· Vatican City ·


A vaticanist shares his analysis of a process initiated by the Pope

De-masculinize the church. The Magisterium on trial

 Smaschilizzazione, Magistero alla prova  DCM-003
02 March 2024

Pope Francis has long since launched an attempt to “de-masculinize” the Church. As with other reforms inaugurated by Bergoglio, it is an ongoing process, of which the outcomes are uncertain. Nevertheless, it certainly represents a step forward to better embody the Gospel, which is not the democratization of Church structures with the inclusion of “pink quotas”. Apart from the issue of priestly power reserved for men, there is much to update. To achieve gender equality in the Church means bringing about a “declericized” community, where presbyters are not seen as holders of power, but as those who perform a service.

While we often speak of Francis’ willingness to “widen the spaces for a more incisive female presence in the Church”-which was expressed at the outset in Evangelii Gaudium-many people miss how the other side of this openness is the overcoming of a masculinist ecclesial culture. As the Pope stated in the preface to the volume by various authors Smaschilizzare la Chiesa? Confronto critico sui “principi” di H.U. von Balthasar [Demascunizing the Church? Critical Confrontation on the “Principles” of H.U. von Balthasar], published in January 2024 “Yet we have noticed, especially during the preparation and celebration of the Synod, that we have not listened enough to the voices of women in the Church”.  To which he adds, how it is “necessary to listen to each other in order to - precisely – “de-masculinize” the Church”. This wish was expressed in similar words at a meeting with the International Theological Commission in November 2023.

To open up to a female presence in the Church and “de-masculinize” her are interdependent movements. In the Pope’s reflection, he emphasized the need to abandon the male-centric approach, which came forth from the path of the Synod on Synodality. In its Instrumentum Laboris, he calls for “greater recognition and promotion of the baptismal dignity of women”. At the end of the first assembly session, held at the Vatican last October-the first in history in which 54 women had the right to vote-a Report was approved stating, “Many women spoke of a Church who wounds” through “clericalism, machismo and inappropriate use of authority”. Just over a month later, on Dec. 4, the Pope gathered the Council of Cardinals at Santa Marta to address the issue of “the role of women in the Church”, and invited two female theologians, Lucia Vantini and Linda Pocher, and theologian Luca Castiglioni to offer input at the meeting with the cardinals present. The interventions were published the following month in the volume Smaschilizzare la Chiesa?  [Demasculinizing the Church?].

Throughout the eleven years of his pontificate, Francis has repeatedly challenged macho gender stereotypes. In a catechesis on the family in January 2015, he sounded the alarm about the “sense of orphan-hood” that children experience because of absent fathers because they are busy at work, or when present they are unable to attend to their educational task. One cannot count the number of times he has rebuked parents, especially fathers, who do not find time to “play with their children” or asked them to be “guardians” of their offspring’s journey, like St Joseph with Jesus.  To Francis’ favorite saint, the carpenter of Nazareth, he dedicated the Apostolic Letter of 2020 Patris Corde in which the paternal virtues are tenderness, chastity and hospitality, which are attitudes far from the cliché of pater familias.

On other occasions, Francis has shown that he does not rigidly conceive of complementarity between parents, encouraging an unconventional view of male duties. “It is a simplistic idea that all the roles and relationships of both sexes are locked into a single, static model”, he clarified to participants at a conference in November 2014. Two years later, in Amoris Laetitia, he states, “taking on domestic tasks or some aspects of raising children does not make the husband less masculine”.

In 2018, in his letter to writer Maria Teresa Compte Grau, he spoke even more explicitly, “I the Pope am concerned,” he writes, “about the persistence in societies of a certain macho mentality, (...) that in the Church herself the service to which everyone is called, for women, is sometimes transformed into servitude”. Further on he reiterates the need for “renewed anthropological research (...) in order to go ever deeper not only into female identity, but also into the male one.”

Francis is also critical of those who consider the current difficulties of the family an effect of female emancipation. “It is a form of machismo, which always wants to dominate women”, he clarified in a catechesis on Marriage in April 2015.  I have included these quotes here to show that Pope Francis’ teaching has always promoted the abandonment of a macho vision of the family and ecclesial relationships, the elaboration of a new model of masculinity, along with an empowerment of women. Before enhancing women’s contribution, however, I have the impression that the Magisterium must realize that equality in the Church is still not there. Get help to heal the gender gap and expose idealizing languages that confirm inequalities, to build a Church that is truly a people of all and of all, especially from women theologians. The C9 meeting in Santa Marta last December, I believe, shows that the right direction is underway.

by Fabio Colagrande
Vatican Radio Journalist - Vatican News