Theology for Millennials: Women in the Church

Their True Role

Theology Millennials Women Church
Woman praying the Rosary © Cathopi. Vanesa Guerrero

 In “Theology for Millennials,” on Monday, March 9, 2021, Mexican Father Mario Arroyo Martinez shared with Exaudi’s readers his article entitled “Women in the Church.”

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Women in the Church

Why can’t we, women, be priests? is a recurrent question asked in my Theology classes for University students. In reality, it is framed in a wider question. What is woman’s role in the Church? This is a question that in turn is completed with another question. What has the Church done for women?

In chapter 10 of Saint Mark’s Gospel, Jesus puts his finger on the sore. He establishes the indissolubility of marriage and, with it, equality in the treatment of women. “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put the woman away,” but that means that it wasn’t reciprocal. The woman could not give “a certificate of divorce” to the man for being aggressive, lazy, and not very affectionate.

For the first time, Jesus places woman and man on an equal footing in the marital relationship. At the time, this concept was revolutionary, to the point that His own disciples, machistas as the people of His time, could only exclaim: “if this is so, it’s better not to marry.”

The primitive Church took great care of women. It’s clear in the Acts of the Apostles how the figure of deacons was instituted to look after the widows. In fact, the Church organized the first social security system in history, with the special objective of caring for orphans, the elderly, and widows.

The Didache, Christianity’s first laws, prohibits the infanticide of girls, which was common among Romans, a machista people that preferred men. Not having abortion, they frequently killed new-born girls.

This care and attention to women made many of them embrace the Christian faith and, through them, the faith entered families. Saint Helena and Constantine, and Saint Monica and Saint Augustine are eloquent examples of the early alliance between women and the faith.

However, the unresolvable problem remains that the priesthood is reserved for men. Women have recently been allowed to receive the Minor Orders of yore of the reader and acolyte, which today are lay ministries.  The Pope has just appointed Sister Nathalie Becquart Under-Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, that is, a woman with the right to vote in a select episcopal assembly.

Steps are being taken forward to involve women in areas of direction inside the Church, but it’s not a question of a “gender quota,” but of a right acquired with Baptism: co-responsibility in taking the Church forward.

The subject of the priesthood is sacramental. It obeys a desire expressed by Jesus Christ that, twenty centuries later and given the social and cultural changes we have experienced, is hard to understand. We can only obey humbly a reality of divine institution, which reminds us tangibly how we don’t make the Church by raising our hand, but that it’s a mystery, which comes from God and is often beyond our reasoning.

What can be demonstrated, however, is that that exclusion doesn’t imply a grievance or devaluation of women. In reality, the annoyance over exclusion from the priesthood stems, concretely, from a vitiated vision of clericalism. At present, the Church is in the midst of a process of de-clericalization or, on a positive note, of restoring the leadership of the laity.

One is not more Church for being a cleric; one does not have more responsibility to take her forward. Each group, clerics and laity, shares a common responsibility to build the Church, each in their particular way. In fact, clerics exist to help the laity to realize the consecration of the word to God, which is the Church’s aim.

In this connection, what is important isn’t to be a cleric or a layman, but to be holy. And in this area, we are given the great example of women. Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint Faustina Kowalska are more important than the Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops who were their contemporaries.

Not forgetting that the Church is feminine and that Mary is the model of the Church, also prototype of the Christian woman, to whom the highest veneration and recognition is accorded. There is no doubt that women’s role in the Church is anything but secondary.

 – By Father Mario Arroyo Martinez

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester