Sisters, sisterhood, sorority. These terms indicate union, communion, and reciprocity between women. The latter of these three is a relatively recent concept, and some people associate it with feminist practices of which they do not approve. Our hope for this month’s Women Church World is that these themes will stimulate reflection and some glimmer of prophecy concerning the Church and the world through women’s eyes and from their perspective. This reflection occurs all too rarely both in the thinking about the Church and in the thinking of the Church.
Reciprocity, to which the term sorority is a byword, reminds us of the post-conciliar ecclesiology’s core questions. Lumen gentium revives the image of the Church as the People of God, in which all baptized Christians share the same dignity. Everyone participates in the life and mission of Christ, whether it be as a Priest, a Prophet or King; after all, Christians are not ranked, and the different ministries share an identical dignity. Consequently, the Church is called to experience synodality, which in shorthand can be understood as a walking together of all. The synodal Church is participatory and co-responsible (International Theological Commission, Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church, 67). The authority of the bishops must encourage and enshrine this participation.
The foundations of the concept of sorority are reciprocity, gratuitousness, and collaboration, and are the fundamental ingredients of synodality. Therefore, women’s particular relational sensitivity could foster synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church. Women have demonstrated skills in promoting the participation of everyone in processes that affect each of us. If their presence in the places where decisions are taken can benefit a missionary impetus involving the whole People of God, then the question is whether we are open to this kind of missionary conversion of ecclesial structures (Evangelii gaudium, 27 - 31). From a psychological point of view, a consequence of reciprocal and collaborative relationships is that those involved exercise their authority correctly. When one does not know how to be a brother or sister or establish relationships of mutual collaboration, it is difficult for them not to abuse the authority with which they have been entrusted. The stimulation of sorority can help to purify the abuses of power that occur in the Church today; but are we ready to accept this stimulus? It is worth reflecting on this question and those that follow, notwithstanding their provocative force. One is not only a sister amongst women; one is also a sister to men.
Pope Francis’ new encyclical is entitled “Brothers All”.