Sr Sue Rakoczy: What Restricts Women in Taking Leadership
Sister Sue Rakoczy IHM – In your front-page article of August 29, Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp makes a strong call for women’s leadership in the Church.
He highlighted the need to use inclusive language in the liturgy and to encourage women to study theology. These are laudable goals.
Yes, some women do exercise leadership in the Church. South Africa is unique since two women, Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS and Sr Tshifhiwa Munzhedzi OP, are respectively the secretary-general and associate secretary-general of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
But women cannot exercise other significant leadership positions because ordination and jurisdiction are intricately connected.
Jurisdiction means a person can make decisions when holding a particular position. For example, a woman cannot lead the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, even though the huge majority of religious around the world are women.
Why? Because she cannot be ordained a deacon/priest/bishop.
The exclusive male hierarchy insists that women cannot be ordained because it has never been done (a weak argument — many things we experience in the Church now were “never done” in the past), and the chief argument: a priest must look like Jesus who was male.
Here is another example. A woman cannot be the “dean” of an area in a diocese because it is reserved for priests. Yet a woman could be a very effective leader.
Pope Francis can break the link between ordination and jurisdiction. But there are no signs he will do so. And there is no call from bishops to consider this.
Bishop Phalana noted that fewer Catholic women study theology in South Africa than in other African countries. That is true.
At St Joseph’s Theological Institute in Cedara the doors are wide open for women students (and there is financial assistance available), but we have few who come to study theology.
There are several reasons. For religious Sisters, the possibilities for parish ministry are limited because of the attitude of some priests who do not want to work with a woman who has a solid theological education and has many creative ideas for ministry.
He might have been ordained ten or 15 years ago and since then has read very little in current theology and spirituality. Here comes Sister X with her bachelors or masters degree in 2020—he is threatened.
A few years ago in one of my classes at St Joseph’s, a Sister from a neighbouring country who was studying theology described the difference Sisters in pastoral ministry make in a parish.
She said that in her country, when a Sister works in a parish there is catechetics, youth ministry, HIV and Aids ministry, outreach to the poor and many other activities.
But if a priest runs the parish alone, he has funerals on Saturday and the Eucharist on Sunday and a meeting or two during the month. He does not support lay leadership and initiative; clericalism rules and he does not welcome assistance. And the parish suffers.
Women are constantly confronted by the social sins of patriarchy and sexism which penetrate every dimension of the Church. I would guess that most clergy are unaware that they breathe this poisonous air every day.
In this time of Covid-19, when people’s respiratory systems are compromised by the disease, they plead: “Let me breathe!”
We women say this too: Let us and the whole Church breathe in the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of newness, equality and life — not the poisonous air of exclusion which fills the Church.
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