CNWE Response to Pope Francis’ Querida Amazonia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                                                                  FEBRUARY 23, 2020

The members of CNWE support Pope Francis’ concern for the people and environment of the Pan-Amazon region. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Querida Amazonia” however, Pope Francis continues to have a ‘blind spot’ regarding women in the church. We remain concerned that this ‘blind spot’ prevents the changes Pope Francis is hoping for, namely: lifting people out of poverty, protecting the environment, and revitalizing Catholic faith communities.

Overwhelming evidence indicates that when women have social, educational and economic opportunities equal to men, and freedom from discrimination and violence under the law, the prosperity of the whole community is significantly improved. The Catholic hierarchy needs to stop excluding women from “functional structures” of ministry and decision-making in the Church. Otherwise, they serve to perpetuate women’s second-class status in society, and contribute to the systemic causes of poverty, suffering and violence.  

Pope Francis poignantly laments the environmental destruction of the Amazon and he sees the enormous “imbalance of power” between for-profit corporations and communities trying to live sustainably. Pope Francis does not yet see however, a connection between the harmful ethos of domination over creation and the harmful ethos of male domination over women. Perhaps Pope Francis’ ‘blind spot’ is due in part to his failure to consult, even for his Encyclical Laudato si’, the decades of prophetic work by internationally respected feminist theologians on the intersectionality of forms of domination.

Pope Francis often states that ‘relationship’ should take precedence over ‘ideology’, yet healthy relationships are prevented in the Church because the hierarchy persists in promoting an ‘ideology of complementarity’. Complementarity assumes that women and men are biologically predestined for different roles. According to this binary model, men are the norm, and women are derivative. Pope Francis states: “Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest.” A biblical linguistic metaphor is thus amplified into the rationale for male-only priestly ministry. In contrast, roles for Catholic women in the church are modelled on idealized versions of Mary as ‘virgin’ or ‘mother’. Pope Francis says: “The Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary. Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother.” (101). Pope Francis suggests that women could do “other forms of service and charisms, proper to women” (102) because ordination would “clericalize” women and make their “contribution less effective” (100).  We believe that urgent, concrete changes to the male clerical structures of the Church are called for. Collaborative and inclusive models of broad-based ministries are not only possible, they are necessary if the Church hopes to be able to read and respond to the signs of our times. It is past time for the Church hierarchy to see that serving and leading ‘in the image of Christ’ is a call that belongs to all, by virtue of our dignity as human persons and our Christian baptism.

We call on Catholic Church leaders to see that the ideology of ‘complementarity’ is undergirded by centuries of sexism and misogyny. To cling to ‘maleness’ as the determining criterion for ordained ministry and leadership in the Catholic Church thwarts the proclamation of the Gospel. It deprives the church of women who are gifted and well-qualified to minister and lead. It is starving Catholic communities in Amazonia and elsewhere who might have an itinerant priest celebrate mass once a decade! It is, in truth, giving people stones, when they are asking for bread.

We agree with Pope Francis that “authentic solutions are never found by dampening boldness.” (105). With boldness, the members of CNWE join with Catholics around the globe, in respectfully asking Pope Francis, and Canadian and international bishops and clergy, to remove their ‘blind spot’ and recognize the gifts of Catholic women in their midst. At stake are the lives of the poor, the health of creation, and the flourishing of Catholic faith communities.

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