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Women and canon law

Although from the outside the Roman Curia, the body that directs the Catholic Church, appears to be made up solely of ecclesiastics – that is to say obviously men – many women work in it too. However they are invisible and have no voice when the time comes for making decisions because, with very few exceptions, they have only subordinate roles. In the face of this situation an obvious question arises: is this marginalization caused solely by cultural factors – such as an inveterate habit of male power – or are there juridical reasons too which make it impossible for women, laywomen of course, to hold senior positions in which they can make decisions and assume responsibilities? In other words the issue is this: are women considered unfit to carry out these roles through their intrinsic weakness or is there a juridical system that prohibits it?

Vassilij Kandinskij, “Mountain” (1909)

In seeking to answer this question, crucial for understanding the perspectives that are open to women in the Church, we asked the opinion of canon law experts who framed the question within the more general problem of the role of lay people as provided for by the canons. For women, however, this problem acquires a critical dimension: unable to count on being a consecrated presence as men may be they have no other possibilities for participation. Casting our eyes back to the past, we see that Canon Law provided for a sort of protection of women with respect to matrimonial life and also, as regards the participation of lay people in the Church’s government, that the process of clericalization originated more recently than many people would like to believe. In addition to this, there is another reality which clearly emerges from our articles: the possibilities for intervention that were opened to lay people by the Second Vatican Council are decidedly broader than many ecclesiastical hierarchies might wish to recognize. Thus on a close look the problem does not seem so much juridical as rather and above all cultural, or, to put it more clearly, clerical.

In this issue we introduce the female figures of the New Testament, continuing under the wise direction of Nuria Calduch Benages. (lucetta scaraffia)

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