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A Franciscan’s responds to the issue of exercising authority

On the issue of patriarchy and power

 A proposito  di patriarcato  e potere  DCM-003
02 March 2024

Massimiliano Patassini, who is a 41-year-old presbyter of the Friars Minor Conventual, has a degree in Mathematics, one in Media Languages and a Baccalaureate in Theology. He is the editor in chief of the six magazines of the “Messaggero di sant’Antonio” group, based at the Basilica del Santo in Padua. We asked him some questions about women in the Church.

What role did women-those you knew, those in your family, - play in your religious choices?

Undoubtedly, a very important role. First of all, in choosing to ‘live’ the Catholic faith. It was especially my mother and grandmother who taught me to pray, and to cultivate a trusting relationship with the Lord. Not that my father was absent; on the contrary, he helped me above all in the intelligence of faith, in asking me questions about the meaning of what I was experiencing and choosing (especially at times when I was wondering about life choices such as becoming a priest or a friar).

A very meaningful experience for me was to share a stretch of my life’s journey with a friend, who was a few years older than I was. We met one evening a week for a few years to meditate together on the Gospel. This was an opportunity to appreciate a sensibility that was different from my own, to cultivate a relationship and to know myself better in the mirror of the other as well. This has continued, in a different way, in the female friendships I experience. These are relationships to cherish, while respecting personal choices.

From the moment I decided to enter the convent, throughout my initial formation, my mother insisted that I ask serious questions about the choice I was making, which she conceived as an “uphill road”. At times, it was somewhat burdensome to listen to her, but it did me so much good to question myself about such an important decision in a serious way, even listening to a voice other than that of the environment that was forming me. Progressively, seeing my serenity in ‘living’ this choice, my mother also became calmer and rejoiced in what I was experiencing.

Another important step in my training was the moment for the psychological assessment, which I did with a nun. It is clear that we are talking about professionals, but I felt a different sensitivity than that of my trainers, which served to bring out more clearly strong and weak aspects of my person.

Many people judge the Church as a patriarchal institution. Do you think this is right?

In the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, we currently find only men, as this structure is linked to the sacrament of order (bishops, priests and deacons). It is required that the exercise of authority be experienced not as a control over others, but as a service; it is still the exercise of a power that is primarily in the hands of men. Is this right? If we understand the Church as a social institution, the wish would be for greater equality in the presence in government posts. However, the Church is not only a social institution, but she also has a theological dimension, she is not only a human reality at our disposal, but she has a divine aspect. Therefore, reflection must also be done in these terms.

Do you think that in recent years in the relationship with women the Church has changed? And in what ways?

It seems to me that there is greater attention to listening to and valuing the experience, thoughts and abilities of each baptized person, whether that be a man or woman. The progressive inclusion of female figures within the dicasteries of the Roman Curia or other Church bodies also seems to me to be a positive sign. One area that seems particularly significant to me is theology, to which the contribution of women in theological studies is important, because the recipients of revelation are all human beings. The fact that theology is the prerogative only of men is restrictive, not so much for what concerns more purely feminine issues, but because in all areas it is important to have a vision that also grasps feminine sensibilities. I think it is important that in this area we collaborate more, we walk more together.

What role can women play in the Church today?

First, I believe that each person in the Church has a fundamental role as a Christian, which is to proclaim the Gospel, which is the mandate Jesus gave to all his disciples. This is done first with one’s life, beyond the position one holds; testimonies of women who have done this have never been lacking. We often speak of co-responsibility and understand it in reference to access to leadership roles in the church structure; but the first co-responsibility is that which comes from Christ's mandate to proclaim the Gospel.

Certainly, an important aspect is greater participation in the service of authority in the Church: I am not sure in what way this is feasible, since the Church is not only a human reality, but there is a theological dimension that a believer cannot forget. It is not only a social reality, which we can dispose of as we wish. That is why serious and open theological research is important in this area, beyond ideologies and dogmatisms, capable of rediscovering how the Word of God resonates in our day.