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A woman's place? The problem of gender equality in the church is not going to just solve itself.

NEWS THAT THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH First Baptist Church may refer to many churches: Canada
  • First Baptist Church of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
United States
  • First Baptist Church (Bay Minette, Alabama)
  • First Baptist Church (Greenville, Alabama)
 OF WATERTOWN, New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 fired an 81-year-old Sunday school teacher in August "for being a woman," ignited the expected indignations. Answering criticism, Pastor Tim LaBouf issued a letter explaining that, though there were other factors that led to Mary Lambert's dismissal, First Timothy's admonition Any formal verbal statement made during a trial by a judge to advise and caution the jury on their duty as jurors, on the admissibility or nonadmissibility of evidence, or on the purpose for which any evidence admitted may be considered by them.  concerning female teachers applied: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent" (2:12).

LaBouf is not the first Baptist to invoke such proscriptions against the ministry of women, certainly. Though we Catholics might scoff at such a fundamentalist reading of scripture, another piece of wisdom, somewhat better known than Timothy's, applies: Those who live in (stained) glass houses shouldn't throw stones. For all the progress women have made in the Catholic Church, we Catholics still have what might be termed "female problems"

It might be tempting to cut right to ordination here, but we're really nowhere near the issue Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Paweł II) born Karol Józef Wojtyła   closed for discussion in 1994. Just last June, when the Vatican named expert advisers to the curial office charged with overseeing religious life, it chose only one woman. Sister Jolanta Olech, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Poland, alone stands in for the world's nearly 800,000 women religious, while the other eight members (one bishop and seven priests) represent religious men, who number less than 200,000 worldwide. Also, it wasn't until 2004, 26 years into his papacy, that Pope John Paul II appointed any women to the prestigious International Theological Commission The International Theological Commission (ITC) is a dicastery of the Roman Curia consisting of 30 Catholic theologians from around the world. Its function is to advise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of the Roman Catholic Church.  when he named two to the group of 32. To this day not one woman sits on the 22-member Pontifical Biblical Commission The Pontifical Biblical Commission is a committee of Cardinals, aided by consultors, who meet in Rome to ensure the proper interpretation and defense of Sacred Scripture. This function was outlined in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus. .

The question of just where a woman's place is in the church extends well beyond the Vatican. Parish life in the United States is now largely directed by women, who make up nearly 80 percent of the paid pastoral workforce. A study by Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate a·pos·to·late  
1. The office, duties, or mission of an apostle.

2. An association of individuals for the dissemination of a religion or doctrine.
 found that of the more than 16,000 laypeople lay·peo·ple or lay people  
Laymen and laywomen.
 studying in graduate school ministry programs, a whopping two thirds were women. It's hard to nail down statistics for unpaid parish volunteers, but there is little doubt that the lion's share of the work is being done by women.

Pope Benedict XVI Editing of this page by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled due to vandalism.  seems aware of this reality. When asked in a television interview broadcast in August about the place of women in the church, he noted with approval the influence of women in Catholic history but drew attention to a "juridical Pertaining to the administration of justice or to the office of a judge.

A juridical act is one that conforms to the laws and the rules of court. A juridical day is one on which the courts are in session.

 problem: according to canon law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to sacred orders." What he did not mention, however, was that he could solve that problem with the stroke of a pen.

Canon law is invoked, of course, when it comes time to deal with women who transgress the boundaries set by church discipline. The illicit ordinations of 12 women on a river near Pittsburgh were not surprisingly met with strong condemnation by local bishops--the word excommunication excommunication, formal expulsion from a religious body, the most grave of all ecclesiastical censures. Where religious and social communities are nearly identical it is attended by social ostracism, as in the case of Baruch Spinoza, excommunicated by the Jews.  appeared not a few times. Many agreed with the bishops' judgment, and it's unlikely that such guerrilla ordinations will achieve their intended goal. Yet there was not a single acknowledgment from the hierarchy that many Catholic women feel like second- or third-class citizens in God's household. Instead we get responses that make about as much sense as First Timothy: "Rome has spoken, so why keep going back to this?" said the Catholic University of America's Msgr. Kevin Irwin. I've no doubt there are many women who could give him an answer.

EVEN TAKING THE QUESTION OF ORDINATION OFF THE table, we simply can no longer afford the wait-and-see attitude to our "female problem" Pope Benedict seems to encourage. Instead we need a proactive approach that takes women seriously as equal members of the people of God and begins to clear away the canonical stumbling blocks to their full participation, in whatever form that may come. In his interview Benedict gives cause for hope, however: "I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I'd call their spiritual power, will know how to make their own space. And we will have to try and listen to God so as not to stand in their way."

Women are answering that call. Let us hope the pope is serious--and move forward presuming pre·sum·ing  
Having or showing excessive and arrogant self-confidence; presumptuous.

pre·suming·ly adv.
 that he is.

By BRYAN CONES, associate editor of U.S. CATHOLIC.
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Author:Cones, Bryan
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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