The ideas

The steps to overcome fear

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06 March 2021

We must not be afraid to give space to women, argues Francis. These words strike us, and lead us to reopen a reflection. Has there ever been, and is there still a fear of women in the Church? Surely, Jesus was not afraid of women, for his life was marked by encounters with various female figures, and who are equally important in the history of salvation. Therefore, what has taken place?  We can say categorically that the Church has not valued the charisma, the strength and that “feminine genius” that John Paul II recognized on the threshold of the year 2000. In distant, yet historically important centuries, witches, prophets, living saints, visionaries, and mystics were feared because they expressed an uncontrolled, unconventional religiosity, and could - and in fact did - exert an influence on the people or the political system of their time.

The cloisters, in fact, were seen as dangerous hotbeds of culture; and culture, as we know, is power. Let us consider the powerful medieval abbesses! Nevertheless, was it really the Church as a whole -made up of men, women, religious and lay people- who were afraid of women and, in trying to control them, did so through marginalization? Alternatively, was it the clergy, who were fearful of a downsizing of the all-male power hierarchy? This is where a reflection opens up regarding the steps to overcome the fear of which the Pontiff speaks; however, one that certainly cannot be conclusive in a single issue of Women Church World. Following his election, the pope immediately denounced the scarcity of women in top positions and decision-making roles in the Church; and who slowly but steadily has intervened by initiating processes.

The February appointments of Catia Summaria as promoter of justice in the Vatican City State’s Court of Appeal, and Sister Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops are steps forward. In Becquart’s case, it is the first time a woman has had the opportunity to vote.

In our opinion, a tangible sign of a change came about after the most recent Youth and Amazon Synods, during which numerous synod fathers invited reflection on the role of women in the church. In 2018, after the Synod for Youth’s final dance, the prophetic wish of the young people was, “And now the synod fathers and mothers can go home”.

Our readers will be familiar with Sister Becquart, for she has written for Women Church World about the importance of women for the “repairing” the Church. Women who “must confront clericalism and may be exposed to forms of inequality” [July 2019].

Women who “feel called to be unafraid to move forward even daring to raise issues such as voting rights” [January, 2020]. Today, can we say that the Synod of Bishops has “also” become a space of listening, recognition, reciprocity and leadership for women in the Church? [DCM]