· Vatican City ·


Female and male identity: reflections from three future priests

To read Simone de Beauvoir in the seminary

 Leggere in seminario   DCM-003
02 March 2024

We are a group of seminarians deeply who are interested in the women’s issue. To be frank, we are convinced that it is not a “women’s issue”, but something that concerns all of us, be they men and women, priests and the laity.

Some of us followed a university seminar on the topic of gender with interest. As part of the event, we had to read (and try to understand) authors like Judith Butler, who are considered the new heretics by many in the Catholic world. However, it has helped us to connect with our time, and to be able to address it simultaneously with empathy and critical judgment. There are others amongst us who became interested in the figure of Simone de Beauvoir and immediately started a reading group on The Second Sex.

A few months ago, we organized a student conference on the sexual revolution. We did this so as to better understand its genesis and positive contributions. Finally, others were interested in the topic of women in the Church, and earnt a Joint Diploma at the Pontifical Universities of Rome with this title, Women and the Church. How to Promote Collaboration between Men and Women in a Synodal Church. Some older priests with some derision and even suspicion have viewed our interest. However, we believe that these initiatives are meant to endure. As celibate men, we are convinced that we cannot fully understand ourselves except in relation to the other sex. As future priests, we do not know who we are except through the hands of the laity. The so-called “women’s question” is, for us, a question of identity, and not about women’s, but our own.

In speaking about the synod’s challenges on synodality, a nun criticized the fact that women still need the blessing of male authorities in the patriarchal hierarchy to make decisions. And this is said “at home”. In the secular culture, the Church has been and continues to be the main source of oppression of women. This can be found in “reproductive rights”, that is body control and freedom that does not exist in the Church. There are many both inside and outside who agree that the Church is sexist. The issue is open: the women’s word and vote at the synod, the opening of the ministries of the litterate and acolyte. However, even though there is a lot of talk on the subject, something is not right, and the concern of so many women (and men, too) is evidence of this.

Proclaiming equality is not enough for cultural-religious inequalities to disappear. We are experts at entrenching ourselves in our old systems of thought, making excuses and inventing subterfuge. Simone de Beauvoir denounced that Christians recognize equality between men and women, but relegate it to heaven and earth by continuing in the same way.

Fortunately, theoretical equality is increasingly being experienced in practice. However, there are two attitudes that, in our view, undermine efforts in this regard: 1) reducing women’s participation in positions and 2) pitting women against men.

With good will, we want to put women in as many positions of responsibility as possible. Yet if this willingness is not accompanied by a real openness to women’s real contribution, we are dealing with mere image cleaning or, worse yet, subtle machismo. Opening spaces to women means being willing for them to somehow alter the system, change the logic of the balances, question the way things have always been done. We hope that a greater female presence will be an opportunity for the Church to truly change, and enrich herself with her own particular talents.

Nor do we think it helps equality to regard men as an enemy to be defeated, as if that were the greatest obstacle to women’s liberation. It is not about organizing a crusade against male power. This confrontational attitude destroys both men and women. It destroys us, because we are made for communion, for alliance. Equality can only be achieved together and not in a struggle for independence.

We believe that a vibrant evangelizing community cannot exist without the presence of women. This is not out of some sort of concession, as if it were a matter of settling for women with crumbs, but because it is the Church that needs and is enriched by women when they fully realize their vocation. We young seminarians cannot understand who we are in the Church without the help of women. We need them in our formation.

This proposition is contemplated in the scene of Pentecost: “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14).

 The Spirit did not descend first on some and then on others, it did not descend when each was at home; it happened “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place”. (Acts 2:1).

Seminarians at the International College of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome.