Rome & Women Religious

In the memorable opening lines of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the bishops proclaimed their solidarity with “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age.” One of the most pressing hopes of the age has been the struggle to achieve equal rights and treatment for women, and the council fathers also spoke to that concern. “Where they have not yet won it, women claim for themselves an equity with men before the law and in fact,” they wrote. “Now, for the first time in human history all people are convinced that the benefits of culture ought to be and actually can be extended to everyone.”

October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the council. Of course, no women participated in those momentous deliberations, although a few were allowed to observe the second session. If a third Vatican council were convened tomorrow, there would still be no decision-making role open to women. Since the council, women have made great strides in every kind of secular endeavor. They have also been ordained as priests and bishops in churches that long resisted such reform. Juridical authority in the Catholic Church, however, remains firmly in the hands of men. Whatever position one takes on the ordination of women, the idea that it is essential to God’s purposes that the exercise of authority in the church be reserved to men alone defies reason. [more]