Far-reaching changes in the role of women in the Catholic Church have been proposed to the ecumenical council by Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan of Atlanta.
In a statement filed with the council’s general secretariat, the American prelate declared that since women “constitute half the people of God” they should be given equal consideration in the council’s schema on the Church in the modern world.
The archbishop asked whether the Church “has given the leadership that Christ, by word and example, clearly showed he expected of her.”
“In proclaiming the equality of man and woman the Church must act as well as speak by fraternal testimony, not only in abstract doctrine,” he said.
Therefore, “every opportunity should be given women, both Religious and lay, to offer their special talents to the service of the Church, and their role of auditors in the present council must be only the beginning.”
Specifically, Archbishop Hallinan recommended that:
In liturgical functions women should be permitted to act as lectors and acolytes at Mass;
Women after proper study and formation should be allowed to serve as deaconesses by preaching and in providing those sacraments which deacons do, especially Baptism and the distribution of Holy Communion;
Women also should be encouraged to become teachers and consultants in theology when they have attained competence in the field;
Women should be included in whatever organization is established for the post-conciliar implementation of the lay apostolate;
Women Religious should be fully represented and consulted, at least in all matters concerning their interests, in the Congregation of Religious and in the commission revising canon law.
In his statement, Archbishop Hallinan referred to a statement made in 1961 by Pope Paul VI when he was Archbishop of Milan, which reads: “Women must come closer to the altar, to souls and to the Church in order to gather together the people of God.”
Archbishop Hallinan said the “community between man and woman” mentioned in the schema on the Church in the modern world “should not be one of subservience but one of harmony, mutual respect, love and responsibility.” Therefore, “we must not continue to perpetuate the secondary place accorded to women in the Church of the 20th century. We must not continue to be late-comers in the social, political and economic development that has today reached climactic conditions.”
In our society, he explained, “women in many places and in many respects still bear the marks of inequality.
“This is evident in working conditions, wages and hours of work, in marriage and property laws. Above all it is present in that gradualism, bordering on inaction, which limits their presence in the tremendous forces now working for universal education, for peace, for the rehabilitation of the deprived, the just and compassionate care of the young, the aged and the needy, the dispossessed and the victims of human injustice and weakness.”
As for the Church, Archbishop Hallinan said, “her history … has been a struggle to free women from the old place of inferiority. Her great women saints, her dedicated virgins, her defense of woman in the family, a few women theologians, but especially the unique honor given by her to God’s only perfect creature, Mary, Our Lady — all these are part of that history.”
“But the Church has been slow in denouncing the degradation of women in slavery, and in claiming for them the right of suffrage and economic equality,” he said.
“Particularly, the Church has been slow to offer women, in the selection of their vocations, any choice but that of mother or nun. In fact, among her saints, there are only three groups: martyrs, virgins, and a vague, negative category called ‘neither virgins, nor martyrs’.”
Sixteen council Fathers have so far made interventions in the council demanding that a role of greater importance be granted to women in the Church.
During the second council session, Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels demanded that “in our age when woman almost travels to the moon” greater recognition be given to their importance in the Church.
Besides that of Archbishop Hallinan, there were written interventions regarding the position of woman in the Church by Michael Cardinal Browne, O.P., of the Roman curia; Bishop Michel Vial of Nevers, France; Archbishop Claude Dupuy of Albi, France; Bishop Luigi Civardi of the Roman curia; Archbishop Elie Zoghbi, the Melkite-rite patriarchal vicar for Egypt; and Coadjutor Bishop Herbert Bednorz of Katowice, Poland.
Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC News Rome correspondent