Women and theology: the push of Msgr. Phalana

Monsignor Victor Phalana (from his Facebook profile)
24 October 2020

When an African prelate openly speaks out in favor of greater access for women to theological studies, the news does not go unnoticed. On 15 August, Monsignor Victor Hlolo Phalana declared as such, as he spoke on the occasion of the month dedicated to gender equality in South Africa. In a video clip shared with the ACI agency, the bishop praised women who take on ministerial roles in the absence of the clergy and urged the Church to find ways to involve more women in decision-making. The third bishop of the young diocese of Klerksdorp, 200 kilometers from Pretoria, Monsignor Phalana is no ordinary prelate. He had already made a name for himself some time before for having condemned -with rare firmness- the violence against women that was widespread in the Country. The bishop had also pointed the finger at the Church, which according to him, contributed to this scourge, because of her silence and unpreparedness. However, above all, he urged women to raise their heads and fight to defend their rights, hoping that their “cry” would be heard in the parishes, amidst families, during catechism: “Do not let yourselves be threatened or intimidated, and may God free us men from the spirit of control”.

In addition, in fact, men’s dominion over women is also present in the Church. When they play an essential role in communities, parishes and ecclesial institutions, women are usually relegated to subordinate roles. They arrange the flowers; clean the church, for example. To this, Monsignor Phalana speaks up, “but this is not the will of God”, and proudly points out that in his diocese women make up the majority in the pastoral council (the presidency of which has been attributed to a woman). The Bishop of Klerksdorp never tires of reiterating that the presence of women in apical roles does not weaken the presbyteral council. On the contrary! And that we should welcome Pope Francis’ decision to establish a study commission on the female diaconate.

Monsignor Phalana notes on the other hand that the chants, liturgical texts and prayers are sometimes sexist and asks himself “how can we speak of justice when our liturgy has a purely male imprint?” For the South African prelate it is essential that lay and religious people receive training in the different disciplines of the Church: canon law, biblical studies, and theology, for example. This would be a precious resource. So why not create special scholarships for women who would like to dedicate themselves to these subjects? A proposal not to be underestimated, also taking into account the fact that with a significant growth of the faithful, Africa could become the pivot of the Catholic world.

by Romilda Ferrauto