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Book Review With respect to women.

A history of CCCB initiatives concerning women in the Church and society, 1971-2000, Ottawa, CCCB Publications, 2000, 86 pages, $13.95

The booklet which claims on its back cover to "celebrate over twenty-five years of initiatives concerning women in the Church and society", is a rather selective chronology of events which created turmoil and division during the 1980s among Canadian Catholic women, some of whom supported the initiatives and some who did not.

What struck me between the eyes (I can't think of a better way of explaining it) was the parallel between the initiatives of the secular feminist movement in Canada and the subsequent response of the Canadian bishops to recommendations made by a select group of women who seemed to have access to their organization, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Shortly after the Royal Commission on the Status of Women published its report (the Bird Report, 1970), a group of Edmonton women, with Archbishop Jordan as intermediary, presented a brief and a series of recommendations to the Canadian bishops. In April 1971, seventy women met under the auspices of the CCCB, and on the eve of the opening of the bishops' annual plenary meeting, presented their recommendations for changes in the Church's treatment of women.

The first item in the Chronology is the March 1971 brief from the Edmonton women, the second itemizes recommendations on Women in the Church and Women in Society which, among other things, ask for the ordination of women to the ministry, and the establishment of family planning clinics. In October 1971, Cardinal Flahiff requested the Vatican to set up a study group to research the role of women in ecclesial ministries.

The book goes on to record each year the establishment of more select committees to study the role of women in the Church and, as their reports to the CCCB are submitted, a brief description of each.

In January 1981, we read, "a questionnaire is sent to some seventy women across Canada who participated in former surveys and projects" (page 17). Although there is nothing to suggest that these seventy women are the same seventy women who met with the bishops in April 1971, my guess is they are the same individuals. In March 1982, a committee of eight representatives of this group issued ten recommendations for action by the bishops. As a result, the Ad Hoc committee of two bishops, two staff members and five women was formed. The women appointed to this official Ad Hoc committee were two nuns, two lay women and two so-called theologians, one of whom was Mary Malone, a former nun, who has since left the Church.

Until the Ad Hoc committee issued a news release in March 1983, most Canadian Catholic women were unaware that someone was speaking on their behalf to the Catholic Bishops without their knowledge or consent. The insulation surrounding the decade-long dialogue was finally penetrated when we realized that demands were being made of the Church with which many of us disagreed.

I had seen a story by Louise Crosby in the Ottawa Citizen, June 13, 1983, headlined, "Angry women quitting RC Church study". I was in Ottawa on pro-life business, and wondered who these women were, and why they were angry with the Church. The article mentioned women who wanted to be priests, others who objected to the Church's opposition to contraception and divorce. I saved the clipping, and two years later, almost the same headline appeared in the Catholic Register of May 4, 1985. I thought the same news release had been recycled, but the story described the report by the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (WUCWO), which was sent to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It spoke of discrimination against women and asked that altar girls and women deacons be permitted. Again, it struck me that this report was presented to the Vatican in our names without any consultation. Only then did I realize that if the Canadian Catholic Bishops did not hear from those of us who objected to many of the recommendations of these unhappy women, they would not know there were many more of us who loved our Church as did the Holy Father and that we would defend her Magisterium.

In October 1984, the Ad Hoc committee presented its twelve recommendations to the bishops' Plenary Assembly, among them--recommendation #9--The Green Study Kit on women in the Church. It was the impetus needed for the birth of a new Catholic women's group--Women for Life, Faith and Family. Throughout Canada, pro-life Catholic women had been networking so it was relatively simple to form a working group and begin collecting signatures on an Affirmation for Catholic Women. The Affirmation identified the signatories as faithful to the Church, the Holy Father and the Magisterium. When a request was made to present a brief (and 1,866 signatures) to the bishops' plenary meeting so they would have it before attending the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in the winter of 1985, it was refused.

On page 7 of Bishop Wiesner's introduction to the booklet, this line appears, "...representatives of "Women for Life and Family" met with the bishops from the commission for Ministry and Apostolates in 1986." On January 29, 1986, our group of five WLFF representatives met with the bishops who sat on the Commission and presented them with 1,866 signatures together with a brief outlining our objections to the contents of the Green Kit, as well as an alternate "Blue Kit". Although our submission was well identified, it is unfortunate that our organization was incorrectly named. Shortly after that meeting, the Green Kit was approved for use and the Blue Kit was not.

A further request to meet with the bishops at their plenary meeting in 1986 to present an additional 2,500 signatures was denied, but because of the generosity and pastoral guidance of Archbishop Angelo Palmas, the Papal Pro-Nuncio in Ottawa, the signatures were dispatched by diplomatic pouch to the Holy Father.

By this time, Women for Life, Faith and Family had established an on-going correspondence with Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family and Archbishop Palmas, who received our group at his residence on several occasions. Both were accessible and ready to offer guidance. Cardinal Gagnon suggested we inform the Holy Father that while groups favouring women's ordination and contraception are listened to by the bishops, those groups which are faithful to the teaching of the Church cannot even obtain an interview. This we did.

Although the Green Kit died as a result of the opposition of many Catholic women, the recommendations of the bishops' Ad Hoc committee continue to be supported by the bishops and by Catholic women who serve on international delegations and attend United Nations conferences. The recent March of Women was supported by the Catholic Women's League and the Canadian bishops, in spite of abortion and homosexuality being two of the publicly promoted causes.

Cardinal Ambrozic's address to a meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the doctrinal commissions of North America and Oceania in San Francisco in February 1999, the last article in the book, is a gem. It makes up for the depressing complaints and perceived slights which the bishops seemed to have been trying to remedy for the last thirty years. The book is worth reading for this article alone.

Kathleen Toth is a contributing editor. She lives in Abbotsford, BC
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Toth, Kathleen
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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