say to you, whenever the gospel is preached in

the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of


In Mark's gospel, the woman is unknown and unnamed and that

set of circumstances aggravates University of Notre Dame

professor Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book, In Memory of Her.

"In the passion account of Mark's Gospel, three disciples

figure prominently: on one hand, Judas who betrays Jesus, and

Peter who denies him and on the other hand, the unnamed woman

who annoints Jesus," said Dr. Fiorenza. "While the stories of

Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the

story of the woman is virtually forgotten" (13).

Dr. Fiorenza contends that this episode (which she later

calls a "politically dangerous story,") typifies the roles that

women played in the life of Jesus and the subsequent way in which

the roles were interpreted/misinterpreted over the centuries.

She states that women were the first, last, and most loyal of

Jesus' disciples. She cites the perseverance and love of Mary

Magdalene who, in some contexts bore the male label of a

"prostitute," or, in looser interpretation, a "sinner.

Dr. Fiorenza says that male chroniclers and interpreters of

New Testament events cannot bring themselves to admit the

important roles that women played as disciples, as proclaimers of

Jesus' miraculous resurrection, or, in the case of Mark's

unidentified woman, the highly honored role of the prophetic

annointer of a King.

Matthew's Gospel portrays the anointing in similar fashion

to Mark, while Luke paints a portrait, not of a prophet but a

sinful, wicked female, groveling in her search for forgiveness.

It is in John's Gospel that the woman is finally given a name,

Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.


Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha take part in another

New Testament episode which significantly explores the

representative roles of women in New Testament times. In Luke

(10:38-41), Martha is running around the house carrying out

chores that would fall into the category of housework. It is the

role that is most commonly associated with women of that time

(and others,) that of mother, housekeeper, and generally

subordinate background music.

Martha asks Jesus to chastise her younger sister Mary, who is

quietly, reverently sitting at his feet and not helping with the

housework. Jesus delivers a mild rebuke to Martha and an

important message to all, that the worship of Christ and all that

he stood for was certainly more important than mundane tasks or

worldly matters. From one theological point of view, Martha

represents the status quo while Mary represents Jesus' "gospel of

liberation." In his Gospel, St. John points to Mary's

discipleship evolving into leadership, as Jews from all over came

to visit her following the resurrection of her brother Lazarus.

From the perspective of Pope John Paul II, in his "Mulreris

Dignitatem" ("On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,") Martha's

exchange with Jesus about him being "the Christ, the Son of God

coming into the world" is "one of the most important passages in

the Gospel" (272).

"While Martha of Bethany is reponsible for the primary

articulation of the community's christological faith, Mary of

Bethany articulates the right praxis of discipleship," said

Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in her book, In Memory of Her

."She is explicitly characterized as a beloved disciple whom the

teacher (Jesus) has specifically called" (330).

Besides cult-like myths that surrounded Martha in the Middle

Ages, portraying her in art and literature as a dragon-slayer,

she primarily goes down in history as the housekeeper of great

renown. Her sister, on the other hand, according to Biblical

scholar Herbert Lockyer in his work All the Women in the Bible

(P. 104,) will be remembered for her introspective devotion to

Jesus, a model for female religious of the future.

"Mary occupied her own peculiar place among the inner group

of Christ's friends," says Dr. Lockyer. "She was a woman who,

with deep spiritual inner thoughts, was busier internally than

externally" (104).

Down through the centuries, hundreds, perhaps thousands of

books have been written about women in the New Testament, with

special attention paid to Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary

Magdalene, a special woman in Jesus' life, debated to be either

saint or sinner or a bit of both. Little has been directed

toward Mary of Bethany who may have been most representative of

the woman around Jesus in the New Testament.

It is Mary of Bethany who anoints Jesus, quietly assuming

the role of a prophet in the first vivid foreshadowing of his

fate. It is she who demonstrates the proper spiritual

perspective in reference to the man who is to become the savior

of the human race, and revealed as the Son of God. It is she who

is thought by some to have become Jesus' most effective

evangelist (see "The Ministry of Mary of Bethany," by Elizabeth

E. Platt.)


While the Bible may not chronicle history during a specific

time period, we may count on Scripture to provide us with

"types," models from which we can draw conclusions and apply to

wider-based situations. Women in parables give us clues about

other women of the time, not just one woman or a small group. A

woman with a hemorrhaging problem or one possessed by seven

demons represents a mind-set, a philosophy, a morality tale as

much as a historical person or event.

Elizabeth Moltman-Wendel takes issue with the ways males have

perceived the roles of women in the New Testament down through

the centuries. She believes that superficial examination of the

women has yielded some superficial significance fraught with

"stereotypes," not the "types" or models previously discussed.

"Women in the New Testament are associated with sex and/or

sin (ie Mary Magdalene,) cooking and cleaning (ie Martha,) and

motherhood (ie Mary, Jesus' mother,)" she stated in her book,

The Women Around Jesus

. "And women are expected to be receptive

like Mary, active like Martha, and restrained like Mary of

Bethany" (8).


The episodes in the New Testament that mention Jesus' mother

Mary vary from gospel to gospel in terms of how they are

portrayed or whether each evangelist decides to portray them at

all. Despite the importance given to Mary down through the ages,

there is precious little in the New Testament to get a whole

picture of who she is. There are the infancy narratives and the

annunciation whereby she sets the tone for the ultimate spiritual

receptiveness when she gives a profound "Yes" to God in her

willingness to bear His Son. We see her perhaps a classic Jewish

mother searching for an errant son who had stayed behind to talk

with Talmudic scholars in His "Father's House." And then we see

Jesus' Mother again much later on at the wedding feast at Cana.

She appears at her Son's crucifixion and later in the upper room

with the disciples after the resurrection.

Mary stays in the background during the heart of her Son's

life with some scholars such as Elizabeth Molten-Wendel

suggesting that she viewed Her Son's actions during His mission

as a bit frivolous if not neurotic. It seems as if she suffered

a change of heart after His death.

Ultimately, Mary's role in the life of Catholics expanded

manifold over the centuries as a result of mythological

embellishments which put her in the category of a pagan goddess,

of sorts. In the eyes of one noted theologian, she became "an

ikon of redeemed humanity." Her role was minimized with Vatican

II but with recently reported apparitions and mystical

communications, her role is becoming enhanced almost at the

expense of her Son's teachings about love and selflessness.


Without question, Jesus is portrayed as having treated women

in a very special way. Using today's standards let alone those

of 2000 years ago, when women were veritable indentured servants,

Jesus' egalitarian approach is considered by some as miraculous,

in the eyes of other zealous commentators, proof in itself of his


Father Andrew Greely speaks in glowing terms about Jesus and

His relationships with women. Greely states that there "is not

a single incident in the Gospel where Jesus puts down a woman or

treats a woman with contempt or speaks slightingly of a woman or

blames a woman or speaks harshly to a woman." Other than Jesus'

mild altercation with a Canaanite woman, Greely is probably right.

Greely also states that, with His demonstrative respect and

love for women, Jesus was a model for "sexual maturity." Greely's

definition of terms must be questioned to determine if he is

referring to what modern sociologists refer to as sexual maturity

or what Greely himself considers sexual maturity. In either case

Greely should realize that it may not be logical to plug those

modern frames of references into a society that existed almost

2000 years ago. Greely's logic or lack there of is unfortunately

typical of those who might be subjectively sizing up events in an

ancient civilization using modern units of measure.

Greely also plays a bit of a game with what he imagins could

have been Jesus' sexuality. He sets a stage similar to the one

set in the book and movie "The Last Temptation of Christ,"

whereby Jesus had a relationship--not necessarily carnal--with

Mary of Bethany. Father Greely portrays her as Jesus' first

interest whereas Kazantzakis had her coming to Jesus on the

rebound after the death of Mary Magdalene.

Greely's primary contentions are that Jesus being human and a

male at that, there would be little reason why He would not be

attracted to someone as devoted and loving as Mary of Bethany.

He also deals with the converse, that, given the circumstances

that we do know of their relationship, it would be understandable

for her to fallen in love with Jesus in the way we know people

fall in love.

The intimate life of Jesus Christ with the women around him

is certainly a subject open to an infinite amount of speculation

with no reliable means of verifying any of it. As stated

earlier, historical records or lack of them, make it difficult to

really exact an accurate impression of the roles that women

played in the New Testament and to determine whether or not the

portrayals by the respective evangelists were accurate.

It is even more difficult trying to discern how women

affected Jesus' thinking, though even the articulation of such an

idea about the Son of God sounds a bit like the tail wagging the

dog. However, in generalized psychological terms, there was a

pronounced "feminine" side to Jesus' personality as is often the

case with talented males with special gifts. This unusual side to

His personality allowed Him to get emotionally closer to woman

than most men (without feeling threatened by them) and allowed

this perspective to develop even more so. Thus, women may very

well have had a profound effect on who Jesus was and how He


If we are to believe what we read, Jesus certainly treated

woman extraordinarily well compared to any man in any time in

recorded history. However, we also know that Jesus treated most

everyone with the utmost respect, and was especially loving to

the down-trodden in the world. Unfortunately, the women of His

day were considered to be among the downtrodden.

Women certainly seemed to be so much more a part of Jesus'

day-to-day life, more so than, for example, a slave, a leper, or

another of the "anawin," and that may have played an important

part in how He perceived the inequality in His society. Women as

disciples, relatives, or admirers daily made a case that cried

out for better treatment from a male dominated world, and Jesus

observed this and went about changing it, and persisted until

His death. Despite the injustice in this world, His work is

being continued on many fronts.


To look at events surrounding New Testament women and how

they have directly or indirectly affected the Church's attitude

toward women's issues today, it should be clear at this point

that we must examine not only Scripture but how that Scripture

has been interpreted down through the centuries.

In the final analysis, the issue of women as deacons,

priests, and or bishops in the Catholic Church seems to be the

major bone of contention among women who question the Church's

androcentric attitude. That the Church's magisterium will not

seriously consider women as priests or deacons is interpreted by

feminists as an affront to their dignity, not just an ill-advised

interpretation of 2000 year old Scripture. It is the firm belief

of a faction of theologians and historians that, in the first few

hundred years of Christianity, women did indeed serve in

positions of leadership equivalent to those of priests and


"Through the examples of Jesus in his attitude toward women

and as the result of his truth He taught, women were prominent in

the activities in the Early Church," said Dr. Lockyer in All the

Women in the Bible.

"Women ministered unto the apostles and came

to hold official positions of spiritual influence in the Church"


Dr. Fiorenza, who more than once has emphasized that "history

is written by the winners," agrees with this assertion.

"While for apologetic reasons, the post-Pauline and

post-Petrine writer seek to limit women's leadership roles in the

Christian community to roles which are culturally and religiously

acceptable," she said in In Memory of Her, "The evangelists

called Mark and John highlight the alternative character of the

Christian community and therefore accord women apostolic and

ministerial leadership" (334).

Dr. Fiorenza believes that the questionable translation of

the nebulous Greek word "diakonia" led to some confusion about

women's roles in the early church. In the house churches of

early Christianity, the meal was a primary part of the religious

service. The word diakonia implies both someone who assists as a

server, almost like a waitress but also implies assistance in a

religious service, as in the word deacon. Were the women in the

early Christian church waitresses, deacons, or both? Dr.

Fiorenza is convinced that those women were viewed as religious

leaders in their time.

Archeologist/anthropologist Anthony Della Croce indicates

that a number of experts point to the year 325 AD and the Council

of Nicea as a major turning point for the Church in its relations

with women. Up to that time, he says, various archeological and

anthropological sources indicate that women had served as

ministers in Early Christianity. In the fourth century, about the

same time the patristic trends began in the Church, it is the

belief of some that male Church leaders did all in their power to

eliminate the practice and any historical trace of women serving

as ministers.

"Probably the most important consideration when looking at

the role of women in the Church is the effect that the

Hellenistic culture in the first few centuries after Christ had

on early Christian writings, the resulting canon and,

subsequently, the Church itself," said Sister Mary Maher, a

professor at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in


In 1977, the Vatican issued a position paper on the subject

of women becoming priests or deacons called, "Declaration on the

Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial

Priesthood." As mentioned previously, the Papal document uses

extensive reference to New Testament readings as proof that,

because Christ was a male and his twelve hand-picked disciples

were males that there was no place for women in the re-enactment

of the Last Supper we call the Eucharist. The Vatican supports

its stance by pulling isolated sections of Scripture out of

context, posing a problem in logic but not in Church doctrine.

As stated in numerous church documents and reinforced in Vatican

II, Scripture may be subjective to the laity, but it is the role

and the divine right of the magisterium to decide what it all

truly means.

Although the Church softened its stand somewhat in Pope John

Paul's 1988 treatise, "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women"

(Mulreris Dignitatem) by saying that Jesus picked men as his

disciples but not because women of those times were inferior.

But regardless of the reason, he picked men, He was a man, and it

can therefore be assumed, says the Vatican, that God intended

that only men were to become priests.

In a 1989 interview with Bishop John R. McGann of the Diocese

of Rockville Centre in the New York Times, he was asked about the

role of women in church leadership. He responded by pointing out

various leadership positions within his diocese that were held by

women in the fields of education, medicine, mental health, and

social services.

"Of course the question that comes up very often is whether

or not there will be women priests," the Bishop continued. "I

would say that the present Holy Father and his advisers tell us

no. His reasoning is that, theologically, it has not been

established that a woman can be a priest; not that she is

inferior, but that it is a different responsibility."

Beyond theological reasons, the Vatican also claims that the

demand for women to be considered priests or deacons is in

response to an "American problem," whether that be in reference

to a shortage of priests or liberated women. Women members of

the Catholic clergy who have worked in third-world nations hold

a different point of view.

"The strong wind, the Pentecost is blowing through the world

of Catholic women," said Sister Francis O'Connor who recently

returned to America after years in Africa. "When you talk to the

women in these countries, (not the men speaking for them,) they

want the same things as American women, treatment as equals and

fullest of baptismal rights."


A major dispute between the Vatican on one side and American

bishops and feminists on the other side is the issue of the

bishops' pastoral letter on women. In the works for the past

five or six years, the letter follows on the heels of others from

the bishops such as "Economic Justice for All," and "On World


Following a meeting between representatives of the bishops

and Vatican officials in the Spring of 1991, the bishops were

cautioned that their pastoral letter on women was inappropriate

since it did not deal with principles or theological issues

involving women. Feminists have condemned the stance of the

magisterium as being insensitive to the modern problems of women

in the world and pushing certain vital issues under the rug of

church bureaucracy.

After reading the first draft of the bishop's pastoral letter

on women, it is evident that the bishops indeed did a thorough

job of outlining the problems and plight of women in the world

today. However, it is not unfair to ask the necessity of

bringing all these issues to the forefront in an ecclesiastical

presentation. The Vatican is against women priests and deacons

and, right or wrong they have spelled out that stance clearly.

The issues raised by the bishops are primarily matters of human

dignity and respect toward females. It is questionable that,

because of anything the Church has or has not done, it cannot

reasonably be inferred that it is turning its back on rape, the

physical abuse of women, the poverty of women as single parents,

or any of the problems facing women in today's civilization.

Although critics suggest that he may have overemphasized

Jesus' Mother Mary as a model for servitude and motherhood, Pope

John Paul II in his paper "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,"

presents a sensitive and gentle discussion of women, their

problems, and their roles in the world replete with numerous

biblical references. He emphasized a "complementary but not

equal" point of view. The second draft of the Bishops' letter

on women is said to make twenty references to the Pope's paper,

and all but eliminated controversial material.

The bottom line for supporters of the bishops' first letter

and critics of the Papal paper appears to be that, to deny women

their rights of baptism, an equal role with men in the

celebration of sacraments is a veiled suggestion that women are

inferior to men. Such a stance is perceived to directly or

indirectly endorse sexism, gender discrimination, the physical

and verbal abuse of women, and the denial of women their

God-given egalitarian rights. It seems as if they are saying,

"Once androcentric, always androcentric."

Men are probably not the ones to decide whether or not that

is an accurate appraisal of the Church's attitude toward women.

"Some have said in reference to the bishops letter that

women aren't the problem--patriarchy is the problem; sexism is

the problem; male chauvinism is the problem; a skewered,

distorted, and enslaved theology of God is the problem, not

women," said Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister in a recent

edition of the "National Catholic Review." "I say, just give me

something, one little church document out of thousands of years

of them to warm my heart on dark, cold days, with an admission at

last that sexism was at least a sin. It boggled my mind to

imagine what a little sentence like that could do to topple

kingdoms in years to come."

Dr. Fiorenza summarizes her rage in the following manner

"How can we point to the Eucharistic bread and say: "This is

my body," as long as women's bodies are battered, raped,

sterilized, mutilated, and prostituted, and used to male ends?"

Virtually every author discussed in the aforementioned

text--from Pope John Paul II to Elisabeth Schussler

Fiorenza--are in agreement about one thing: St. Paul provided us

with a formula in his epistle to the Galatians (3:28), a formula

that may have been overlooked, misinterpreted, or cast aside by

scholars and magisterium alike. If there is one Biblican passage

that bears extraction from context, isolation, and emphasis it

may very well be what Paul told the Galatians, told the world,

and told us:

"There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or

freeman, male or female. All are one in Jesus Christ."

TGL 8/2/91

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Chittisier, Joan "Snowshoes in a Mine Field" Kansas City National Catholic Reporter 07/05/91 P. 18
Della Croce, Anthony Interview, Acheological Discussions Tucson University of Arizona 1991
Farrell, Michael J. "New Generation of Seers Declares Mary is Back" Kansas City National Catholic Reporter 08/02/91 P.1
Fiorenza, Elizabeth Schussler In Memory of Her:A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins New York Crossroad 1990
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McCarthy, Tim "Vatican for Women's Pastoral Powwow was Bland Kansas City National Catholic Reporter 06/21/91 P.7
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