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​A forgotten revolution

· In Canon Law ·

The revolution in Canon Law took place in 1983, at the time when the Code came into force; it was also received with great interest in the light of the significant reforms introduced in it, starting with the crucial one of a new language, in many respects egalitarian, on the tasks and roles of the Christifideles.

Important above all was the second volume of the Code, effectively entitled De populo Dei, which opened the first part of its treatment of the subject with a definition of the term Christifideles, uniting all the faithful in one category, whatever their role in the Church.

Massimo Campigli “The Women Weavers” (1950, detail)

The preparatory work of the Code had amply documented the importance and depth of the debate on the “problem of definition” and the in-depth study that had been made had aimed in its day to identify, also in the language used, the Church’s unifying and identifying mission.

Moreover the Second Vatican Council had broadly marked out this road and the reception in the context of the codification finally formalized and put into effect a path which left behind important rigidities which we might describe as clerical.

Years have passed since then and the history of our own times has consolidated certain goals, even if an important female presence in every profile of the Church’s life would presuppose the realization of greater results.

Indeed, women are now an essential reference point in every activity and role. Evangelization is studded with important and fundamental contemporary examples, just as women, discreet but tenacious, are present in every milieu that supports life and the ecclesial structure in all its manifestations.

Yet, despite the important openings which have succeeded one another in time and have been announced in fundamental papal documents, the road to recognition of a fully equal condition still seems not completely open, even though the change of language should stimulate a change in mentality. In Evangelii gaudium, for example, the language adopted is significant: “one people for everyone”, “we are all missionary disciples”, “from person to person”.

In the same Apostolic Exhortation the Church’s teaching on social issues is full and expressly stated are the reference and the call to us to open ourselves and make ourselves bearers of the messages of St Francis and of St Teresa of Calcutta, in other words of a man and a woman.

There are many female Christifideles, whether they are women religious or lay women, who play roles of fundamental importance both for the orders to which they belong and when they are called to collaborate in offices of the Roman Curia.

The note that distinguishes their presence is a full comprehensio – inthe etymological sense of the term – of the situation in which they are called or have chosen to collaborate.

Canon 208 recognizes the existence of a true equality among all the faithful regarding dignity and action, according to each one’s own condition and munus, as outlined by Lumen gentium, yet it still seems that there is a long way to go

In practice indeed there is no feedback on what is amply stated in the provision of the Code and in the documents published subsequently.

It is enough to think of the evolution in legal milieux which has taken place in the course of the years.

Since 1983, the places where justice is administered in the ecclesiastical sphere in general have been almost exclusively of male competence, whereas today women constitute an important segment of the Church’s constitutive action in the world. Competent, well-trained women religious and lay women, alert to the demands of a globalized life but ever attentive to the needs of specific situations, constitute, support and promote structures where they have become solid and continuous reference points.

Thus some small, timid steps have been taken in this direction and the results are already to be seen, even though a very great deal remains to be done. The striking fact is that while in routine work the feminine element is a marked point of reference, when later one looks at the senior roles in offices, the presence of women suddenly diminishes to the point of disappearing in an indistinct blur.

Canon Law does not nor should it nullify the difference between men and women. If it were to do so it would deny objective aspects of reality, but it is something else to admit, implicitly or explicitly, conditions of inequality.

And so what does one expect as one crosses the threshold?

Able professionals, of proven dedication and formation, have for years animated the legal offices of the ecclesiastical world, combining, at levels of indisputable competence, the capacity for management and for well-rounded human and professional deepening.

Nor, at this point, can we have recourse to “motivations”, and “justifications”, of a more or less complex nature....

It is one thing to base this theme in the perspective of the power of order; it is quite a different thing to graft it on to the power of jurisdiction where, of course, it is very possible, indeed now only right, to begin to have to put it in place.

Agnese Camilli




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 22, 2019