A historic event was the address which cardinal Flahiff of Winnipeg held at the Bishops’ Synod of 1971. At the request of the catholic women’s organisations in Canada he proposed that Rome set up an international study commission which, in the light of the ‘signs of the times’, was to examine the position of women in the church and especially the possibility of their ordination. The issue now having been raised publicly and with worldwide applause, Rome could no longer ignore it. The way in which this International Study Commission (1973-1976) was continuously manipulated by Vatican authorities is very characteristic of the Roman strategy of control. A secret memorandum limited its task: it should start from the specific role of women and the complementarity of men and women, and it was not allowed to take up a study on the ordination of women. How this Commission was composed and presided over, and how five women members - among them Marina Lessa, from Brasil -bravely opposed indoctrination, was recorded by Dirkje Donders in her theological thesis ‘La Voz tenaz de las mujeres’ (Nimega, Paises Bajos, 1997). The hopeful expectations of women in the catholic world ended in deep disappointment and indignation about the course and the results of this Roman Commission. The Commission’s debacle made the pope draw two conclusions: Rome would have to work out a specific anthropology of manhood and womanhood and, as soon as possible, offer a clear statement about the impossibility of the ordination of women.
Where can I get more information about this Commission?
An analysis of the Commission is included in one of the documents from our library. The direct link is here: http://www.womenpriests.org/teaching/donders3.pdf#page=1
By way of background, the Commission -- which is known as the 1973 Special Commission To Study The Function of Women in Society and the Church
-- was borne as a result of points raised by courageous bishops participating in 1971 Synod of Bishops.
The agenda for this assembly (which was the second in the history of the Synod of Bishops*) consisted of two topics:
- Ministerial Priesthood
- Justice in the World.
Even though the ordination of women was not on the original agenda, a Cardinal and several Bishops in attendance creatively managed to see the Synod give world-wide coverage to a lively discussion on woman in civil and ecclesiastical society.
During the discussion of the Relatio on Ministerial Priesthood, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' Archbishop Plourde called attention to the omission of priestly ministries for women. Canada's Cardinal George Flahiff of Winnipeg then spoke classifing as 'sociological rather than theological' the interpretations of scripture which have traditionally stood in the way of the ordination of woman to priesthood. In other words, he publicly said that from his point of view, there was no fundamental doctrinal argument against the ordination of women (a view upheld by Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner.)
During the debate on Justice and Peace, Archbishop Leo C. Byrne intervened on the part of the American hierarchy to denounce all discrimination against woman in civil and ecclesiastical law and custom.
Through Cardinal Flahiff, the Canadian Bishops’ Conference formally asked the Vatican to open discussion on the admission of women to all ministries. Flahiff courageously urged the Pope to establish an international mixed commission to study the role of women with an openness to the question of the admission of women to all ministries -- including priesthood!
Seconding Cardinal Flahiff’s recommendation, the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women in the Church and Society, Archbishop Byrne made strong appeal to local episcopal conferences. To achieve justice in the Church regarding women he proposed:
- that every conference undertake serious studies of national culture, church law and practice, to eliminate all forms of infringement on women’’s rights in civil and ecclesiastical life
- that the Church recognize the dignity of woman and her Christian self-understanding In its attitudes toward sex, marriage, family planning, etc.
- that the Church seek to give woman greater representation and more meaningful participation in the liturgy, Church activities and organizations, etc.
In her Forward to Women in Ministry: A Sisters' View
, National Assembly of Women Religious, Chicago, 1972, pp. 9-18, Sister Ethne Kennedy observes about these events:
The Canadian request was timely from point of view of the Church’s rank-and-file members. That is: the ordinary faithful, carriers of inerrancy according to Vatican II. However, from a Church political point of view, the timing could not have been worse. Conservative forces were reorganising themselves under the leadership - you have guessed it! - of Cardinal Ottaviani.** These could not possibly conceive of a change so fundamental as women entering holy orders. Absurd!
But the Vatican authorities went through the motions. A special commission was set up to study the Function of Women in Society and the Church (1973). The Biblical Commission was asked to look at the question from a scriptural angle. It would all work out, they were sure.
Imagine their surprise and panic when support for women as priests welled up spontaneously in many official bodies. The Vatican acted immediately to stamp out such signs of rebellion. The commission on the Function of Women was directed not to discuss women's ministries, even though this had been the reason why it was set up.
Dissenting voices (1974 - 1975) were suppressed as we know from the records of Rie Vendrik, a Dutch representative. (Dirkje Donders, The Tenacious Voice of Women. Rie Vendrik and the Pontifical Commission On Women in Society and in the Church, Utrecht 2002.
[see from our library: The Changing World of Women: 1972 - http://www.womenpriests.org/classic2/kennedy.asp]
In other words, because of internal curial manipulations, the commission was a flop. The document from our library which provides an analysis of the Commission (http://www.womenpriests.org/teaching/donders3.pdf#page=1
) records the following about its actual beginnings:
An announcement was made in Pope Paul VI's name by Msgr. M. Uylenbroeck, in the presence of Pilar Bellosillo, from the Vatican Pressroom on May 3, 1973 (almost 18 months after the end of the Bishops' Synod) to appoint a Special Commission on the Function of Women in Society and in the Church. It was to be a temporary commission with as its tasks the study of the specific role of women in society and the relation of man/woman on the basis of their radical equality but also their differences and their complementarities. The Commission's mandate also included investigation of the position and role of women in the Roman Catholic Church.
At this presentation, Msgr. Uylenbroeck explained that the commission would be inspired by two papal addressess, namely:
- the historically important address on the role of women by Pope Pius XII, which had almost the weight of an encyclical;
- the message of Pope Paul VI to women in the whole world at the closing of the Vatican Council.
Some days before the presentation the Vatican Secretary sent a secret memorandum to the heads of the Roman Curia and to several nuncios with the instructions to draw it to the attention of all Bishops' Conferences. In this secret document the Pope indicated exactly what should and should not be studied by the Commission. The starting point of the Commission was to be the specific task of women and the complementarities of man and woman. It was also strictly forbidden for the Commission to study the possibility of admittance of women to priesthood. [emphasis mine.]
An overall assessment of the Commission disappointingly shows the Vatican resorted to manipulations that include:
- weapons of secret memorandum
- a thwarted agenda
- an unfairly weighted assortment of participants -- only women with no theological training permitted to participate
- a prohibition on discussion of the topic inclusion of women in ordained ministry
- exclusion of female theologians
- a short cap on time granted for completion of the blockbuster commission
- . . .
A copy of an analysis of the Commission is found here: http://www.womenpriests.org/teaching/donders3.pdf#page=1
. Spoiler alert: The Vatican does not come out well.
If you have questions, please let me know.
with love and blessings,
* Synod of Bishops
: One of the major innovations from Second Vatican Council, the World Synod of Bishops
was introduced by the decree Christus Dominus
. An advisory body to the Pope, Synod members are elected by bishops from around the world. The Pope serves as its president or appoints its president, determines its agenda, summons, suspends, and dissolves the synod, and can also appoint additional members to it (can. 344). Members express their opinions on matters on an individual basis. The Pope, at his option, can grant the Synod the power to issue decrees or resolutions which are then approved and promulgated by the Pope (can. 343).
The Synod of Bishops has made important contributions to social teaching, and especially the 1971 Synod on the theme of Justice in the World. It stated categorically:
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or in other words, of the church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.
** Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani
, PhD, STD, JCD (1890-1979) was an Italian Cardinal. He served as Secretary of the Holy Office
in the Roman Curia
from 1959 to 1966 when that dicastery
was reorganized as the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith
. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani
He was its Pro-Prefect until 1968. Ottaviani was a prominent figure in the Church during his time, and was the leading conservative voice at the Second Vatican Council. His episcopal motto was: Semper idem
("Always the same.") It reflected his conservative theology... and his resistance to some things that moved forward and seemed 'new.'
post edited by Sophie - 2008/07/21 15:01:27