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Land covered too much or too little

· The role of men and women in the Church today ·

For me as a Bible scholar these two verbs have become inseparable. In the biblical narrative God is certainly the first not to let himself say something without doing it: “God said: ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen 1:3). We readers, sometimes somewhat distracted, nevertheless recognize in our life as men or women that the Word – which is light – became flesh. This is without any doubt a “doing” that excludes nothing of what we call a human being.

Together with others I am a passionate reader of the Bible. This reading has convinced me that in speaking rightly of the human being, the Bible can also speak to me of God. This conviction has united on the one hand my experience of life as a woman, wife and mother enlightened by the human sciences and, on the other, a ceaseless rereading of the text. In this I follow in the tracks marked out by the eminent exegete, the late Paul Beauchamp, SJ.

As a compatriot and contemporary of Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, it was from her that I learned to think of the Church as a “community of equal disciples” while relying on the tradition of Matthew, to which Pope Francis referred in his “Message for the World Day of Peace of 1 January 2014”: You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven (Mt 23:8-9).

Let us admire the difference of the forms of the verb “to call” in both the passive and active voices! It seems to me ever clearer that solely the abandonment of all hierarchization can lead to the brotherhood that our Teacher wanted. I also believe that feminism has contributed to the coming of this brotherhood in designating an insurmountable obstacle on this path: sexism, that lives on the fear of accepting the sexual difference and the constant questioning with which it bombards us. Now this fear has become almost independent, to the point of affecting the slightest discrepancy with regard to soundly established patterns of power. But let us be clear: neither does being a woman protect one from wanting to see others on a lower rung of the ladder!

In seeing our Pope in action I have no doubt that he will bring saying and doing as close as he can during the period of his ministry. I take as proof of this his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, in which he explains the challenge: “‘By his coming, Christ brought with him all newness’. With this newness he is always able to renew our lives and our communities, and even if the Christian message has known periods of darkness and ecclesial weakness, it will never grow old. Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’” (n. 11).

Friendship has bound me to Luisa Muraro since my youth. She is an Italian who has dedicated her life as a philosopher to thinking about the sexual difference, guiding the struggle of women with a view to their becoming freely what they are. She has taught me that nothing goes by itself in this acquisition of self-awareness by women, prisoners as we are of the representations of the world and of faith which, to the extent that they falsify the human “two”, are radically in disagreement with the plan of God who alone is “One”. We Europeans, even more than the Cameroonian women whose life I shared for a few years, stand in need of a real cultural revolution in order to clear the ground or to walk on it without treading on other people’s toes.

In the Church as in society this cultural revolution asks of men and women the humble recognition of ground too crowded by some or left unoccupied by others. During the years when I was a member of a basic community, it was a priest who had to incite the women to speak, they themselves were often too lacking in confidence to contribute free and well-founded words. We all know now that in this respect society has moved on, whether or not it is making do with the quotas in political and social representation. However the Church which refers to Christ, Word and Light, must rightly precede and enlighten by “doing” [or taking] the most arduous path towards brotherhood. As a woman and a Bible scholar, I hope that the Holy Spirit will one day inspire in the Church the wish to understand and discuss the matter of the life and place of women in the Church.

The movements of the Spirit have encountered hesitations in the Church in all the epochs. Many women (and men too) feel deep distrust of a community of faith – their own – that fails to listen to them. Yet I am still convinced today that the stake does not consist of claims but, rather, reveals how much further baptismal brotherhood/sisterhood relaunches the challenge, that is to say: the rupture with every form of domination and privilege instituted in the name of differences, whether they are religious, social or sexual (cf. Gal 3:26-28).

While men and women are keener on clerical status than on fraternal service, the Church risks missing the conversion of the whole People of God with a view to its pastoral responsibility. The ordained men (and they are only men!) who address this call to it are too rare, and also too rare are the women who accept signs of God’s proximity on the part of another woman. A step in the right direction would be to inform them of the quality of disciples equal in the service of the Word. A cultural (and religious) revolution takes time; the fact remains that we must start to give it some. One thing is certain – and has been for some time: the refusal to go in the direction of a fraternal people can no longer be based on theological reasons. 

Dorothée Bauschke




St. Peter’s Square

Feb. 21, 2020