In the new encyclical of Francis, women play only a secondary role. Four female Catholics give their opinion to the Pontiff
from ZEIT Christ & Welt – Oktober 15, 2020
“Big individual gestures are not enough.”
The question cannot be answered simply on a personal level. I’m closer to this Pope than any of his predecessors. In 2013 I witnessed the change in Rome: when he stepped onto the loggia of St. Peter’s and asked us to pray for him, to bless him, I was joyfully irritated. After all, during my semester abroad, Roman clericalism had struck me in its full breadth and deeply shaken me. The gestures of the new Pontiff, on the other hand, gave me a sigh of relief. Now a man who was at home in the world of the poor of South America presided over the Church. Someone who not only outwardly chose the name Francis, but who had obviously also committed himself inwardly to the Poverello from Assisi. An advocate of the poor in the Roman pomp of the church.
Since then, the images of a down-to-earth pope with a feeling for the right gesture at the right time have been going around the world again and again, touching me as they have touched millions of others. The latest encyclical shows a Pope who does not mince his words and clearly denounces abuses. Here he brings the fresh wind that I so long for in the church. I can see all this as positive. Unfortunately, however, large individual gestures and dramaturgically sophisticated formulations are not enough for me in the long run. Pope Francis does not have it easy with me (and many other women). The new encyclical once again makes it clear: Of course “Fratelli tutti” is meant inclusive. But let’s be honest: In 2020, will it not be possible for the church to choose a title that does not need to be explained? It seems as if the sisters are not mentioned here out of good Catholic tradition. After all, the woman knows that she may feel addressed, and in Italian it is clearly so in this case. Is holding on to the letter really worth the trouble that’s coming up inside me? As a Catholic woman, and moreover as a religious woman, I actually have enough practice in keeping my feet still and letting myself be fobbed off with a “you know what I mean”. But this is not a trivial matter, and language is not banal, it creates reality. The situation is particularly explosive because I have before me a letter from the Pope that calls for more solidarity and cooperation. But the encyclical lacks this already in the title. Unfortunately, the request to change it before publication and to formulate it in an inclusive way was not granted in Rome.
My conclusion: yes, this Pope has something to say, he dares to take a step in the right direction, but this step is too small for me. It is inconceivable what potential the church could unfold if it were to leave the patriarchal hardenings, oppose all kinds of discrimination and start here with itself, if it were true in word and deed. Their message would get through, it would change the world.
Sister Philippa Haase, 34, is a Franciscan Sister of Vierzehnheiligen in Bad Staffelstein. She works as a research assistant at the University of Würzburg. Instagram: sr.philippa
“Various voices are being overheard.”
For more than 150 years, scientists believed that only male birds produce the long and complex sequence of sounds. But: Female bird song was probably the most original form of highly complex, widespread tone sequences and still is. This is what researchers have found out. They have thus heralded a paradigm shift: Female bird song was seen as “generally rare and abnormal”.
New perspectives generate new insights. This is old hat: our contextualisation, this historically grown, culturally dependent and religiously determined greatness, contours views and horizons on (life) realities. What is actually going on in the Roman Catholic Church that these diverse voices cannot be heard? Rather that they are deliberately and deliberately overheard?
The active non-reception of women’s works, writings, insights and experiences means their writing out of history: Those who do not appear in history have no present and even less the possibility of being thought of at all in the future. There are many explanations for this. The most painful one for me is the fact that the ideology of patriarchy, under the religious cloak and in the institutionalised form of the church, celebrates its joyful beginnings: If only men explain the world, the world is only marked by a male tone. But that is reductionist.
In the aftermath of “Fratelli tutti”, many commentators have rightly pointed out that no woman is included in the almost 300 footnotes. At the same time, their image is characterised by vulnerability and weakness. Protection from the dangers of clericalism for women is particularly important – the discussions about the title without “sorelle”, donated. However, one passage of the encyclical catches the eye: it is “unacceptable that a person should have fewer rights because she is a woman”. It is questionable which target group Pope Francis is addressing. Church representatives are well aware of injustices existing in the world. But in the church, which is church in the world, the male-clerical societas perfecta still dominates, and injustices are the rule. Therein lies the real scandal: the postulates of justice on the outside fade away in silence inside the church. So they have also become hollow and brittle on the outside.
The question was what else my Pope Francis had to tell me. I appreciate his clear words towards an economic order that is still killing. His clear call for inter-religious peace work, which is still necessary. His clear commitment to help our neighbours, absolutely! I am grateful for the rejection of just war and the death penalty; also because they show how wonderful transforming teaching can be when the will is there. I would really be listening if the Pope were to say: “Sisters and brothers, we have wronged women. By considering the masculine-clerical figure as the absolute normality and anything but ‘generally rare and abnormal’. By developing a toxic-sacrosanct culture and by encouraging religious fundamentalists. By sinning. I would like to see a return to singing on Easter Monday. Women have proclaimed the good news. I therefore declare with full conviction Omnia feminae aequissimae, women are equal in everything, and appoint 219 cardinals”.
Judith Klaiber, 32, is a Research Fellow at the University of Vienna. Twitter: @youdidinvienna
“Of course we could just go, but we’re staying.”
Again and again I look eagerly to Rome in the hope of gaining support for a forward-looking vision of the Catholic Church.
The title of the new encyclical “Fratelli tutti” caused a sensation even before its publication. It could have been a strong sign to mention women explicitly in the title, thus clearly standing up for equality. Francis speaks out in favour of respect for human rights, criticises the consequences of a profit-driven society and outlines an image of man according to which every person grows, in others and in strangers.
Once again, the Pope’s clear words are addressed to the world, not to the Church, his, my Church itself. How can the Catholic Church speak out for human rights and the equal dignity of all people, and then let these demands bounce off its own church walls?
As a member of the synodal assembly, I campaign for reforms in my church. As the national chairperson of the Catholic Rural Youth Movement and part of the Federation of German Catholic Youth in Society and in the Church, I am committed to equal rights, co-determination, gender justice and equal opportunities.
I note that many young people firmly believe that the terrible findings of the MHG study on abuse within church structures and the loud voices from all parts of the church are leading to a rethink and real consequences will follow.
But then the Pope should have mentioned the equal dignity and value of women and men, and the consequences this has for tasks and ministries in the church – emphasising the need to limit power within the church, and thereby to regain credibility within the church.
Many people are still discriminated against in the Catholic Church today because of their gender or sexual orientation. However, I cannot imagine a God who discriminates against people and excludes them from ministries on the basis of their gender, so I see criticism of the power structures of the church as a sign of love and as a possibility for growth. Of course, we women who are discriminated against by the structures could simply leave. But we stay: because it is not our faith, but the institution that discriminates. We will continue to build courageously together on our church.
Pope Francis says that political commitment, i.e. the commitment to improve the world, comes from the Christian itself. We are also politically active in the Catholic youth associations on the basis of our faith. We will continue to do so in society and in the Church. We count on doing this together with the bishops and the Pope to be a strong and credible voice for freedom and human rights worldwide.
Daniela Ordowski, 27, is Federal President of the Catholic Rural Youth Movement in Germany. Instagram: dani_ordowski and kljb_en
“Words and reality do not mix.”
I wish I could rave at this point about “Fratelli tutti” – an encyclical in which Francis acts as an advocate for the weak, the marginalised and the wounded, advocates aid to refugees and women’s rights and calls for friendly inter-religious dialogue.
From a letter in which the Pope clearly speaks out against racism, nationalism, populism and discrimination, and repeatedly puts human dignity at the centre of his message: “The inalienable dignity of every human being, regardless of origin, colour or religion, is the supreme law of fraternal love”, writes Francis. How I would like to sum up: What an important and pioneering text! However, I cannot.
Because the discrepancies between the papal word and Catholic reality force themselves upon me too much: While on paper the Pope stands up for women’s rights, in the Catholic Church women are discriminated against and, on top of that, they are made linguistically invisible by the problematic choice of the title of the encyclical (but paternalistically pointed out that they should feel that they are included).
While the Pope is writing against the social exclusion of certain groups, the church continues to exclude homosexuals and divorced remarried couples, for example. But especially as a person affected by abuse, it literally cries out inside me: How is it possible that in an encyclical letter from 2020 there is much talk about the dark sides of society, but silence about the dark sides of one’s own institution?
How can Francis postulate the great sentence “We all have a responsibility towards the wounded”, but ignore his own responsibility towards those wounded by the Church? For those affected in the church still frequently encounter silence, lack of transparency, lack of empathy, one-sided institutional protection and a lack of will to fundamentally reform structures which encourage abuse. Thus the credibility of the Pope, his encyclical and the entire Catholic Church stands or falls on how the church behaves towards those who are injured and degraded by it: Whether it meets them with the utmost charity and does everything possible to heal their wounds and restore their dignity – or whether it continues to exercise institutional vulgarity. As long as the church does not bear its own responsibility towards these wounded and as long as words and reality do not come together, all well-worded formulations will come to nothing.
So what else does the Pope have to tell me? I would like to turn the question around: What else do I have to say to the Pope? I would like to share with him his own words from “Fratelli tutti”, which he chose in the context of the parable of the Good Samaritan: “There are simply two kinds of people: those who take care of the suffering and those who give him a wide berth (…): it is the hour of truth”.
Johanna Beck, 37, literary scholar, prospective theologian from Stuttgart. Twitter: @MmeSurvivante