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The thoughts of an economist raised and trained in the Focolare Movement

The priesthood is not the solution

 Ma il sacerdozio  non è la soluzione  DCM-003
02 March 2024

Women have not yet found their proper place in the Church; we have not yet been able to recognize them in their full vocation and dignity. They have been waiting for two thousand years to be seen as Jesus saw them, who was revolutionary for many things and among them for the role women played in his first community. But while some of his revolutions have become the culture and institutions of the Church, his vision of a woman and of women is still imprisoned in the great book of “not yet” that do not become an “already.”

If we look closely, we all see that the Church would not exist without the presence of women. This is because they are very much a part of the soul and flesh of what is left of Christianity today and, even before that, of the Christian faith. In fact, I am becoming increasingly convinced that if when Jesus returns to earth he still finds faith, it will be the faith of a woman. However, we all know and we all see that ecclesial governance, particularly that of the Catholic Church, has not yet been able to make true equality and reciprocity between men and women concrete and operational. Therefore, the Catholic Church remains one of the places on earth where access to certain functions and tasks is still linked to gender, where being born female already orients a person from the cradle onwards the direction that future Christian will follow in the institutions, liturgy, sacraments and pastoral care of Catholic communities.

While I know and recognize many of the reasons of those who are fighting for this equality, I have never thought that the solution was to extend the priesthood to women. As long as the ministerial priesthood is understood and experienced within a clerical culture, extending the sacred order to women would, in fact, mean clericalizing women as well and thus clericalizing the whole Church more too. The great challenge facing the Church today is not to clericalize women but to de-clericalize men and thus the Church in general. It is necessary, therefore, to understand where the ‘good fights’are and to focus on those, women and men together; after all, a common mistake is to think that the women’s engagement within the church is a women’s affair alone. We therefore need to work, men and women together, on the theology and praxis of the Catholic priesthood that is still too closely tied to the era of the Counter-Reformation. Once we bring the priesthood back to that of the early Church, it will become natural to imagine it as the service of both men and women. If instead we expend our energies now in introducing a few women into the sacred club of the elect, we will only increase the numbers of the elite without achieving good results either for all women or for the Church. The current synod, with its new method, can also be a good place to start in this necessary process.

Nevertheless, there is also some good news. Pending this urgent work, the Catholic Church is already changing very quickly on some important dimensions. In the Church, under Pope Francis, women are present in the institutions of the Vatican, dioceses and church communities, in increasingly important roles, and now many are laywomen and/or married. Women theologians and biblical scholars are therefore growing in quantity, quality, esteem and impact. These are less striking phenomena than the debates on women’s priesthood, but they are setting the stage so that one day finally “reality will be greater than the idea” (Evangelii Gaudium).  Then, on a particularly bright dawn morning, the Church will finally awaken also as a woman, without realizing it and without making too much noise, like the really important things in life.

I have had the grace - and such it has been - to grow, to be formed and to live now for forty years in the Focolare Movement, which is a community founded by a woman and her female companions. I worked for over ten years with Chiara Lubich, as one of her close collaborators for culture and the Economy of Communion. I saw in her the diverse intelligence of women, and I often saw in her the intelligence of women in the Bible. The Bible, in fact, if we know how to read it, often shows us a different intelligence of women, characterized by a special talent and insight for caring for relationships and life that comes before reasons, interests, power, religion and perhaps even God. Ruth, Esther, Abigail, the Sunamite, Mary, are not copies of the male protagonists of the Bible. I became convinced, for example, that Sarah would not have set out for Mount Moria to sacrifice her son Isaac, because the moment the voice asked her to do so she would have replied, “you cannot be the voice of the true God of life if you ask me to kill my son. You are a demon or an idol, because only demons and idols want to feed on our children, not the God of the Covenant and the Promise.”

Olive Schreiner was a South African pacifist and women’s rights activist, a self-taught woman who educated herself by reading the Bible. In 1916, during wartime. Which was similar to our own, she wrote wonderful words about women and peace. After more than a century, women (and children) continue to suffer the consequences of wars but to be, again, absent from the places where decisions are made, in the councils of war, in the ruthless chains of command:

“It will not be because of cowardice or incapacity, nor certainly because of superior virtue, that woman will put an end to war, when her voice can be heard in the government of the States; but because on this point the science of woman, as woman, is superior to that of man: she knows the history of human flesh, she knows the price; man does not. In a besieged city it may easily happen that the people tear off precious statues and sculptures from the Galleries and public buildings to make barricades of them, throw them to fill the breaches, without reflection, because they first offer themselves to the hand, without greater regard for them than if they were stones of the pavement. However, there is only one man who could not do that: the sculptor. Although those works of art did not come from his own hands, he knows their value. Instinctively, he would sacrifice all the furniture in his house, the gold, the silver, everything that exists in the cities before throwing the works of art into destruction. Men's bodies are the works of art created by women. Give it controlling faculties and it will never throw them to fill the chasms carved into human relationships by international ambitions and greed. A woman will never say, ‘Take and mangle human bodies: and thereby settle the matter!’”.

Professor of Political Economy at LUMSA in Rome, and Scientific Director of Economy of Francis.